Back in 2004, Grady Griffin says he didn't know much about firehouses or anything at all about running restaurants, but he knew a good thing when he tasted it. That was when Griffin and his brother Benjy had their first Firehouse sandwich in Warner Robins, GA.
They were both in the nursing home business and looking for new opportunities. A fisherman's dream: One bite and they were hooked.
"We loved the food, loved the concept, the whole thing," Griffin said. He went through Firehouse Subs' rigorous process of becoming a franchise operator, working 100 hours in one week in one of the restaurants -- a crash course in the restaurant business and a trial by fire to see if he was up to the challenge.
Then came a trip to Jacksonville, FL, to meet the Sorenson brothers, Chris and Robin -- actual firefighters from a family with 200 years of firefighting heritage -- who founded the company in 1994.
"You could just tell they were genuine, good people," Griffin said. The brothers from Georgia were sold and signed on.
When the Griffins had to decide from a Firehouse Subs headquarter's list of places they could open a restaurant, they chose Tucker. That location opened in 2008. Then came Gwinnett Place, and last week, Lilburn, on Lawrenceville Highway at Beaver Ruin in the Kroger shopping center.
"I love it," Griffin said of Lilburn. "Lilburn has a small-town feel to it," and that appeals to the guy who grew up in Hawkinsville, just south of Macon. "People are friendly here."
A trim man with a soft Georgia accent and a warm smile, Griffin feels he's pretty much come full circle -- he first made a career in working for Goldkist as a grain merchant in Valdosta, then as a grain broker in Atlanta. After working for a nursing home distribution business, he's back to food.
Griffin said he's been pleased with the reception and support the place has had so far.
"The city of Lilburn, the fire department, the police department -- they've all been great," Griffin said. There were at least five Lilburn Police Department officers having lunch there on one day earlier this week.
And thanks to Hugh Wilkerson of Antiques in Old Town, Griffin has had a crash course in Lilburn history. Every Firehouse Subs has a hand-painted mural; the one at the Lilburn location depicts the 1920 fire in Old Town Lilburn.
About the food: Firehouse subs are steamed and served warm; combination meals (8-inch sandwich, chips and a drink) usually run less than $9. Anyone in uniform gets a free drink, and the deli features a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which offers more than 120 drink brands or combinations.