Rick Ueable: Reject Passivity, Stand United, Invest Internally 

Principled leadership for Foods 2000, Inc., among the longest-running, most successful Subway franchises in Arizona 
by Alison Bailin Batz 

According to Rick Ueable, Foods 2000, Inc. was supposed to be a distant memory well before 2017.

Rewind to 1983, when Ueable formally partnered with colleague Ken Clark on a business called Real Investments, a commercial real estate company that was met with great success nationwide … until the fallout from the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

“The Tax Reform Act changed the way real estate could be depreciated, which played a huge role in the industry’s infamous crash of the late ’80s,” says Ueable, who had two choices by 1989 — cut ties with Clark and close up shop, as so many businesses did at that time, or dig his heels in and fight the good fight as a team.

Ueable chose to stand with Clark, and vice versa.

“Not even at our lowest did we point fingers or assign blame — that was key. Instead, we worked day and night to negotiate deals as we could while devising a strategy on how to transition into another industry,” recalls Ueable, who had to — admittedly — be convinced that sandwiches were the way to go.

By happenstance, Clark was seated on a flight to San Diego with one of the first-ever Subway franchisees in Arizona and got inspired. While still at the airport, Clark called Ueable (collect) and shared his vision of expanding Subway in Arizona as their next step. Given there was exactly zero restaurant experience between the two of them, Ueable was at first hesitant to make the move. But, at this same time, Ueable began investing more in his faith, as well as his faith’s teachings of servant leadership as a business model, no matter the industry.

“I decided to take this leap of faith with Kenny, and we were both in agreement that everything we did from there on out would be based on servant leadership’s principles,” says Ueable, who named the business Foods 2000 in a nod to the millennium because he couldn’t fathom still being in the sandwich business by the time 2000 rolled around.

By late 1989, Foods 2000 pulled together a $450,000 loan (at 19 percent, notes Ueable) and purchased its first three locations. And even when their office boasted only a handful of employees, servant leadership’s principles of listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community were at the forefront. To Ueable, the concept also meant rejecting the idea of managing in a silo, and he went so far as to report the company’s financials to all his managers on a weekly basis to ensure complete transparency from the top down.

“Beyond transparency, we wanted to show our commitment to investing internally in our people, so early on we developed a training program, workshops and continuing education opportunities — some mandatory and some optional — for every single employee from managers to sandwich artists, with the goal to empower them to make their own decisions, as well as to be accountable for said decisions,” says Ueable, who has expanded the trainings over the past three decades to include life skills seminars, leadership boot camps and programs on professionalism.

Ueable also notes that listening to his team — especially those who work in the restaurants and see product, processes and customers on a daily basis — versus simply bossing them around changed the direction of not only Foods 2000, but of Subway itself.

“I made the decision to run for an elected position on the North American Independent Purchasing Cooperative for Subway in 2000 because I wanted to play an active role in quality control, logistics and technology to help make our teams’ lives easier,” says Ueable, who did eventually serve as the IPC chair and today serves on its board of directors. Among its biggest recent achievements is the introduction of Subventory, a revolutionary technology being launched in Subways nationwide to simplify supply and demand at the store level at the touch of a button.

A final word from Ueable on how Foods 2000 has stood the test of time: gratitude.

“The simple act of telling someone ‘thank you’ on a regular basis, and meaning it, still counts for something, both in business and in life,” says Ueable, who arms his leadership team with an endless supply of gift cards to simply use as daily thank yous to the teams in the field between face-to-face rallies and meetings.

Foods 2000 even launched an internal Facebook group so employees can post positive thoughts and photos as well as offer support and build camaraderie 24 hours a day, whether they are in Phoenix, Flagstaff or anywhere in between.

About Foods 2000, Inc.

  • Foods 2000 owns and operates 41 Arizona Subways, with plans to expand to 48 by year’s end.
  • Rick Ueable and business partner Ken Clark founded the company in 1989.
  • Foods 2000 has 400-plus employees and moved to a new headquarters in Scottsdale in 2015.
  • In June 2017, Foods 2000 was honored for having the top restaurant in the state, located at 44th Street and Cactus. In 2016, Ueable and Clark won the same honor for their location at 19th Avenue and Greenway.
  • Rick Ueable joined Subway Kids & Sports of Arizona in 1999, a nonprofit focused on helping kids in need gain access to sports, camp and equipment and registration fees. To date, the organization has touched 30,000 children and donated $800,000-plus statewide.

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