Where there's smoke, there's Firehouse Subs

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A month away from the fifteenth anniversary of the family business, Firehouse Subs CEO Robin Sorensen and his team were in their Thornton store this week after a tour of future Front Range locations, from Fort Collins to Highlands Ranch.

I met them at 10060 Grant Street in Thornton, at what's now the Jacksonville, Florida-based chain's only Colorado outpost, a conservatively decorated space with white-washed, red-trimmed walls and tile behind the counter that reflects the fluorescents almost as loudly as the staff, who chorused, "Welcome to Firehouse!" as soon as I walked in the door.

At 2 p.m., the restaurant was still half full from lunch. Sorensen stood when he saw me, towering over everyone else and looking every bit like he'd been cut from the firefighting family cloth. What began as a business plan sketched on a then-competitor's napkin turned into Firehouse Subs, founded in 1994 by Robin and his brother Chris.

With a family legacy of 200 years of combined firefighting service, Sorensen explained that the company tries to give back to every community where they are located. The firefighting memorabilia that hangs on the walls of the 375 stores across the country is either bought from local firehouses or donated in exchange for new equipment.

The chain raises money for Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation by selling empty red five-gallon pickle buckets that it keeps in the corner. Over the past two years, the foundation has donated $1.25 million to cities for fires services. The Thornton Fire Department got two thermal-imaging devices and a truck charger worth $25,000.

Sorenson invited to try a couple subs, including the Hook & Ladder, the restaurant's number-one selling sandwich, as well as a BBQ brisket sub.

Here's my spin on their spin: The meat is sliced incredibly thin, giving the effect of actually melting in your mouth. The bread is toasted perfectly, so that it doesn't cut the top of your mouth or become soggy. The freshness of the lettuce glints in the light. The key to the signature Firehouse Sub flavor, I'm told, is that the meats and cheeses are steamed for just under three minutes to fully integrate the flavors.

As I gathered up my notes, leftover sandwiches and collection of business cards, a young couple walked in through the door. "Welcome to Firehouse!" the staffed cheered.

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