By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Brandon Ensley has been watching potential customers drive past his new business, Firehouse Subs in Keizer Station, for the better part of a month.

“We had a sign up in the window announcing we were opening April 9 and people would drive up, take a look and drive away. I think they all came back today,” Brandon said of the first day with customers streaming through the doors.

Brandon and Stephanie Ensley are the co-franchisers behind the new Firehouse Subs that opened Monday, April 9, in Keizer Station. (KEIZERTIMES/
Eric A. Howald)

Brandon and his wife, Stephanie, are co-franchisers with Firehouse Subs and the Keizer Station location is the fourth one they’ve opened in the greater Portland area. Their first location opened on Cedar Hills Boulevard in Portland, near Beaverton, a little more than four years ago.

“We ate at one of the franchises in Denver on the advice of one of my wife’s co-workers and that started the whole thing,” Brandon said.

After working in one of the shops in the Mile High City, Brandon and Stephanie ventured west to embark on a franchise ownership of their own and be closer to family in Vancouver, Wash. Portland, at the time, had a wide open market.

Firehouse Subs separates itself from competitors by steaming meats and cheeses and toasting all the bread.

“Our specialty is all hot sandwiches,” Brandon said. The top seller is the Hook & Ladder with smoked turkey breast and Virginia honey ham smothered with Monterey Jack cheese.

Part of what attracted the Ensleys to Firehouse Subs was the larger mission. Founded by former firefighting brothers, Firehouse Subs created the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation in 2004 with the mission of providing funding, life-saving equipment and educational opportunities to first responders and public safety organizations. Since then, the foundation has awarded more than $33 million in grants in 46 states. Each restaurant recycles leftover, five-gallon pickle buckets, available to guests for a $2 donation to the Foundation. Donation canisters on register counters explain the nonprofit’s mission and collect spare change, while the Round Up Program allows guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar for the fund.

Brandon said local fire districts and departments around his other locations have already benefited from the grant program.

“We don’t partner directly with the local fire departments, but I’m sure to tell them about the grant availability whenever we see them come in,” Brandon said.

Firehouse also partners with local organizations, like sports teams and clubs, to raise money for community efforts.

“We will set up a date or group of dates with a sports team and we’ll print up fliers for them to hand out. Then we’ll donate 20 percent of any purchase from people who come in with the flier,” Brandon said.

In addition to partnering in community efforts, the restaurant itself has a touch of Keizer-inspired flair. It boasts a custom, hand-painted mural by artist Joe Puskas depicting the Keizer Station steam locomotive, which is now on permanent display at Keizer Station, across from the Keizer Fire District Fire Engine 355, with a firefighter in full turnout gear carrying a fire hose over his right shoulder and an axe in his left hand. Walking alongside the fireman is the local McNary High School mascot, Cedric the Celtic, carrying a double headed battle axe over his right shoulder and a caber in his left hand. Painted in the background, the picturesque flowering iris fields with the different stages of a solar eclipse in the sky. Since the opening of the first Firehouse Subs in 1994, Puskas and his team have painted more than 1,125 murals from his studio in Jacksonville, Fla.

After four years and just as many locations, Brandon said he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s the energy in the restaurant. It’s fun, bright, friendly and clean. When I leave, I’m in a great mood because everyone is having  a good time,” he said.

Firehouse Subs is open Sunday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.