Small Biz: Penn Station East Coast Subs lures customers with freshness

photo Owner Ryan Lackey hands a fresh-squeezed lemonade to a customer as he works with his crew at the newly-opened Penn Station East Coast Subs restaurant on Highway 153 across from Northgate.

• Name: Penn Station East Coast Subs

• Location: 5241 Highway 153, Hixson

• Contact information: 423-485-3536,

• Products/services: Sandwiches, French fries and drinks, all with a focus on fresh-prepared ingredients. Franchise owner Ryan Lackey said meats, cheeses and vegetables are chopped and sliced, bread is baked, and French fries are cut fresh every day. The food is given the final few minutes of baking, frying or grilling after a customer orders.

• Age: Chattanooga franchise opened Sept. 5

• A history in the business: This Hixson location will be Lackey's second Penn Station. He started in his home state of Kentucky before picking Chattanooga for a site. Restaurants were a natural business for him. He grew up working in his parent's restaurant, learning the ropes at as a teenager.

• Biggest hurdle: Finding the right site. Lackey knew he wanted to open a shop in Chattanooga because of the area's strong economic growth and started looking for a site in March 2011. But every time he began to examine a site, it would be purchased before he could make an offer. "It took me a full year to find a good site that I thought was appropriate for the restaurant," he said. "It is so healthy here, but good locations don't stay available long."

• Biggest reward: Repeat customers. When he opened his Kentucky franchise, Lackey would see first-time Penn Station visitors returning multiple times a day. He hopes to see similarly enthusiastic customers here in Chattanooga. "To see the reaction on people's faces, it makes it worth it," he said.

• Lesson learned: Focus on customer service. Lackey reminds his staff that he isn't really the one writing their paychecks, but the customers.

• Future goals: Over the next 5 years, Lackey plans to open 3 more stores in the region. After his Hixson site opens, he'll turn his attention to the Ooltewah, Gunbarrel Road, Cleveland, Dalton and Fort Oglethorpe areas.