In the Firehouse Subs system of more than 1,200 restaurants, Axe Awards are annually presented by Firehouse of America to franchisees and area representatives who go above and beyond by showing strong commitment to their communities and unwavering dedication to maintain outstanding restaurant operations.

Congratulations to the following 2020 Axe Award winners in each region! 

Southeast - Miah Manik and Zerin Sultana

Nearly six years after opening their first Firehouse Subs restaurant, husband and wife franchisee duo Miah Manik and Zerin Sultana have earned an Axe Award for Southeast Franchisees of the Year.

This top company honor also highlights their fervent support of Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation as consistently two of the top restaurant fundraisers in the U.S. Notably, Manik and Sultana recently held a week-long fundraiser at both restaurants which donated 100% of proceeds to the Foundation. 

“We are honored to be named Firehouse Subs Franchisees of the Year in the Southeast Region,” said Manik. “We take great pride in giving back to the communities where we own and operate our restaurants. That’s why we are passionate about supporting Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation in any way we can.”

Manik first discovered his passion for the brand after dining at his cousin’s Firehouse Subs restaurant in North Carolina and learning how the brand gives back to local communities through Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. 

Originally from Kansas, Manik worked for nearly 15 years in the restaurant industry before moving to Florida to open his first Firehouse Subs restaurant in West Melbourne in August 2015 and his second location in Port Orange in July 2019. Manik and Sultana already have their sights set on opening another one or two Firehouse Subs restaurants over the next two years.

Canada - Purvang, Vishal, Vibha and Pete Patel 

Multi-unit Firehouse Subs Franchisees Purvang Patel, Vibha Patel, Pete Patel and Vishal Patel began their journey as restaurateurs with the brand four years ago, and this year their hard work was highlighted as they earned an Axe Award for Canadian Franchisees of the Year.

Purvang Patel, along with his brother, Pete Patel, and cousin, Vishal Patel, have all worked for international restaurant chains for several years, with more than 15 years of industry experience between the three of them. They joined the brand quite early on, after meeting Canadian Area Representatives Alex Gerzon and George Heos at a franchise show prior to the first restaurant opening in Canada. They were looking for something unique and different, and were drawn to the brand because of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada as well as the amazing quality and quantity of our subs -- despite them being vegetarians!  

Since opening their first Firehouse Subs restaurant in Niagara Falls in June 2017, the Patels have shown a clear dedication and passion for hearty and flavourful food, heartfelt service and public safety. In addition to the Niagara Falls restaurant, the Patels own restaurants in Stoney Creek and St. Catharines and will be opening their fourth location in Welland later this year.

“We take great pride in providing our guests with delicious subs while supporting our hometown heroes throughout the year. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked tirelessly bouncing between restaurant locations to provide support where we could. We are so grateful for the incredible teams we have working at our restaurants. We all got through this year by displaying hard work and dedication to our communities, together,” said Purvang Patel. “We’re so honoured and humbled to be named the Firehouse Subs Franchisees of the Year in the Canada region.”

From breaking sales records to partnering with the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada and donating meals to local heroes on the frontlines of the virus, these franchisees embody the core values of the brand daily. When the pandemic hit, the Patels did not flinch and doubled down on the values of Firehouse Subs. They are dedicated to supporting the community’s first responders through the Foundation, which has granted more than $1.2 million in Ontario.

Northeast - Derek Nichols

Bangor Firehouse Subs Franchisee Derek Nichols, his wife Jess and their team have exceeded every brand standard and expectation during their first year in business, earning him an Axe Award for Northeast Franchisee of the Year. As a 16-year veteran with Firehouse Subs, Derek has held positions from crew member and general manager to fire marshal and district manager, overseeing restaurant operations on behalf of area representatives and franchisees in Florida and Wisconsin. It was at Firehouse Subs that he met Jess, who has been and continues to be an integral part of their success in Bangor. His growth with the brand and determination to return to Maine and open up his own Firehouse Subs led him to becoming an award-winning restaurateur.

“It is such an honor to be named the Firehouse Subs Franchisee of the Year in the Northeast region,” said Nichols. “Although it has only been a year since we’ve opened our restaurant, Firehouse Subs has been a major part of my life for 16 years as I’ve grown from crew member to franchisee. I even met my wife at Firehouse Subs! We take great pride in feeding our community delicious subs while supporting our hometown heroes year-round.”

The Bangor Firehouse Subs grand opening was one of the strongest the brand has seen across New England. Only a few short weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. As an added

testament to their management excellence; Derek and Jess have managed to retain most of the crew that opened with them nearly one year ago. Their results for 2020 speak for themselves. The Nichols family promotes the Firehouse Subs brand to the very highest standards.

Mid-Atlantic - Larry and Jody Chandler

Larry and Jody Chandler’s dedication to the Firehouse Subs brand, their crew members, and the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has earned them an Axe Award for 2020 Mid-Atlantic Franchisees of the Year. 

In 2004, Larry joined the Firehouse Subs family followed quickly by his nephew, Jody, in 2006. With multiple decades of restaurant experience between them, Larry and Jody’s commitment to restaurant operations quickly became a blueprint for other franchisees across the Firehouse Subs system. 

With 32 total restaurants under their leadership - and multiple new locations coming soon - the Chandler duo have not only made a lasting impact on the Firehouse Subs brand, but the lives of hundreds of crew members and customers. Through Larry and Jody’s leadership and the support of their loyal guests, their restaurants have contributed to the over $4.4 million in grants awarded to first responder organizations across North and South Carolina. 

“We are immensely proud to be named Mid-Atlantic Franchisees of the Year,” said Larry and Jody. “From our loyal guests and crew members, to the local first responders that keep us all safe, we are deeply appreciative to the many people that help us be successful each day.”

Central - Jerry and Brenda Hagen

Restaurateurs Jerry and Brenda Hagen acquired the Eau Claire Firehouse Subs in 2019 and within the first month of operations, their sales skyrocketed. The bar was set and they continued to excel, quickly becoming one of the top 100 restaurants in the system of over 1,000 restaurant locations. After much dedication, hard work and community relationship building, the Hagens have earned an Axe Award for Central Franchisees of the Year.

“What an absolute honor it is to be named the Firehouse Subs Franchisee of the Year in the Central region,” said Jerry Hagen. “I am so driven by my team, our guests and our local first responders. I take great pride in supporting our hometown heroes year-round through our restaurant and the pandemic gave us even more opportunities to give back. Heartfelt service is at the core of who we are at Firehouse Subs!

With 31 years of experience as a nurse, Brenda knows first hand the additional challenges this year has brought our local heroes. They celebrated National Nurses Day by offering all local nurses a free meal; plus, they fed countless nurses through the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation’s COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. This year, the Foundation awarded $23,035 to the Altoona and Eau Claire Fire Departments thanks in part to local donations at the Hagens’ restaurant. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hagens partnered with the Foundation to donate hundreds of meals to first responders, law enforcement and hospital intensive care units, as well as two local football teams that were struggling to continue their program. Many of those folks have stopped by their restaurant to express gratitude towards their efforts in the community, as their commitment to hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety never goes unnoticed.

West - Ramiro and Cate Antunez

Ramiro and Cate Antunez own and operate the Firehouse Subs in Palmdale, CA and have earned an Axe Award for West Franchisee of the Year.

“We’re thrilled to have earned this recognition for our restaurant,” said Ramiro. “Our team is constantly working to improve our service and operations and we wouldn’t have received this award without them.”

Ramiro grew up in the restaurant industry working at his uncle’s bakery in Mexico when he was 12 years old. After moving to California, Ramiro worked at another restaurant brand where he met Cate and eventually left to join the Firehouse Subs team as a crew member. He worked his way up to general manager and then became a franchisee when he and Cate opened their Palmdale Firehouse Subs in 2019. The Antunezes have truly become a strong team with Ramiro running operations and Cate overseeing financials, communication and back-office systems.  

The Antunezes celebrated this accomplishment by giving back to their community and donating 200 meals to Palmdale Regional Medical Center in partnership with the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. This was the couple’s third meal donation dedicated to feeding frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous donation included 250 meals to the High Desert Medical Center in May 2020 and 50 more meals delivered to healthcare workers at the Samaritan's Purse Emergency Field Hospital this February.

Area Representative of the Year - Maryellen Mech and Terry Wagie

Congratulations to Area Representatives Maryellen Mech and Terry Wagie who earned the Axe Award for Area Representatives of the Year! As area representatives, they oversee 24 Firehouse Subs restaurants across Portland, Oregon and southwest Washington. The couple also owns and operates the Mill Plain Crossing Firehouse Subs in Vancouver. Mech and Wagie share a strong commitment to the franchisees and communities that fall under their regions and have worked diligently to guide them through this turbulent past year. 

“We are truly humbled with this Axe Award and know that it's all because of our franchisees, our teams and the work they do day in and day out for our guests and the Firehouse brand,” said Maryellen. “Over the past year, we faced difficulties with the COVID-19 pandemic, embraced third party delivery, new carryout options, and worked so hard to deliver meals to our communities and first responders in need. We owe a huge thank you to our teams and we look forward to continuing to support the brand and our guests in the Pacific Northwest!”

Mech and Wagie joined the Firehouse Subs family in 2013 as area representatives and opened their Mill Plain Crossing restaurant the same year. The two have thrived with the brand and become a dynamic team with Wagie supporting the administration and financial side and Mech handling operations. When the pandemic hit in March of last year, the team took on an exceptionally difficult role dealing with some of the most restrictive restaurant requirements in the country. Some restrictions included 100% closure of the dining rooms and limited outdoor seating, yet Mech and Wagie didn’t have any restaurant closures or even temporary closures in 2020. They worked tirelessly to help franchisees adapt and drive the use of third-party delivery, carryout and curbside pick-up. All the while, the couple worked with their franchisees and Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to deliver more than 18,000 meals to first responders and families in need through the Foundation’s COVID-19 Healthcare & First Responder Fund.