For John Beebe, owner of Heros Downtown Subs & Salads, starting his own business was an opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream. Born in St. Petersburg, FL, Beebe started his career as a volunteer firefighter immediately following high school. After a short pause in his fire career, to pursue an opportunity in retail, he realized his true passion was still fighting fires. He joined a small department in Port Richey, initially as a volunteer, and worked there for seven years. He then spent time as a 911 Supervisor and Fire Administrator for Pinellas County, followed by part-time firefighting for New Port Richey for 23 years. Towards the end of his career, Beebe felt an entrepreneurial urge he could no longer ignore.
"I've always had a passion for wanting to do my own business," he said. "At that point in my career, I was ready to do something about it. I researched how to start a business and, along the way, found the SCORE program. I reached out to them and signed up for a mentoring class. My mentor guided me through the process and told me what to do and to focus on one key question - 'what's missing?' I thought about it for a few days and came to the conclusion that there wasn't a good sub shop in downtown New Port Richey. My mentor then encouraged me to visit different businesses and ask them about what's missing. The general consensus was a good sub shop."
Once he identified the right business to pursue, Beebe worked with his mentor on a business plan. He also received assistance through the Pasco County EDC's SMARTstart Program - a program designed to help new and existing businesses succeed. From March 2019 through early December, when Beebe signed the lease, he spent his time building relationships with local business owners, handing out menus and renovating the building his new business would occupy.
"The location was great, but it was basically just four walls," he said. "We had to renovate the entire space. I drew up the design and had an architect finalize everything for approval with the city. We did a lot of the work ourselves to save money. We were pretty much here every day working."
Heros Downtown Subs & Salads had its soft opening on February 8th. With freshly prepared subs and salads using fresh ingredients, including Boars Head Products, exceptional customer service and consistency, the business started to gain some serious momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. By March 15th, everything grinded to a halt. For Beebe, however, this wasn't a time to panic - it was a time to innovate and to do whatever he had to do to keep the business moving forward.
"I looked at our business plan and said, 'what needs to happen to keep our head above water?'," he said. "I had money in savings and decided to work everyday to offset my payroll. We also introduced an 'extension' of our Pay It Forward Program. We originally started the Pay It Forward Program when we first started the business as a way for customers to give back to first responders. After purchasing their food, they had an option to donate the cost of a sub and to choose whether to put that donation, in the form of a certificate, in a box for police, fire or EMS. When an on-duty first responder would come in, they could look in the box to see if there was a certificate for a free sub. The program was a huge success."
Beebe continued, "After the pandemic hit, we thought about how to make that program work on an even bigger scale. My step-son, Branden, and I created a platter program to keep us in business and to provide food delivered to police departments, fire stations, hospitals and EMS facilities. Today we're selling between 20 and 25 platters per week. We also partnered with a local brewery to provide Charcuterie platters with meats, cheeses and fruits for their customers. When they were still allowed to be open, they would buy between 12 and 24 per week. Because of these efforts, we've been able to stay in business and didn't have to let anyone go."
While he's no longer in a position to fight fires, Beebe is fighting hunger and building a solid family-run business he's proud of. "We are engaged with the community and have already developed great relationships with our downtown businesses," he said. "We are from a family of mainly First Responders and are proud to support them in any way possible. We are also very proud of how, in such a short time and during a true pandemic, we have maintained our consistency and product delivery to our customers. We have built a great reputation already and look forward to a long lasting relationship with our friends and neighbors in our town."
Looking ahead, Beebe, with support from his wife, Connie, is focused on growth and becoming more involved in supporting his community through his business and his continued participation as a part-time firefighter. He's also focused on helping other businesses with their growth and developing mutually beneficial partnerships with other businesses as downtown New Port Richey slowly comes back to life. Beebe also hinted at another "restaurant related" venture in the works. Stay tuned.
What advice does Beebe have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Set goals, create a business plan, find a mentor and listen to them," he said. "Implement your business plan. Expect failure but build it into success. Listen to other businesses and find out their goals. Trust your employees. Develop relationships with others in your community. Be honest and have integrity."