Coming from an established career in public service, I never expected to end up in the restaurant business. I served in the United States Marine Corps and fought in the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1968. When I returned to civilian life, my experiences in military service steered me towards a career as a firefighter in New Jersey, where I was one of the many first responders sent to help at ground zero during the 9/11 attacks.
I learned several lessons throughout my lengthy career in public service, but one stands out as the most profound, and that is life is short, and you must take advantage of all it can offer. With that in mind, I decided to grab life by the horns and pursue another dream of mine after leaving the fire department – becoming an entrepreneur.
However, I didn’t take the plunge into business ownership all at once. Instead, I retired from my 35-year career as a firefighter and relocated to South Carolina to accept a sales executive position at Starwood and Hilton Hotels. It was an exciting change for me, but while I loved the challenge of a new trade, I still felt something was missing. The desire to own a business that would allow me to marry my passion for public service with my entrepreneurial aspirations continued to grow.
Then, three years ago, I discovered the business opportunity that would allow me to pursue my passions while staying true to my first responder roots. I became a Firehouse Subs franchisee.
When I first learned about Firehouse Subs, I was not only impressed by the food, but also by the brand’s authentic firefighter heritage and mission to help first responders. I remember my first experience at a Firehouse Subs restaurant, and instantly, I knew it was a brand I could stand behind. When I was offered the opportunity to open a franchise location in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I knew it was meant to be and immediately jumped on board.
Since becoming a member of the Firehouse Subs Family, I’ve learned so much about running a successful restaurant, and I firmly believe my military and first responder background play a strong role in my success as a franchise owner. Many of the lessons I learned through both experiences have easily transferred into my career as a restaurateur.
In the Marines, I learned to appreciate the disciplined structure of our units and firmly believe it was one of the primary reasons we succeeded in completing tasks efficiently and effectively. Those same principles carried over into my professional career, and now that I’m a restaurant owner, they’ve become crucial components of my daily business operations. By no means do I run my restaurant like a boot camp, but I do believe in staying organized – it creates an environment for everyone to succeed and reach their goals.
Another lesson learned during my time as a Marine and firefighter — understanding the value of teamwork. Operating a successful business without the help of others is the same as attempting to complete a mission without your fellow soldiers by your side. I believe there’s strength in numbers, and my restaurant employees abide by that principle. My manager, shift leaders and crewmembers are equally important members of the same team, with everyone working together toward a common goal – providing an excellent dining experience for every guest who visits our restaurant.
There are some days I miss being out in the field saving lives, but I’m honored for the ability to help my community everyday as a Firehouse Subs franchisee. Through the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, the restaurants throughout South Carolina, including my own, have contributed more than $1.4 million in life-saving equipment, funding and educational resources to local first responders and public safety organizations. As a former firefighter, I know firsthand the difficulty many departments face when it comes to affording new equipment. To now be in a position to help these everyday heroes continue to serve and protect our communities makes me very proud.
I’m grateful for all I’ve gained from my various life experiences – a strong work ethic, determination and passion for serving others are all traits I developed decades ago as a young soldier and firefighter, and they continue to serve me well even now on my current career journey. I’m looking forward to what the future holds with Firehouse Subs, and hope to continue making a difference in my local community, one sub at a time.
By: Bob Lepore, Firehouse Subs Franchisee