NORTH LIBERTY– A long-established restaurant in North Liberty has new owners, a new location, and a brand new look.
But fans of Subway will be happy to know it still offers the same fresh, good-tasting food.
Kevin and Sarah Smith purchased the franchise from Sarah’s father Craig, a long-time Subway franchisee who continues to own other Subway locations in the region. Sarah grew up in the industry and learned the business under the tutelage of her parents, who bought their first store in downtown Iowa City in 1989 when Sarah was nine years old. When she met Kevin while they were students at the University of Iowa, he began offering help in the office.
“As it led on and we finished college, we both just ended up working in the business,” Kevin said. When Sarah’s dad decided to sell the North Liberty Subway store at the Sugar Creek Lane strip mall behind Casey’s– where it had been for nearly 20 years– Kevin and Sarah were ready to go all in.
At the same time, a spot in the newly-built commercial building at 780 Community Dr., just off Liberty Centre Park and Pond, awaited a tenant.
“We had been looking to move from the old location,” Kevin said. “The town grew so fast it kind of became hidden back there. People didn’t realize it was there anymore.”
With a prime spot right on Penn Street since Feb. 7, Subway is now hard to miss. A big grand-opening celebration in March, with a buy-one-get-one sandwich deal and special guests Herky the Hawk and members of the University of Iowa Hawkeye dance team, brought customers in droves.
“We’ve had people come in and say it’s great to finally have a Subway in North Liberty,” Kevin laughed. “But we also have people come in who used to go to the old location and say they really like the new look.”
“People love the new décor, and so do I,” said Sarah. The rich, warm colors of the interior and new seating options, including a reading-and-eating corner with easy chairs and a low-slung coffee table, gives the sub shop a more upscale feel.
“A lot of stores shy away from the arm chairs, because they don’t get used,” Sarah said, “but I felt like this was an area that people would really like.”
Kevin said it does get used in the North Liberty store.
“People like to sit here with their laptops and their coffee,” Kevin said. “We’re hoping by end of summer to get WiFi.”
The Smiths hope to make it a relaxed atmosphere for both patrons and employees, giving staff the freedom to chat with customers and doing what it takes to make customers happy.
“The friendliness of the staff is important, and the new décor helps too. It’s a more upscale look. It’s clean, it’s pretty ” said Sarah.
“And it’s comfortable,” interjected Kevin. “You can come in wearing a business suit or work boots. Either way it’s all good.”
Subway offers the same fresh sandwich ingredients, and adds new things to its menu regularly. Open early every day, Subway offers breakfast selections like egg sandwiches– also made with egg white for a low-cholesterol option– that can be piled with bacon, cheese and steak. More recently, Subway flatizzas joined the menu: a crisp, melty pizza-style flatbread that Kevin said is selling surprisingly well.
When it comes to food and a dining experience, Subway uses a simple approach that has had proven long-lasting appeal.
“I think it’s just being able to watch your food being made with fresh ingredients, we prep a lot of the food on-site, we bake the bread here every day,” said Sarah.
“And you can customize your meal,” added Kevin. “It’s a healthy option.”
Affordability also continues to bring customers through the door, he said.
“In the evenings we continue to have select two or more foot-longs for $5 each after 4 p.m.,” said Kevin. “That’s been great because being on the main road back into town, it’s quick and easy to get in and out, and a lot of people are stopping in to pick up dinner.”
Soon, the North Liberty Subway will also be offering an option to place orders online and skip the long lines when picking up.
It’s another way the newly-revised Subway hopes to serve the community where Sarah has lived for 10 years, and Kevin the last eight.
“We wanted to own our first franchise here in North Liberty because it’s home,” Kevin said. “For as much as the town’s grown, it’s great that it still know a lot of people. It still has that small-town feel.”