Local Penn Station East Coast Subs franchisees Lisa and Atif Khan are preparing to open a fourth metro-east stop along their network of restaurants and have their sights set on fifth. Lisa Khan has been working as the managing owner of the couple's metro-east eateries as they plan to open a new locale in East Belleville. She recently talked to business writer Will Buss at the Fairview Heights location, which the Khans opened about eight years ago, to talk about their sandwich shops:
Q: How did you get into this business?
A: "What happened was my husband, who works in St. Louis, and near where he works a new Penn Station went up. This was around 2004. Someone said you should check it out. He fell in love with it. He became one of their regulars. He was there three times a week. He got to know the owner, and the owner said maybe it would be cheaper if you just opened your own. Then, the light bulb went on. At that time, there were none over here on the Illinois side. We started looking into it and one thing led to another and we ended up opening the first one over here. It was well received."
Q: Is that when you started working for the business full time?
A: "About 14 months later when we opened one in Collinsville, that's when I left my day job because then I kind of took over the books and things like that. This became my full-time job. We were both doing this on the side."
Q: Where had you worked prior?
A: "I was working at AG Edwards downtown (St. Louis). But I couldn't do both. So I left that. So we opened in Collinsville in February '07 and then in September of '11, we opened our third one in Edwardsville. We're getting ready to open our fourth location and we're shooting for April of this year. We're pretty excited about that. It's grown and a lot of people know what Penn Station is."
Q: Where is the new sandwich shop going?
A: "This will be in East Belleville on Carlyle Avenue."
Q: Is your husband working in the business full time?
A: "He's still working his day job, believe or not. So I'm currently the one who oversees things as far as the operations go. I also take care of the books. That's my main job. I work with each manager at the locations and I make sure things are running smoothly."
Q: Where else would you like to open a restaurant?
A: "I would say in the next 18 months, that's what our goal is. That was our goal in the beginning, anyway, to have five locations."
A: "This last time, we had two spots that we really liked and we ended up and we ended up in Belleville. The other spot was in Wood River. It was a really nice spot. Who knows? It might still be available."
Q: What do you think has been the reason for your success?
A: "One thing that you have to do when you open a business, whether it's a franchise or not, is you have to believe in your product. And we truly were in love with the food. It was something we truly enjoyed and we need it would be a success."
Q: What is the most popular sandwich on your menu?
A: "We have two sandwiches that pretty much run neck and neck. One is our well-known Philly Cheese Steak. We use actual steak and we do all of that from scratch. We add in the sauteed onions and mix in banana peppers, if people want it. The other one is a completely different sandwich called The Italian, and that has deli meats on it. It has salami, pepperoni and ham. And those are grilled, it's a hot sandwich, loaded with vegetables and it's just really, really flavorful."
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
A: "The thing that I like the most is just getting to know the employees at the different locations. It is fun and challenging. There is a bit of sales involved. I'm not a sales person, but the product speaks for itself and that helps a lot. If you're sincere about your product and your employees are happy and they are sincere about it as well, then it all just kind of falls in place. I like that. It's just enjoyable when people come in and I know they are enjoying their food and we're taking care of them."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.