LOWER PROVIDENCE >> A hoagie by any other name is just as tasty — as long as it’s a Firehouse Subs original.

That was the prevailing attitude of the crowd that lined up on Wednesday morning when Firehouse Subs opened in the newly constructed Audubon Square Expansion retail center at 725 S. Trooper Road, Audubon.

Founded by firefighting brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen in 1994 in Jacksonville, Fla. — where the sandwich we know and love as a “hoagie” is referred to as a “sub” — the chain is at long last bringing its firefighting-themed menu, decor and charitable philosophy to the Norristown area, thanks to the tenaciousness of franchisee Chris Clendenen, a South Jersey native.

The process that was sparked the day Clendenen discovered the yet-to-be-built spot that he was sure would be ideal for launching his first Firehouse Subs location and then finalized the day Starbucks and Sprint finally welcomed their new neighbor in the tiny strip center took well over two years, he said.

“It took me over a year just to find this property, and that’s with circling three states. I had the ability to go wherever I thought I could do the best, which most people don’t have that luxury,” noted Clendenen, who has plans to open four more locations in the near future, two of them most likely in King of Prussia and East Norriton. “A few locations fell through for me — one in Concordville, a couple in Cherry Hill, one in Christiana. And then this popped up and it took a year just to negotiate the lease.”

Even during numerous construction delays, the culinary school grad and onetime commercial cleaning entrepreneur never doubted that he and Firehouse Subs would make a perfect partnership.

One of the reasons he was so drawn to Firehouse Subs was because of its contributions to its Public Safety Foundation, Clendenen said.

“The Public Safety Foundation really appealed to me … they’ve given back more than $30 million to first responder for training and equipment. Just in Pennsylvania, they’ve given half a million dollars. I like the giving back part. I was in a car accident when I was 17 so I understand the EMS people and all that, and anything that can help with that is great. If you’re going to do something with a theme,” he added, “Firehouse Subs is the best place for it.”

The confidence shared by the company, which has now grown to more than 1,000 locations across the country, and a potential franchisee definitely needs to be mutual, Clendenen pointed out.

“Corporate has to approve you, to see if they like how well you work with people and how you do things. Because this business is all about customer service and if you don’t have that orientation they really don’t want to go forward with a franchise with you,” said Clendenen, who plans to be a hands-on owner as much as possible, seeing to it that customers are treated properly.

“Like everything, this country is moving toward service, so if you can do that and provide a good product the rest usually works itself out,” he said.

In honor of the new location, Firehouse Subs donated an external defibrillator to Lower Providence Police Department.

“Every franchisee got to choose where they wanted the defibrillator to go,” noted Clendenen, who said that the kitchen techniques that Firehouse Subs uses to distinguish itself from other sandwich chains was also a factor in his choice.

“The rolls are toasted and the meats and cheeses are steamed. The steamers melt the cheese and it really adds moisture to the meat and holds it together. They’re better sandwiches than I ever tasted anywhere else,” he said. “Our brand is literally on the meat when it comes in. Every sandwich comes with a specific cheese unless you order it with something different. Even the cold sandwiches are better than most places because of the quality of the meat.”

The menu also includes chopped salads, award-winning chili and chicken noodle soup.

Bottled sodas include Coke and Diet Coke. Coke Zero fans will be happy to know that it’s offered as a fountain option.

In keeping with the firehouse theme — nicely exemplified by brick walls and the red pickle buckets, which are available for $2 and make great catch-all containers and flower pots, Clendenen said — sandwiches bear such names as Hook & Ladder (smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, Monterey Jack) and Engineer (smoked turkey breast, Swiss, sautéed mushrooms.)

Chris Reynolds, battalion chief for Lower Providence Emergency Medical Service, had selected the Hero Sub, complete with roast beef, smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, provolone and served up “fully involved,” which, in Firehouse Subs terms means mayo, deli mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a kosher dill pickle on the side.

Reynolds said he first encountered Firehouse Subs when he attended a fireman’s conference in Indianapolis.

“That was a great place for that area and I think it will be great for this area,” he said. “It’s another nice option to have here.”

Firehouse Subs is open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 484-681-9996.

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