Sun Pacific Energy, which operates a string of Firehouse Subs-anchored Sun Market convenience stores and gas stations in the Mid-Columbia and western Washington, breaks ground this spring in West Richland.
Not all Sun Markets feature the Firehouse brand, but the new one at 6255 Keene Road at Belmont Boulevard, across from the new West Richland city services center, will. It will be the fifth version of the Jacksonville, Florida-based sandwich brand in the Tri-Cities.
Jarrod Franson, Sun Pacific’s operations manager, said it will be a twin to the Sun Market at Horn Rapids and is expected to open in February 2022. Explosive residential growth drew it to the area, along with the presence of employers such as the city and the Richland School District’s administrative offices.
“This will put us right in front of City Hall,” he said.
LCR Construction of Richland is building the 4,000-square-foot building, which features a drive-thru. It will employ 30 full- and part-time workers.
The latest version of the Firehouse/Shell business hints at Sun Pacific’s expansion west up the Yakima Valley.
Sun Pacific is building a Sun Market/Shell station at Benton City on the south side of Interstate 82 in an area freshly opened for development. It is the first commercial project in the area and will open in June. It won’t have a Firehouse to start.
Franson said the company concluded Benton City, population 3,560, does not yet have enough residents to support the food franchise, but it could install one in the future. But in the interim, the Belmont location will serve that side of the Tri-City metro area.
Sun Pacific first brought Firehouse Subs to the Mid-Columbia in 2017 as it reentered the convenience store business after selling its previous similarly-named Sunmart business. Sunmarts were anchored by Subway shops.
The sale included a no-compete period that kept Sun Pacific from reentering the retail side of the fuel business for several years.
When that ended and the business shifted to Chris Eerkes, now president, it decided to rebuild its gas station retail business. It liked including sandwich shops in its model but wanted a premium brand.
Firehouse, with its focus on serving the first responders who serve the public, seemed like a good fit. It went after the regional franchise. Another business owned the area rights but had not developed it in the Mid-Columbia.
Unsure what would happen, Sun Pacific built its Sun Market off Highway 12 in Burbank in late 2017 expecting to open a Subway inside. It even built the restaurant space to Subway specifications.
Before it could open, it managed to secure the franchise rights for Firehouse.
It had to tear out the never-opened Subway in Burbank and rebuild it as a Firehouse.
“It was painful in my pocketbook,” Franson joked.
It has since replicated the business at Horn Rapids in Richland, Badger Canyon in Kennewick and Road 100 in Pasco. The goal is one or two stores per city.
“We’re going to be in higher-traffic areas,” he said.
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