Acton Institute Powerblog

Church Opens Subway Franchise to Bring Jobs to Community

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I have previously expressed my appreciation for the popular TV show, Undercover Boss, in which business leaders from large corporations spend several days working alongside lower-level employees.

In an episode on Subway, Don Fertman, the restaurant chain’s Chief Development Officer, goes undercover at several locations across the United States. Most of the episode includes your typical Undercover Boss fare — a bumbling executive, dedicated workers, teer-jerker employee recognitions — but I was struck by a particular branch that Fertman visits along the way.

Located in the heart of Buffalo, New York, the restaurant is located in the same building as True Bethel Baptist Church, and further, is owned and operated as a franchise by the church itself. The reason? To provide employment and job training to the surrounding neighborhood.

The complete episode is provided below. To watch the piece on True Bethel, jump to the 24-minute mark:

After completing his rather routine employee duties, Fertman spends a good deal of time chatting with Reverend Darius Pridgen (28:30), the head pastor, who explains the origins and aim of the idea:

The reason we actually put it in the church was because there weren’t a lot of opportunities in this neighborhood when I got here. We had a high murder rate, and a lot of people not working. So, a lot of people always talk about, “Just give people jobs.” Well, that’s not the key, if they haven’t been trained. So we started collecting an offering. We called it a “franchise offering” – literally called it a “franchise offering.” But we’ve got to do more than build a business. We’ve got to train people. We try to push people into the next level of life.

The episode concludes with Fertman waiving the franchise fee for the church to open another similarly suited store in a nearby neighborhood. In addition, he encourages a room of Subway executives to consider it as a model for the future.

Whether those ideas actually pan out, it’s encouraging to see work and opportunity valued in such a way. True Bethel did not sit idly by, assuming a narrow, fatalistic mindset, despite the trouble that surrounded them. Instead, it saw human dignity and potential, and took the necessary steps to help others achieve personal fulfillment, transforming their community in turn. Stretching well beyond the common constraints of acceptable “church ministry,” True Bethel reached directly into their economic ecosystem.

But although it’s encouraging to see Subway recognize the value of the True Bethel model, we should note that this was, first and foremost, an independent, bottom-up initiative by the church. Businesses have a role to play, but church communities needn’t twiddle their thumbs in waiting. Non-profit initiatives and ministries should remain core features of Christian service, but the church needn’t limit its imagination to soup kitchens, prayer meetings, and daycare centers. There is more work to be done.

The church must prophecy and minister in a way that recognizes all areas of human need and human service, and that includes the economic sphere. Work and service are central to Christian mission, and True Bethel is setting a great example in helping folks connect to society as they further participate and excel in this divine call.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • MyAkrasia

    It’s ironic how much money is spent annually by subway on advertising and this recent effort by Don Fertman to promote Subways image. I say ironic because here in Pakistan, we are being served everything from Caterpillars, Flies to Cockroaches in our Subs. The outlets have pathetic hygiene conditions with servers picking their nose in front of customers, clipping their nails on counters and cockroaches coming out of their kitchens if it wasnt enough to make you throw up in your mouth already.

    There are no checks and balances because the Development Agents are the very people who own majority of the franchises. Convenient, because you cant get your complaint heard or an impartial resolution.

    Customers come down with food borne illnesses such as food poisoning, hepatitis, typhoid. I loved Subway, I still do. But I’m a little repulsed now. I had been eating for 3 months straight at Subway store id 39526. There were flies and the insect killers didnt work. I politely filled out a suggestion card and also asked the server to tell the owner to do something about the insect killer.

    Next visit, nothing had happened. So I decided to take snaps of the dead and alive flies on the premises and email them to him. As I did so, a server on the counter started clipping his nails since there were no customers to serve at the time. A few days earlier, a server had picked his nose oblivious to on looking customers. I reprimanded him, he apologized and I let it slide thinking it was a one off incident. Keep in mind, we are brain washed by the clever advertising into thinking regardless of geographical location. Subway would maintain its standards of hygiene at least. Not so.

    As I was done finishing the email, a large cockroach came out of the kitchen making me want to throw up. I stopped going to Subway after that but it was already too late. I came down with Hepatitis A and was in the hospital for 2 weeks of what seemed like a near death experience.

    2 months passed and the owner still didnt reply. I called Subway HQ and threatened a lawsuit. I was given nothing but lip service by their attorney “We will look into this but can’t promise you a time frame for a resolution as we have never dealt with such a situation before’. Add insult to injury why dont you? The owner emailed me saying the workforce was to blame, and took no responsibility for the incident.

    These are the kind of people you want representing Subway Don Fertman? The kind that play with peoples lives and safety? Why? Because its good for profits and business? Have you any idea how many customers you lose when this happens? I’m looking at a relapse of the Hepatitis A and Subway International wants to do nothing about the Development Agent in question.

  • moi2u

    Their goes their Tax Exempt status!! If they are operating fast-food businesses Inside their churches, they shouldn’t qualify as tax-exempt. Sad that their worship services and the congregation’s devotion to The Lord isn’t enough to bring people into church just to hear the sermon and derive the lessons from it that will make them strive to be a better person. SMH

    • Jomari Peterson

      The church is not meant to just spout words, but to put the teachings into action. That is what I see being done here. Also, the franchise most likely pays taxes, but the profits due not suffer to double taxation because it is an exempt organization. I also believe that for-profit organizations are vital to the sustainability of non-profit organizations.

  • moi2u

    The Biblical words “money-changers” and “abomination” come to mind.