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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fort Thomas Subway: A Staple in the Community

Subway owner, James Davis, and manager Kate Lockwood. FTM file. 
In the 1930s, streetcar tracks lined Fort Thomas Avenue in front of The Lubitorium at 10 N. Fort Thomas Avenue.

Still a recognizable structure just outside the decibel reach of Judy Kiskaden, the famed crossing guard at the corner of Fort Thomas and Highland Avenues, Fort Thomas Subway is now a community staple.

Owner, James Davis, bought the franchise nearly a decade ago and describes inheriting an organizational mess.

"We improved our processes and started hiring local high school and college students. We wanted residents in Fort Thomas to feel a sense of community here, whether they were working or dining with us," said Davis.

One of those students was 2009 Highlands graduate, Kate Lockwood, who first began working two days a week as a 16-year old to earn gas money so she could drive her mom's company car. She's now a year away from graduating from Northern Kentucky University with a degree in Business Management and Human Resources.

Davis said that in hindsight, hiring Lockwood was one of the best decisions he has made as a franchise owner.

"I remember even being too shy to ask an application, so my mom got it for me," Lockwood said with a wry smile. "We sat down and ate lunch and James called to offer me a job a day later. I started by prepping the cheese only!"

Davis said he became ill at the same time two of his long-time managers left their jobs.  He said that during that time in his life, he almost threw in the towel and sold his stake in the business. That's when Lockwood stepped up to the plate.

Now in her ninth year at Fort Thomas Subway, she's managing the busiest days of the week on the weekends and credits Davis for giving her the confidence to run a business.

"The job opportunity has been great, especially with it being in my hometown. It's a place to learn, it’s a starting point, a chance to improve communication skills and work ethic," said Lockwood. "(Davis) is very charismatic, and understanding. He pushes people to their maximum potential."

But according to Lockwood, business could always be better.

Davis, who readies the store every week day for breakfast at 5:30 a.m., said that he's looking forward to the revitalization of the central business district, which accounts for a large portion of his lunch sales.

The Hiland Building, which was bought by Dan Gorman and David Hosea, has started filling vacancies. Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices will open in April and Top This Donut Bar is on schedule to open not long after. There are others businesses that are also building out in the Hiland Building, which is on the same side of the street, and businesses that have renovated across the four-lane street that could help boost their lunch business.
The Lubitorium became Fort Thomas Subway. C: 1932. 

The Subway location in Fort Thomas is the only national chain left in the entire city and Davis said he's had to get creative to bring business back, especially with Highlands students. The lunch period for Highlands students has been shortened five minutes, which can vary between 25 and 30 minutes. They also compete with The Twisty Grill, which is a baseball's throw away from Highlands campus across the street.

Fort Thomas Subway has tried to get involved in the catering business to boost sales, as well as offering deals that other franchisees wouldn't dare offer. "We've actually gone back to offering $5 footlongs and $3 six-inch sandwiches, something that the national chain went away with a few years ago, but we've had to try to make it worth it for the students to make the walk," he said. 

Davis estimates that about 25% of his sales came from the Highlands lunch crowd. Crowds that used to be upwards of 30 an hour are now around five.

David Ketcham, a senior at Highlands High School, said that a change in food quality at Highlands and a more lenient credit policy has made the cafeteria more competitive.

"Freshman and Sophomore year I didn't eat in the cafeteria. I left campus everyday and went to places like Subway, Convenient, and The Twisty Grill. But as of last year I just eat in the cafeteria because with the new lunch it's just more convenient to just stay in. Plus the weather the past two years has been so unpredictable and crazy. The line in the cafeteria is always packed and finding a seat can be a battle in itself," he said.

The Fort-Thomas-Only special is Monday through Friday, from 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and includes the Spicy Italian, Meatball, Cold Cut Combo, Veggie Delite, Black Forest Ham, BMT, and Turkey.

What won't be on the special menu?

Some of the strangest sandwiches that Lockwood has seen in her nine years include a  Meatball Sub, topped with tuna and a sandwich affectionately known as "The Chris."

"One of our regulars, Chris, asks for pizza bread, cheese, chipotle ranch, oregano, parmesan and the chocolate chip cookie. It's actually not bad," said Lockwood.

When hearing of that combination, Davis just looked over his oval-shaped glasses, smiled and shook his head.

"Whatever it takes," he said.

1 comment:

  1. Subway is a great "fast" food restaurant with fresh ingredients and a super friendly atmosphere. We love having it in the middle of town and can't say enough good things about James and his staff. We are blessed to have James' business in our town