Software to sandwiches: Rick Koerner stacks the deck at Stack Subs
The story is a familiar one in the restaurant business: a corporate employee from outside the food world -- maybe a sales rep or a project manager or a VP of operations -- is forced by circumstances to make a life-changing decision and determines to follow a dream. The usual impetus is downsizing or restructuring (corporate-speak for getting canned), leaving no choice but to jump back into the soul-killing world of continuous business expansion and contraction or to make your own path, uncertain as it may be. For Rick Koerner, owner of Stack Subs, the decision may have been a little easier because it was based on love: love for his family, for Colorado, and for sandwiches.
Mark Antonation Stack Subs owner Rick Koerner and his new shop in Belmar.
As a software-industry veteran, Koerner had lived and worked on both coasts, traveling frequently to the states in between as part of his job, eating sandwiches as a kind of mission. His co-workers would kid him about his sandwich devotion, tell him that he was in the wrong business and that he should open his own sub shop. Finally back in his home state of Colorado, he thought he had found an acceptable situation: working remotely for a company in Virginia while he and his family enjoyed the quality of living here in Denver.
Mark Antonation The second Stack will hold its grand opening this weekend.
After only four years, though, the suits back east asked, "Who's that joker in Colorado? We need him here in Virginia." But moving again was something that didn't appeal to Koerner, something he didn't want to put his wife and kids through again. Plus, he couldn't get sandwiches out of his mind: The idea of owning his own restaurant, no matter how tongue-in-cheek at the time, had stuck with him. With encouragement from his wife, he quit his job and started building a business plan for what would soon become his first Stack Subs, on Lakewood's bustling Union Boulevard Corridor.
There were early signs that he had made the right decision. The first person he told outside of his family was another father at his kid's daycare -- a father who also happened to run his own business building out new Subway locations and who offered to help once the plan got off the ground. The second person he told was coincidentally looking for investment opportunities and offered financial backing. Despite skepticism from landlords more likely to rent to established chains than local start-ups, and loan officers all too familiar with business plans promising "high quality and low prices," the money and the location Koerner wanted came together.
Mark Antonation It all starts with the bread, according to owner Rick Koerner.
A short three and a half years from that life-changing decision, sitting in his second sandwich joint, which just opened this month in Belmar, Koerner's only regret is his current lack of sleep. A little bleary-eyed but still full of energy and passion, he talks mostly about sandwiches. Even with five other sandwich restaurants competing for customers, he says lunch business is booming at the original Stack, fueled in part by the massive Denver Federal Center (with over 5,000 employees) and other offices on Union between Alameda and Sixth Avenue -- but also by what he attributes to a good value.
Keep reading for more on Stack Subs.