Subway's way through the storm: Solid plans making recovery easier in hurricane's wake

| by S.A. Whitehead
Subway's way through the storm: Solid plans making recovery easier in hurricane's wake

Subway Store No. 33826 Sandwich Artists (from left) Damien Brown and Bhautik Dudhat with fresh subs for Red Cross shelter residents at Ardrey Kell High School. (Provided)

With rainfall amounts totaling nearly 36 inches in some parts of North Carolina, according to television station WCNC, along with wind gusts up to 105 mph, Hurricane Florence was among the worst storms that some parts of the Tar Heel State had seen since the 1960s.  And in the midst of it all, many QSRs were torn asunder, flooded or left powerless and waterless in the aftermath.

In fact, Tim Mann, a 38-Subway store franchisee, said the most problematic thing about this storm was how horribly large and slow-moving it was, causing all the more devastation to the hardest hit areas, which Mann said were Wilmington, New Bern and Lumberton. 

But Subway — one of the most ubiquitous "fast food" brands in the U.S. with 819 North Carolina stores — was prepared, thanks to the brand's disaster protocol in conjunction with the American Red Cross. 

Subway boxed meals being stacked and ready to serve to shelter residents at East Mecklenburg High School.  (Provided)

In many cases, that plan has literally been the glue that held some folks in the storm's path together over the last week of high winds and flooding. The brand compensates franchisees who are operational for their food-based relief efforts to disaster-stricken communities, said Subway spokesman Kevin Kane in an interview with QSRweb.

"Local Subway restaurant teams pulled together to provide meals for people staying at Red Cross shelters," Kane said. "Everyone at these shelters has been affected by the storm, whether evacuating from the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts, or Charlotte residents impacted by power outages and flooding. ... The sandwiches and other food and beverage items go to first responders, rescue/relief workers and to the people in shelters - anywhere there is a need.

"The company formalized the process a few years back. As a private company, I can't share the dollar amount the company puts into this effort. Ultimately, it provides a great partnership to be able to support the restaurants as they address the needs in their communities."

Mann, who also serves as Subway's North Carolina business development agent, said at the peak of the storm, more than 25 percent of the state's 819 stores were closed, largely due to mandatory evacuations, but storm effects are still keeping dozens closed.

"With the 267 closed at the peak, we reduced that down to 86 last night and we'll go lower to about 40 today," Mann said during a Thursday interview. "Currently there's three main area still greatly affected ... Wilmington, New Bern and then Lumberton.

"Of  those areas, New Bern and Wilmington were most affected by the winds and hurricane itself. ...In Lumberton ... it was more flooding..particularly two to three days after the bulk of the storm when the rivers are at their highest. ...But the number of closed stores will continue to dwindle down to about 20 that will remain closed with substantial damage."

Mann, as well as many of the state's other franchisees, have weathered several disasters, particularly those operators who are closer to the coast. When they compare similar storms they say that it was the size and snail-like pace of Florence that ultimately caused most of the problems.

"The challenge with this storm is that it was so large and so slow moving ... at 5 mph with a storm the size of the state of Michigan ... so it just stayed over the state several days. We still have parts of major roads, like I-95 and I-40 with sections that are still closed ... which creates huge logistical challenges from ... power outages, water supply and restaurant flooding. But, we're getting through it. North Carolinians and the Subway family here are amazingly resilient," Mann said.

"Overnight we make thousands of sandwiches and get those out overnight. Subway has a wonderful program to reimburse franchisees for those donations. That's really a team effort to get that accomplished. .... And those franchise owners really want to help. It's really inspirational."                                             Tim Mann, Subway franchisee

And they all owe a debt of gratitude to the Subway brand itself, Mann said. The Connecticut-based company learned after the devastation caused by Hurricane Fran in 1996, that it required a solid disaster — not just for stores but also their communities. That realization led to a partnership with the Red Cross. The two organizations worked together to put into place a national disaster protocol to help get food and drink to victims and rescuers. 

"Overnight we make thousands of sandwiches and get those out overnight," Mann relayed. "Subway has a wonderful program to reimburse franchisees for those donations. That's really a team effort to get that accomplished, but even though we had 267 stores closed, which sounds like a lot of stores down,you still have 500 open who can handle that. And those franchise owners really want to help. It's really inspirational." 

As far as advice for other brands and franchisees thinking about creating or updating their own worst-case-scenario protocols, Mann said he highly recommended that restaurateurs do rhe hard work ahead of time to make it easier on themselves, their franchisees and communities when disaster strikes. It's the kind of pre-planning that can make all the difference to businesses bouncing back better than ever, right along with the towns around them. 

"Have a plan of how you're going to come out of the storm," Mann advised his fellow restaurateurs. "After Fran in '96, we had no plan to help in recovery, so that's No. 1: Have a plan to help. ...

"Second, never under-estimate natural events like this and heed the warnings. The forecasting of this storm was dead-on. So, if they tell you to evacuate, then evacuate. Then have that plan of how you're going to react afterward because that really provides a sense of calm. If you're scrambling, you become part of the problem. ... It's really a concerted effort and one I think Subway does as good as anybody."

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth, Insurance / Risk Management, Operations Management, Sandwich, Social Responsibility

Companies: Subway

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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