Firehouse Subs CEO, Satchel's owner discuss costs of business
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.
Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox talked face-to-face with Republican leaders in Congress on Dec. 5 about small-business concerns with the looming "fiscal cliff."
He was quoted in a New York Times article on Nov. 30 discussing concerns that the Affordable Care Act could slow business growth.
On Thursday, he came to Gainesville from the company headquarters in Jacksonville to talk about both issues with a decidedly smaller audience — customer Tim Dalrymple and Satchel Raye, the owner of Satchel's Pizza, who was invited to participate by Dalrymple.
The lunch summit at Satchel's was set in motion after Dalrymple, a 53-year-old associate engineering professor at the University of Florida, took issue with comments by Fox in The Times article that appeared in The Gainesville Sun.
Fox was quoted as saying that any dollar that gets diverted, whether for "Obamacare" or increased tax rates, puts franchisees one dollar further away from being able to expand their businesses.
He also said he was wrestling with whether to absorb the cost of providing health coverage to more employees or pay the penalties but risk losing employees to competitors who offer coverage.
Dalrymple said he fired off an email to the company saying that if Fox was willing to trade covering employees in favor of growth that he would stop eating at his restaurants.
Dalrymple said he was surprised to get a lengthy response from Fox explaining his position and an invitation to join him for lunch at Firehouse. When Fox didn't get a response, he followed that up a few days later.
"If I was losing a customer because of a belief I believe was being held, I want an opportunity to set the record straight on that, and I think we did," Fox said.
Dalrymple, a regular at Satchel's, said Fox is engaged in the issue beyond his ability to respond, so he asked Raye to sit in.
"He's a real responsible guy," Dalrymple said of Raye. "I thought that he was a really progressive voice, and he was willing to do it and spend some time with the guy."
The business owners said they talked about the differences in their business models.
Fox elaborated on his position. He said a franchisee needs to save $80,000 and borrow another $200,000 to open a new restaurant, "which creates more real jobs, with real equipment made by people with real jobs. Food manufactured by people with real jobs."
Every dollar taken from a small-business owner delays that, he said.
As for health care, Fox said Firehouse planned to offer coverage for all full-time employees at the 30 company-owned stores and hoped to provide a model for franchise owners who have another 500-plus Firehouse Subs locations.
He said he was frustrated, however, with the lack of specifics from the federal government on requirements to provide coverage in 2014.
With about 20 full-time and 30 part-time employees, Raye will not be required to provide coverage.
Satchel's offers employees reimbursement for health care costs or insurance premiums based on an amount accrued monthly, which is in turn based on hours worked. Raye said the restaurant has paid out $6,000 this year.
"My point, I guess, to the conversation was that growth can also come from having healthy employees," he said.
Dalrymple said nobody's mind was changed at the meeting, but he gives Fox credit for being a good listener.
"I think the guy is more concerned than most people are about his employees," he said.
As to whether he will patronize Firehouse Subs in the future, Dalrymple said he wants to wait and see whether the restaurant provides health care to employees.