Firehouse Subs Plugs Away in Alameda

Clifford and Tammy Chow open a sub franchise in Alameda that helps first responders.


The franchise philosophy inspired Clifford Chow.

Lori Eanes

He’d been working in restaurants for nearly many years, since he was 13. But Clifford Chow never wanted a restaurant of his own—until he sustained a life-threatening injury.

After enjoying dinner with friends one 30-degrees-below-zero night two years ago in Illinois, “I stepped outside and fell on the ice. First my head hit the concrete, then my back,” the Alameda resident recalled.

The resulting concussion wiped out most of his memories surrounding the accident, “but ever since then, I’ve looked at life totally differently.”

One major aspect of his new worldview is profound respect, awe, and gratitude toward first responders: not just those who helped him, but all such heroes.

He and his wife, Tammy Chow—together they boast 60 years of restaurant experience—ventured into a Firehouse Subs franchise and loved the hot submarine sandwiches they shared there. And then when they learned that the fast-casual group was founded by two firefighters who donate a portion of the company’s profits to local police and fire departments, “We said, ‘Wow, we have to buy one of these places.’ ”

Since their Alameda shop opened this summer, they’ve been able to place an order for a defibrillator for the Alameda Police Department and plan to hold a fundraiser to help replace a Little League snack shack that had been ravaged by fire.

“It’s carried in their cruiser,” Chow said of the defibrillator. “If you call 911 in Alameda, they’re the first to respond. If someone’s having a heart attack, this could save that person.”

Made with locally sourced produce and USDA choice meats, all sliced in-house, hot and cold Firehouse subs are assembled on fluffy toasted private-recipe French-style rolls, no two of which are quite alike.

Chow’s personal favorite is the Smokehouse Cheddar Cheese Brisket sub. Smoked for 16-plus hours, “then sliced really thinly, almost laser-cut,” the meat is steamed slowly along with the cheese, “just as my grandmother used to steam my ham sandwiches when I was a kid, to fill them with more flavor.

“It absolutely melts in your mouth,” he said.

Firehouse subs can be customized, with no additional charge for extra tomatoes, olives, lettuce, or peppers. The menu also includes gluten-free, meatless, and under-500-calorie options.

“We want to serve great food,” Chow said. “But we also want to help save lives, if we can do that too.”

Firehouse Subs, 2680 Fifth St., Alameda, 510-217-8278,

Published online on Sept. 30, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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