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Darrin and Dennis Atlas have worked in construction most of their lives, but they wanted to do something different. So they recently opened a Firehouse Subs location in Lexington Park.
The brothers opened the franchise, the first one in Southern Maryland, on March 15. There are seven locations in Maryland and more than 750 locations throughout the U.S.
“What sets Firehouse aside is we steam our meat and toast our bread,” Darrin Atlas, 34, said. “We slice our meat fresh daily, and with the steaming process it really brings out the amazing flavor of the meat. And with fresh produce, it’s just an amazing sandwich.
“As far as restaurant experience, we have zero,” he said. “Absolutely it’s a risk. [But] we wanted to expand and do something different so we started looking into fast-casual restaurants, and Firehouse was at the top of the list.”
The chain was founded by brothers and former firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen in 1994. The Atlas brothers grew up five doors down from the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department and still have several family members involved with the fire department. A cousin currently is the president.
Not long after the March 15 opening in Lexington Park there was plenty of evidence the community was supporting its newest restaurant, even before I stepped inside.
Every parking space — in the regular lot as well as those in a makeshift lot and on the surrounding curbs — was filled to capacity on a recent snowy weekday lunch hour.
Visitors are greeted with shouts of “Welcome to Firehouse.” The menu options make it difficult to choose just one sandwich. At the suggestion of one of the cashiers I went with a large Italian sub ($8.29, mediums are $6.29), which came stuffed with Genoa salami, pepperoni, Virginia honey ham, provolone cheese and Italian dressing and seasonings. Ask for it “fully involved,” and you’ll get lettuce, tomato, onion, deli mustard and a dill pickle on the side.
The sub was meaty (eight ounces on a large, four on a medium), juicy and warm because of the steaming.
My second choice would have been the New York Steamer, which comes with corned beef brisket, pastrami and provolone. Other options include the Hook & Ladder (turkey breast and ham), the Engineer (turkey, Swiss and sautéed mushrooms) or the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket, which comes with beef brisket that has been smoked at least 16 hours, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce and mayonnaise.
“To be honest, everything [has been selling well],” Darrin said. “But the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket is a huge hit, and the Hook & Ladder has always been the No. 1 sub.”
You also can get a meal combo — which includes a drink and a bag of chips or a cookie — for an extra $2.39 (medium) or $4.39 (large).
The restaurant also has a Hearty and Flavorful menu — 10 sub and salad choices under 500 calories — and a Firehouse chili ($3.99).
The restaurant offers Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Hot Sauce, named in honor of the founding brothers’ father, Rob Sorensen, a 43-year, now-retired fire captain. The sauce, which has a spicy-sweet flavor, is available for sale ($4.99 or $5.99 in a fire hydrant bottle).
The restaurant is a veritable shrine to firefighters. There are firefighting implements, helmets and jackets hanging throughout from several local fire departments, including Bay District, Leonardtown and Hollywood. Even the trash receptacles are covered in diamond plate, the same material that covers toolboxes and parts of fire engines.
Perhaps the restaurant’s signature piece is a giant mural, which was painted by Joe Puskas, who has done more than 750 paintings for Firehouse Subs. The mural is a re-creation of firefighters battling the 1980 fire at the historic Bell Motor Co., the second-oldest Chevrolet dealership in the United States. In the foreground is a depiction of fireman David Atlas, Darrin’s late brother.
“We have high-quality meats, high-quality products, greater portion sizes and just altogether a nicer atmosphere,” Darrin said of the restaurant.
In 2005, Firehouse Subs created the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation with the mission of “providing funding, life-saving equipment, and educational opportunities to first responders and public safety organizations,” according to a company news release.
The foundation has given $8.3 million to hometown heroes in 39 states and Puerto Rico, including more than $65,636 in Maryland. Local fundraising includes selling the restaurants’ empty 5-gallon pickle buckets ($2 each), a Round Up Program that allows customers to round their bill to the nearest dollar and donation canisters.
Darrin said the foundation was “a big part of why we chose Firehouse Subs.”
And though the restaurant still is in its infancy, Darrin said business has been booming.
“It’s been extremely great,” said Darrin, who will act as general manager and operator, while Dennis continues to work in construction. “We’ve been doing some record numbers in the first week and a half, so hopefully it continues.” email@example.com