Firehouse Subs, Sun Markets planning expansion in Tri-Cities

Business has been good for the only Firehouse Subs restaurant in the area.

The Burbank franchise has done so well that another is planned – along with a Sun Market convenience store and gas station – in the Badger Canyon area in Kennewick.

Shawn Sanderson, division manager for Kennewick’s Sun Pacific Energy, owners of the local Firehouse Subs franchise and the Sun Markets, said the new project at 10799 Ridgeline Drive is valued at $1.3 million.

“Square footage of everything will be 4,000 square feet,” he said. “If everything stays on schedule, we should be open out there mid- to late March.”

Sun Pacific Energy has been around the Tri-Cities since 1956, when Jerry Eerkes founded the company, then called Tri-City Oil Co. In 1981, Craig Eerkes bought the company and added convenience stores, marketing them as Sun Marts. The company also owns Golf Universe in Kennewick.

In 2012, Craig Eerkes sold 27 Sun Mart stores to Circle K — 18 of them in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

Sun Pacific had a non-compete clause in the transaction, forbidding the company from building new stores for five years after the sale to Circle K.

“That non-compete expired in 2017,” Sanderson said. “We call the stores Sun Market because that’s as close as we can get to Sun Mart.”

Sun Pacific started building convenience stores/gas stations in western Washington. There are five Sun Markets on the west side. And since the non-compete clause expired, Sun Markets are opening up in the Tri-Cities.

“We have two in the Tri-Cities, a little kiosk in Richland and the store in Burbank (at 838 Uhling Road),” Sanderson said. “This (Badger Canyon store) will be the third in the Tri-Cities.”

The tie-in with Firehouse Subs happened by accident.

“Originally we were going to have a Subway store out there in Burbank,” Sanderson said. “Three months into our construction, we got a call from Firehouse.”

The person who owned the Firehouse Subs franchises in the region surrendered them to the company.

Firehouse wanted to know if Sun Pacific would be interested in owning them.

“So we slammed on the brakes,” Sanderson said. “Chris and Craig (Eerkes) are the owners, and they had already visited Firehouse back east. They said it was a heck of a company. So we asked them if we could turn our store into a Firehouse.”

Sanderson said franchise fees are $10,000, plus 10 percent to 12 percent royalties on each sale.

The Jacksonville, Florida-based Firehouse Subs, which launched in 1994, has more than 1,100 units in its chain.

Of those 1,100 stores, nine are in Washington state — Burbank, Everett, Lacey, Lakewood, Marysville, Mount Vernon, Spokane and two in Vancouver.

The Badger Canyon store will be store No. 10, and just the third in Eastern Washington.

Local company Feser Construction will be building the new store, Sanderson said.

“They’ve done quite a bit of work for us,” he said. “They’re loyal to us and we’re loyal to them.”

The Firehouse Subs company was started by two career firefighter brothers who also happened to be entrepreneurs.

But they also remember where they come from.

A portion of each purchase at all United States’ Firehouse Subs locations in 2018 goes to the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to be used to provide lifesaving equipment to first responders.

The relationship has been a good fit and resounding success, said Sanderson.

“Everybody likes (the Burbank Firehouse Subs store),” he said. “People drive up to a half hour to get our sandwiches. On a scale of 1 to 10, honestly it’s been a 10. It’s far exceeded our expectations. Everybody in town is extremely excited.”

And Tri-Citians can expect to see more Firehouse Subs restaurants.

“We actually agreed with Firehouse to run more,” Sanderson said. “In this area, we plan development of at least three more stores in the next three years. The third store by contract has to be completed by 2020.”

Sanderson said Sun Pacific is looking for properties in Pasco and in Richland’s Queensgate area.

“We have properties that we currently own,” he said. “We’re looking for high-traffic areas, next to malls or big centers like Walmarts. So we’re looking for space out near Columbia Center, Road 68, near Panera. And since we also sell gasoline, we need to be close to freeway traffic.”

Sanderson said the Badger Canyon store will be bigger than the Burbank store.

“We have 20 employees at the Burbank store,” he said. “We’ll try to hire about 30 employees at the Badger store. Most would be part time, possibly high school students.”

The Badger Canyon store will be next to the big roundabout out on Clearwater, across the street from a large Circle K that — you guessed it — used to be owned by Sun Pacific Energy.

“We owned that store before, so we know how busy it gets out there,” Sanderson said. “We think this new store is going to be a home run.”

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