Bethany Clough

Eating Out: Firehouse Subs to open, other restaurants eyeing Fresno

The Hook & Ladder sandwich is the No. 1 seller at Firehouse Subs, which plans to open a restaurant in Fresno this fall. The sandwich features smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, melted Monterey Jack and served “fully involved” — which means it has mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and deli mustard.
The Hook & Ladder sandwich is the No. 1 seller at Firehouse Subs, which plans to open a restaurant in Fresno this fall. The sandwich features smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, melted Monterey Jack and served “fully involved” — which means it has mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and deli mustard. SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Firehouse Subs is coming to Fresno and several other national restaurants are poking around town.

Sandwich shop Which Wich and hamburger joint Johnny Rockets both say they’re looking for locations to open and have even named a few potential sites.

But since all these restaurants would be owned by individual franchisees, the process is a lot different than when a big national chain announces it’s coming to town. So let’s delve into what all that means for the people who just want to eat their yummy food.

Which reminds me, remember when fondue restaurant The Melting Pot and sexy sports pub Tilted Kilt both said they’re interested in Fresno? We haven’t heard a peep from them since. Let’s talk about that, too.

But first, the one place that you will for sure be able to eat soon is Firehouse Subs.

That restaurant is aiming to open in October at the northwest corner of Blackstone and Nees avenues near the Sleep Train Mattress Center.

It’s a sandwich chain known for its hot subs started by a firefighting family.

The No. 1 seller is the Hook & Ladder with smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, melted Monterey Jack and served “fully involved” — which means it has mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and deli mustard.

As you can tell, this place has a heavy firefighting and first responder theme. Expect to see it decorated with firefighting photos, equipment and a hand-painted mural featuring local fire trucks or the fire department.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Firehouse Subs has 900 restaurants nationwide and a foundation that raises money for local first responders. Through the sales of $2 red pickle buckets (the buckets are empty because the pickles have already been eaten at the restaurant) and other fundraisers, the foundation raises money to buy equipment such as radios and defibrillators.

Firehouse Subs’ foundation has donated $14 million to firefighters and first responders.

“We’ve even purchased firetrucks for cities that couldn’t afford them,” says franchisee Scott Kinner.

The other franchised restaurants interested in the Fresno area are still in the beginning stages.

What makes franchises different — and can make the process take years — is that the parent company has to find a person, or sometimes a small company, to become an owner of the restaurant. That franchisee must pay a fee — usually in the tens of thousands of dollars — have a certain net worth and basically be approved by the parent company.

Sometimes companies make grand announcements to the press that they want to open in our area and then we don’t hear from them for years while they search for a franchisee and a location.

Which Wich

But sandwich place Which Wich is nearing the tail end of that process. A company is in the final stages of becoming a Which Wich franchisee and getting close to signing an agreement to open two restaurants in the Fresno-Clovis area, says Connie Alires, director of franchise development for the Dallas-based company.

Expect to see the first one open by spring of next year, she says. No location has been nailed down yet, but the search is focusing on the boundary between Fresno and Clovis in the northern part of the cities.

Eventually, Which Wich would like to have five to seven restaurants in the area, Alires said. It has more than 350 nationwide.

We have one of the most extensive vegetarian offerings.

Connie Alires, Which Wich

What makes this sandwich place different is the racks of brown paper bags customers see when they walk in. To order, they grab a red Sharpie and a bag labeled with what kind of sandwich they want: Bag No. 4 for a chicken sandwich, bag No. 6 for a vegetarian, etc. (Does the name make sense now? Which [sand]wich do you want?)

Customers then circle what they want on the bag, choosing chicken salad or chicken Cordon Blue, for example. Then they choose from different types of bread, 10 types of cheeses (including Cheez Whiz) and all kinds of veggies, sauces and spices — including sauerkraut and crispy onion strings.

Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets is also looking for space to open a restaurant in Fresno and is eyeing Fashion Fair mall, says Gene Savage, director of franchise sales and real estate.

That doesn’t mean the burger joint will end up there. The company is “constantly” in touch with all kinds of developments and landlords and it doesn’t even have a franchisee yet, he says. It just means the mall meets Johnny Rockets’ overall criteria for where it likes to be and the company wants a Johnny Rockets in Fresno.

Fresno is one of those areas in the Central Valley that is experiencing growth. We feel it presents a very favorable opportunity for our brand.

Gene Savage, Johnny Rockets

If the name Johnny Rockets rings a bell, it’s because there used to be one in River Park. It closed in 2009 and Five Guys Burgers and Fries took its place.

Savage didn’t know why Johnny Rockets closed, other than that the lease was not renewed.

“We would like to re-enter the Fresno market because we feel it’s a very strong market,” he says.

Johnny Rockets has more than 320 restaurants worldwide and plans to open more than 50 more this year.

Melting Pot & Tilted Kilt

Last summer The Melting Pot, a restaurant featuring cheese and chocolate fondue, sent out a news release saying it was looking for franchisees in Fresno.

Last week the company said it still has a “strong interest” in Fresno. But despite several conversations with potential franchisees, The Melting Pot has not offered a restaurant to anyone in the area, it said.

Then there’s the Tilted Kilt, a Scottish, Irish and English sports pub with “kilt girls” who wear plaid push-up bras, midriff-baring tops and tiny kilts.

In April of 2013, the company announced plans to develop 10 locations over the next five years from Fresno to the Bay Area and Sacramento. It had a franchisee that was scouting locations.

None have opened yet and Tilted Kilt did not return messages before deadline.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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