The Untold Truth Of Penn Station East Coast Subs

If you consider yourself a connoisseur of sandwiches, there's a good chance you've heard of Penn Station East Coast Subs. The restaurant chain has more than 300 locations scattered across multiple states, and it is known for its grilled subs, hand-cut french fries, homemade lemonade, and freshly-baked chocolate chunk cookies (via Nation's Restaurant News). 

What started out as a modest operation in 1985 has steadily grown into a widely-respected institution among quick-service restaurants specializing in handheld, bread-nestled feasts. That said, you may have a few lingering questions about Penn Station East Coast Subs, considering the company is a bit more under the radar compared to some of the other sub shops that currently dominate the market. For starters, what does a sandwich company based in Cincinnati have to do with a train station in New York? 

What kind of special subs has the Penn Station come up with over the years? And does the company have any plans for expansion? All it takes is some digging to satisfy your curiosity and came up with the answers to these questions and more. So, kick back and be prepared to daydream about sinking your teeth into a juicy cheesesteak.

The founder named the restaurant after a train station he had never visited

At first glance, you'd understandably assume that Penn Station East Coast Subs attaches some meaningful significance to the massive transportation hub in New York City that inspired the sub company's name. Strangely, that's not the case at all. In fact, even though Penn Station East Coast Subs opened up shop in 1985, founder Jeff Osterfeld had never even visited New York City until around 2013 (via The New York Times). So, what gives? Why would someone name their restaurant company after a train station they'd never been to?

After realizing the financial potential for selling delicious cheesesteaks to the masses, Osterfeld opened up his first couple of restaurants in Ohio, naming them Philadelphia Steak & Sub. The founder decided that the name he came up with was a little too unimaginative, so he chose to name it after Penn Station: A commuter center in New York City that he'd never even visited before. 

Apparently, the founder just wanted to have a company name with imagery that people would associate with the East coast. So, how did Osterfeld feel when he finally got to take a gander at the train station that he pretty much blindly named his company after?

According to The New York Times, he wasn't too impressed, describing it as "a little underwhelming." Lesson learned: Naming your company after a place you've never been to may not be the best idea in the world.

The founder designed and created a golf course

When founder Jeff Osterfeld isn't devising new ways to expand his empire of sandwiches, there's a good chance that he's probably drafting up plans for a new patch of trees along the golf green (via Spectrum News). Not only is Osterfeld a passionate golfer, having picked up the sport sometime in his 20s, but he has also taken the time to dream up and design his very own public golf course. 

Impressively, each hole at The Golf Club at Stonelick Hills was personally designed by Osterfeld himself. According to Osterfeld, the project is a labor of love; most of the money that it makes goes right back into maintaining the course and making new improvements, from planting new trees to upgrading the driving range.

Surrounded by lush greenery in the rural countryside just east of Cincinnati, The Golf Club at Stonelick Hills is open to the public and has been rated as one of the best golf courses in the state. Stonelick Hills has even hosted USGA qualifiers and Cincinnati golf tournaments. The Penn Station East Coast Subs founder loves the whole thing so much that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of working on opening up another golf course later on down the line.

The company offers free fries to celebrate New Year's Day

It's easy to see why New Year's Day is one of the most celebrated holidays. The brand new year ahead inspires a renewed sense of opportunities and possibilities. And if you happen to be near a Penn Station sub shop, it also means throwing your plans for a better diet out the window and chomping on some free french fries. 

After all, french fries are a part of what makes the Penn Station dining experience special. While most sub shops tend to only offer bagged chips, Penn State kicks it up a notch by hooking you up with a crunchy batch of fresh fries (via QSR Magazine). 

Here's the deal: For a few days in early January, Penn State offers customers a free small order of french fries with any sandwich purchase at all locations. If you ask us, munching on some crispy, hand-cut, seasoned potato sticks for free sounds like a pretty sweet way to kick off the new year. The question really is: Which sub should you pair with the fries? 

With so many classics on the menu like the Italian sub, Philly cheesesteak, and chicken parmesan, it's clear that every choice is a winner. So if you find yourself in the mood for some fries and it happens to be early January, you might want to swing by your local Penn Station sub shop to score some free snackage.

Penn Station had a special sub called The Big Pen

You're probably familiar with some of the Penn Station sub classics: Ham and swiss, turkey, bacon and ranch, and chicken cordon bleu are just some of the tasty offerings you'll find on the menu. But did you know that Penn Station has a monthly special and that it sometimes includes brand-new subs?

Promoting limited-time special menu items is a great way to keep customers interested in the food, and Penn Station knows this. Sometimes, the monthly special is one of the regular subs that is offered at a discount, but every once in a while, Penn Station throws us a curveball and comes up with a brand new sub for its monthly special. Such was the case in November of 2016 when Penn Station came up with a new sub dubbed The Big Pen, which seemed to fuse the flavors of several classic American sandwiches into one monster sub. 

The Big Pen featured grilled steak, American cheese, thousand island dressing, lettuce, onions, and pickles. The thousand island dressing gives the sandwich a Reuben sandwich-like flavor, while the pickles, American cheese, onions, and grilled steak blur the line between a Philly cheesesteak and a cheeseburger. The Big Pen was only available for a limited time, but if that flavor combo sounds right up your alley, you can always customize your Penn Station Philly cheesesteak and add those extra ingredients to check it out for yourself.

Penn Station East Coast Subs is poised for growth

The future's looking bright for Penn Station East Coast Subs. According to Nation's Restaurant News, Penn Station announced record sales in 2021, and it also expanded locations. The next phase of growth for Penn Station appears to be on the horizon, as the company has decided that with all of its recent success, the time has come to expand into new markets.

Earlier in 2022, Penn Station signed deals for opening up nearly 50 new locations around the country (via QSR Magazine). Nearly half of those will be in Kansas City, with several other new spots opening their doors in Indiana and Ohio. So, what's the secret to Penn Station's success? The company's tasty grilled subs served in six minutes or less certainly help, but the company has also been working on enticing new franchisees with a special incentive program (via Forbes). 

The incentive program offers new and current franchisees a deal that kicks off with no royalty fees for six months along with half off franchising fees to develop a new restaurant in an eligible location. Some eligible locations include Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago, and Detroit. Between the skyrocketing sales, new locations opening up, and an effective incentive program that's fueling a lot of interest from new franchisors, we think it's safe to say that Penn Station East Coast Subs is here for the long haul.

The restaurant layout and menu were redesigned in 2020

It's important to adapt with the times and be open to changes when you run any business, but that's especially true with a dynamic industry like dining. Penn Station clearly understands this, considering that the company took on the major project of redesigning its menu and the layout of its stores in 2020 (via Fast Casual). Noticing a trend for healthier options and an uptick in sales for cold subs, Penn Station rolled out a new menu that includes salads, wraps, and more cold sandwich options (via Biz Journals).

Some of the new cold sandwiches include the turkey, bacon, and ranch sub, turkey avocado, and the classic Italian (via QSR Magazine). Diners have a choice between the french bread that's specially made for Penn Station or a newer multi-grain bread that the company rolled out for a healthier option. The layout of Penn Station's restaurants was redesigned to allow customers a clearer view of the sandwich-making process in the kitchen. 

The carryout process was also redesigned inside to improve flow within the restaurant. The current setup allows customers to place orders and pay all in the same spot, while a separate area was created for online and delivery orders. According to the Penn Station president, these changes have created a better menu and a much smoother experience for everyone involved.

The company has won numerous awards

Considering Penn Station East Coast Sub's impressively steady rise in the industry, we think it's safe to say the company deserves some accolades. The company earned the number one slot for best subs in Cincinnati in 2021 thanks to the readers of City Beat, beating out other competitors like Jersey Mike's and Melt Revival to take the crown.

Penn Station has also reigned supreme when it comes to consumer picks (via Nation's Restaurant News). Penn Station clearly led the pack among consumers between five other chains that included Which Wich, Raising Cane's, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Red Mango, and Marco's Pizza,

The survey evaluated several areas within each chain, including atmosphere, food quality, menu variety, and craveability, and was developed by WD Partners and administered by Survey Sampling International. Penn Station has also won a Training APEX award from Training Magazine for its training programs along with the resources and opportunities it offers crew members and franchisees. 

Training Magazine analyzes a number of factors in order to rank companies, including a total training budget, the scope of the training provided, and the business outcomes that result from company training programs. Penn Station has kicked off several new training programs in recent years, including My Penn Path, which focuses on helping workers acquire new skills to advance within the company (via Franchising).

The restaurant chain hosts an annual Halloween hangman game online

Everyone knows that Halloween is a lot of fun, but how do businesses engage with the holiday in a way that rewards customers? Instead of hosting a costume competition, haunted house, or pumpkin carving contest, Penn State takes a much more low-key approach by hosting an annual Halloween hangman game online. 

In fact, this Halloween hangman game seems to be something that Penn Station has been doing every October for several years now, making it somewhat of an annual tradition at this point (via QSR Web).

Playing the game is easy since there appears to be no registration process or hoops to jump through. All you need to do is visit the Penn Station Halloween hangman website, which the company tends to post on social media when the season hits. 

Winners of the game get instant rewards like coupons for buy one, get one free subs. Amazingly, the company even lets people play the game once a day all the way through to Halloween, so there are plenty of prizes to win on a daily basis.

It doesn't have a high turnover rate

It's no secret that workers are quitting their jobs in droves in what's been deemed "The Great Resignation" (via CNBC). For the restaurant industry, turnover tends to be particularly high: According to Notch, restaurants typically experience a turnover rate of 75 percent. The reasons for such a high turnover rate aren't terribly shocking: The top three reasons restaurant employees are moving onto different jobs include offers for higher pay, a better schedule, and more opportunities for advancement.

Yet, according to the founder of Penn Station, plenty of workers at his sub shop seem to be sticking around (via CEO Magazine). In an interview with CEO Magazine, Osterfeld claims that Penn Station doesn't experience the high turnover rate that most other restaurants go through. He even says some workers have stayed on board for 20 or 30 years so far and that franchisees often saddle up for the long haul with his company. 

How does Osterfeld explain that kind of loyalty? He points to the company's work culture, which strives to embrace a spirit of community and acceptance. It turns out that if you treat workers with respect and give them the tools to grow professionally, they're more likely to keep working for you. We think it's safe to say there are a few businesses out there that could learn a thing or two from Penn Station's approach.

It offered customers a special deal to cope with high gas prices

Gas prices have been rising, and most of us felt the pain at the pump (via Money). Early on, experts warned of record high gas prices and made predictions that plenty of stations would be charging upwards of five bucks a gallon in some areas. Those predictions turned out to be correct, gas prices skyrocketed, and drivers around the country coughed up massive amounts of hard-earned cash just to get behind the wheel. 

The fact that America has one of the most neglected and embarrassingly underfunded public transportation systems in the developed world also didn't exactly help the situation (via Vice). So, what's a sub company supposed to do when customers are paying out the wazoo for a full tank of go-go juice? The only thing a sandwich shop can do is fill some bellies and offer everyone some delicious food: On the house. 

For a few weeks this past July, Penn Station announced that it would be offering a free small sub with any equal or greater purchase (via Fast Food Post). While a free sandwich certainly isn't going to iron out the financial complexities of widespread economic brutality in any meaningful way, it's still a nice gesture that any fan of Penn Station was surely grateful for.

The founder's favorite sub has a surprise ingredient

With all this talk about grilled subs, you might be wondering about the founder's taste in sandwiches. Does the founder have a favorite? As it turns out, he does, but he puts a little unexpected twist on it that might surprise you.

For Penn Station's 30-year anniversary, the company promoted a special sub for a limited time (via QSR Magazine). Dubbed "The Founder's Special," the sandwich is founder Jeff Osterfeld's favorite sub and comes with some customization. The founder's special is a grilled Philly cheesesteak that comes with extra cheese and an unusual twist: A squirt of teriyaki sauce. 

Apparently, the sub is so good that customers have been asking for the founder's special to be on Penn Station's permanent menu. We can see the allure: After all, the complex flavor combination of grilled beef and the sweet and salty stickiness of teriyaki are like a match made in heaven.

Penn Station East Coast Subs gives back to the community

Penn Station does more than just make sandwiches. The company is also interested in finding ways to give back to the community that it serves. And one of the most remarkable ways it does that is by donating to the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (via Penn Station).

According to QSR Magazine, the founder has been highly involved in helping out the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network for over 20 years. Through golf tournaments and a combination of customer and company donations, the company has donated more than $600,000 to the NDSAN. 

Considering the network and its mission to educate families, organize parent workshops, and offer free-of-charge early intervention therapy sessions, there's no doubt that NDSAN is doing important work that makes a meaningful difference in people's lives, and Penn Station is playing a vital role in that commendable task by providing some much-needed funding. Who says that a good sandwich can't change the world?