For a long time, Chris and Robin Sorenson couldn’t get a break. The former firefighters had tried a number of ventures — including a Christmas tree company that could boast a whopping zero sales — without success. After many disappointments and false starts, they came up with Firehouse Subs, a specialty lunch and dinner sub sandwich company.

Since its founding in 1992, Firehouse Subs has grown to encompass almost five hundred locations across the United States. The brothers have gone from struggling to successful, with $285 million in sales in 2011 alone. Their sandwiches are big and toasted, their franchise locations are strictly controlled, with firefighting decorations and Dalmatian-patterned tabletops. And unlike many other companies during the financial crisis of 2008, Firehouse Subs did not retrench its business but instead invested in advertising, which paid off handsomely.

The Sorenson brothers also launched the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation in 2005, which has given around $4 million to public service organizations.