Young Entrepreneur Uses Formula to Build Successful Penn Station East Coast Subs Powerhouse
Joe Sunderman is a 36-year old Ohio entrepreneur whose business holdings include multiple Penn Station East Coast Subs locations and a Chevrolet dealership. His modus operandi? Purchase existing businesses and take them to the next level.
Sunderman is a former insurance salesman-turned-investment banker who left those industries with the intent to become a business owner who builds great teams at companies that provide products and services that people want and need; all the while positioning the businesses for success. His first endeavor was a struggling Chevrolet dealership in southeastern Indiana near Cincinnati. It worked and the dealership has thrived since its transition under new leadership. He has gone on to repeat his formula for success with at least a half dozen other businesses. Then he purchased his first Penn Station East Coast Subs.
Today, Sunderman’s Bridgestone Restaurant Group, LLC, operates 20 Penn Station locations; 16 in the Indianapolis area, 1 in Kokomo, 2 in Lafayette, and 1 in Muncie. He says his goal is to open three more locations over the next three years in the Indianapolis area.
We asked Sunderman about his experience with Penn Station East Coast Subs, what’s unique about the brand, and what comes next.
What made you choose to franchise with Penn Station? Penn Station is a great brand with product differentiation and was the size we wanted. Most importantly, Rob Chinsky—the previous franchisee we purchased from—had built an amazing leadership team, and we had the ability to partner with Kenton Weyant—our managing owner—who has had 19 years of experience in this organization, to continue to grow the company and to continue their success. We appreciate the opportunity to build off of the strong organization and processes from a business perspective that Rob and Kenton have built with the great leadership team already in place. That checked a very important box from a business perspective. Couple that with a product that I grew up with as a Cincinnatian and knew very well. Penn Station’s food stands out in the fast casual industry, so it made a lot of sense from a staying power perspective. We knew all we had to do is focus on the customer experience, and the product would do the rest.
What is unique about Penn Station? It’s great food and great service. Penn Station provides a premium experience in the food industry. Everything is fresh. The product offerings are also different than other concepts with the fresh-cut fries, hand-squeezed lemonade, and grilled sandwiches.
What is it about the Penn Station culture that you like so much? I like the entrepreneurialism inside of each store. I like the responsibility and ownership that each GM has and the ownership mentality Penn Station instills. GMs can make really good money because pay is aligned with their performance. GMs can take ownership of their store, leading a team of people and servicing their customers. We like being able to reward them for taking care of their customers and their employees.
What kind of support/training/guidance does the brand give you? At Bridgestone, we take a lot of pride in our performance evaluations from corporate. I truly feel that our area representative makes us better. We take a lot of pride in those scores. I constantly ask our area representative not to give us any benefit of the doubt. That third-party assessment from corporate is a good barometer for if you are taking care of customers. The thoroughness and rigors in their performance evaluation and monthly PE scores, if used correctly, makes sure you stay on top of your game. Those scores align with profitability.
How important is it to be actively involved in the community where you operate? It’s huge. A huge focus of ours is connecting with community from the high school level to minor league sports to professional sports. We want to be a partner with charities, with nonprofits, with high schools. We want to be partner in the community. It is so important that the community knows we love being part of it.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Doing what I’m doing. I want to continue to play with my kids, hang out with my wife, help operators and entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and help the community of Indianapolis and my hometown of Cincinnati.
What else would you tell people about franchising with Penn Station? The overall operational model for Penn Station is not complex, and the product is unique and second to none. If you can put great operators with a great product and then serve customers well, it’s a recipe for success. Penn Station is simply a superior product as has been proven multiple times with local, regional and even national accolades. It’s the best tasting sub and is unique product compared to other sandwich brands with menu options that don't see our fresh-cut fries and fresh squeezed lemonade. It’s a simple menu operationally, but the flavor is exceptional. The potential ROI is fantastic.
For more information on becoming a franchisee with Penn Station East Coast Subs visit www.penn-station.com.
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