Young Ones To Watch: Brandon Jerkins, Multi-Unit Franchisee at Firehouse Subs

1851 caught up with one of Firehouse Subs’ most devoted young franchisees for a conversation about “living the brand.”

Brandon Jerkins loves three things: his young family, Florida State University and Firehouse Subs

One of the brand’s youngest multi-unit franchisees, Jerkins has been living the brand since working there as his first job at 15 years old. Not only did he fall in love with Firehouse Subs’ commitment to quality and community service, he fell in love with his coworker. 

Later, the high school sweethearts would marry and start a family together. Though both bounced around a number of jobs after their high school stint at Firehouse, Jerkins, whose aunt and uncle work for Firehouse’s corporate team, returned to the brand. After four years as a regional manager for the chain, he took the reins of the brand’s store just outside Florida State University, the team and school Jerkins loved. 

Since fulfilling his childhood dream of owning the FSU Firehouse Subs location, Jerkins has grown the store up from one of the lower-performing franchises to the best in the Southeast. When a friend and fellow Firehouse franchisee in Georgia lost a business partner and decided to move on, Jerkins picked up her locations to become a four-unit owner. 

1851 Franchise caught up with Jerkins to chat about his journey with franchising and advice for other up-and-comers. 

1851 Franchise: How did you get into franchising?

Brandon Jerkins: My background is a little different. My uncle Chris worked for Firehouse Subs’ corporate team, and I’ve always looked up to him. Chris is one of the brand’s first franchisees and an area representative for the brand. My first job was at a firehouse at 15. Even then I enjoyed it, it was a great job for me. 

Later I went to school and hated it. I bounced around — back into the restaurant industry, to landscaping, pouring asphalt, but always in sales or management of some sort. I did bartending, and eventually I got into managing full service restaurants. 

Then I married my highschool sweetheart, who worked with me at my uncle Chris’ Firehouse Subs near FSU. We’re about to have our second child.

After we got married, I was working at a restaurant that was very popular in Tallahassee. They stayed open late, and I wanted a change to a more steady lifestyle for a young married couple, so I got back into Firehouse Subs, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. 

I worked my way up to the Fire Marshall, which is like a regional manager. It was a mix of working for corporate inspecting restaurants and making sure they’re food safe and following guidelines.

It was the best training in the world, and I had the best bosses because it was my aunt and uncle. It was a true blessing to have a wonderful job that I'm passionate about. I got four years of training to do what I’m doing now in that position. 

I’ve always had a passion for Firehouse and always had a passion for FSU. My uncle opened the first firehouse at FSU, and since I went there with my dad when I was 12, I've always had a deep desire to own that restaurant. I finally got the opportunity two years ago. It wasn't failing, but it wasn't where it needed to be. So I prayed about it and decided to make a jump. 

By the grace of God, I was able to succeed. We already had the structure and the training done, so I just worked really hard and built that business from the bottom 15% of Firehouse Subs stores to franchisee of the year for the southeast. 

Back when I worked at corporate and was overseeing 35 restaurants, I built up a really good rapport and relationship with other franchisees. A good friend of mine owned three Firehouse Subs franchises in Georgia. They had an operational partner who left, and she was getting older so we made a deal. Within two years and four months of me owning one Firehouse Subs, I took on her stores and then owned four. 

1851: What do you love about the industry?

Jerkins: What I love about the franchising industry is that it’s a comfort. You know the brand has been successful enough that someone would want to buy one. They're giving you the tools to succeed in your own business, but you always have the comfort of a brand that’s known and has been around. It’s not a mom and pop with no brand awareness that nobody knows about, but it’s still your own business. 

Another thing I love is our brand. In franchising, you can find that brand you love. I bought our brand because I believe in it. It's simple, you bought a product that works so don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Live the product. They were successful, just try to live by it and go above it. 

1851: What makes someone a good fit for the franchise industry? Are there traits that are shared by the most successful franchise professionals you know?

Jerkins: I’d say being detail oriented and living your franchise. You are your brand. You represent everybody. When you buy a franchise you have to understand that. What I do at my location will impact the franchisee that’s a state away. Don’t buy your first franchise thinking that it’s just an investment and you’ll never be there. You just have to work it. You get out what you put in. Every franchise has their own specs and best practices. You have to be someone who can live by those standards. 

1851: How do you feel about the industry's response to the coronavirus crisis so far? Are there challenges or opportunities that the industry still needs to address?

Jerkins: You know, this is a weird topic. Nobody had a playbook for this, but I honestly think that for the majority, everybody did well as far as adjusting on the fly. A lot of things changed. The way sales were coming changed. Procedures, staffing changed.

Franchises have an advantage because they’re bigger. They have people that are helping you stay on top of the pandemic. As a business owner, it’s hard to get out of those four walls of your restaurant. What you get out of a franchise is they help you stay on top of mandates coming down from your county and state. 

They look at the brand as a whole, if something happens at a Firehouse Subs, it will impact stores around the country. I feel my company did a phenomenal job when this happened. When I won the Golden Axe, or restaurant of the year for the franchise, I told them I wish I could give the franchisor an axe of their own because of how well they did adjusting to the pandemic. 

A lot of people don’t see that side of it. Running out of turkey, running out of ham — you’d never think you can’t get gloves, or that gloves would go up to $130 a case from $20. Most people don’t see or understand that franchises have a huge advantage because they have enough bargaining chips to get those products where a mom and pop wouldn’t necessarily have that leeway. 

1851: What advice do you have for other young up-and-comers in the space?

Jerkins: Make sure you feel 100% that the brand fits you. My advice to anybody looking at franchising is don’t pick the brand you think is gonna make you the most money, pick the brand you want to live. Pick their mission statement. I picked firehouse because we live here to serve the community and support schools and charities. There are several other brands I’m a customer of and believe in and love, but I picked Firehouse Subs because I’m ready to live that brand. That’s more important than making a profit. It’s all going to come to you if you live your brand.

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