Firehouse Subs opens first campus-based location at JCCC

November 30, 2015

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Johnson County Community College is the first-ever college to partner with Firehouse Subs® to open an on-campus sandwich shop.

The restaurant celebrated its grand opening in November 2015 after an initial soft opening a month earlier.

Owners Tara and Chris Ruff responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a sandwich seller for the college’s food court, which already included Pizza Hut, Chick-Fil-A and Sushi with Gusto.

“We’d known from previous surveys that students wanted a sandwich option,” said Jay Glatz, director of Dining Services at JCCC. “When we got the RFPs, we noticed bids from some of the larger chains – chains that already were on college campuses. And then there was Firehouse Subs, which surprised us.”

“Firehouse Subs had never done anything like this before,” Tara Ruff said. “We put a lot of research into it, and we wanted to be the first (for the chain). We thought it would be fun.”

The Ruffs already owned two Firehouse Sub restaurants: one in Olathe, Kansas, and another in Overland Park, Kansas. Both sites are less than five miles from JCCC.

Two obstacles had to be overcome: the first was the size of the storefront. As part of a food court, the restaurant had only a few hundred feet for prep work. The procedures used in their retail stores – around 1,800 total square feet – just wouldn’t transfer.

The other was the speed at which the customers needed to be served. “It’s a totally different way of serving. We have 90 seconds to get people their food,” Ruff said. In their other stores, sandwich orders took four to five minutes.

The solution to both challenges was to offer a smaller menu of only six sandwiches, premade with some assembly amendments.

“For example, we don’t saturate sandwiches with sauce. Otherwise, they’ll get soggy” while waiting for a customer to make that selection, Ruff said. “We just watch things like that.”

Customers can still custom-order one of the six sandwiches, Ruff explained, and wait times usually run less than four minutes.

“We’ve developed a lot of time-saving strategies that eventually we may institute in our other stores,” Ruff said.

Firehouse Subs, a national chain based in Jacksonville, Florida, has more than 930 restaurants throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. Ruff became an owner because she was a customer first. Pregnant with her first child, she drove with her husband for 25 minutes to their nearest shop while they lived in Alabama.

“We left Alabama, moved back to Kansas, and we would get that craving for Firehouse Subs,” she said.

Glatz said Firehouse Subs has been well received by students and employees. “We’ve gotten extremely positive feedback,” he said. “It’s also a nice fit with the other choices in the food court.”

Johnson County Community College, located in suburban Kansas City, enrolls around 17,000 students during fall and spring semesters. Dining Services operates the food court, a cafeteria, a bistro café near the on-campus contemporary art museum and a catering service for campus events. It also supervises three coffee shops and campus vending services.