Trending profit-for-good fast-food chain Firehouse Subs is headed to Asia, with a demonstration kitchen built in the franchise owner’s Singapore head office to test localised recipes and tempt the taste buds of prospective local partners.
In an interview with Inside Retail, Rafael Odorizzi, the Apac president of Canadian-headquartered Restaurant Brands International, said Asian investors who tried the brand in the US during a recent trip were “absolutely amazed with the foods”.
The chain is “absolutely” heading to the region, he said.
Firehouse Subs differs from other sub (sandwich) brands operating in the region, such as Subway, by offering a fixed core menu and serving sandwiches hot, rather than cold.
The chain was founded by two firemen in the US. A pillar of the brand is that part of the proceeds from restaurant sales are donated to local firemen and police departments in the cities where it has stores, creating a strong connection with locals, said Odorizzi.
“We are looking locally at how the brand can be positioned to resonate with the local communities in Asia. It’s an extensive project we are investing millions in just research to make sure that we adapt the concept and get ready for international expansion. We see Asia offers really good potential for the brand,” he said, adding studies were underway in 12 markets internationally. Currently, the chain operates only in the mainland US, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Firehouse Subs has a core menu of about 12 recipes that customers can order, as opposed to selecting their own ingredients one by one. But the orders can be customised. The meat is prepared in a steamer to maintain juiciness, with cheese melted on top.
“One of the learnings we have is that you cannot get a US brand, just place it here and be successful. You’re gonna have to make many adaptations in terms of menu, in terms of size, in terms of the taste,” he said, describing a philosophy that extends across all of Restaurant Brands’ banners, including Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Horton’s coffee.
Odorizzi said there is no timeline for a Firehouse Subs launch in Asia just yet and he preferred not to disclose the most likely initial markets. But he confirmed the company is in “active conversations with prospective partners in different Asian markets”.
Restaurant Brands already has a strong presence in China, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. The combined Apac region store count across its three existing brands has almost doubled to around 4200 during the past five years, despite the advent of Covid-19.