Creating an empire one sandwich at a time

By Debbie Hall

Donna Curry grew up in a family of six in the small town of Newark, Ohio where her father and mother worked in government agencies and her father was involved with the politics of the town. Even as a young child, she admits that she was very goal oriented and driven, traits which have helped her achieve great success today.

“When I was a little girl, my first business was a lemonade stand on the golf course since we lived next to it. My dad told me that one of his memories of me was looking out the window and watching me make change for the president of Park National Bank. Even then I had a desire to earn money.”

Both sets of grandparents were in business. Her maternal grandfather owned the corner grocery store and her maternal grandmother was its bookkeeper. Her paternal grandparents owned a women’s hair salon and barber shop. At a young age, Curry worked in the grocery store as a cashier standing on a crate when not attending school. She loved it and this instilled her work ethic.

She moved to Las Vegas with her then husband 35 years ago after selling their small business in her hometown. Coming to Southern Nevada for opportunity, Curry first worked as a camera girl at the Riviera Hotel and Casino and enjoyed her work. Still, she and her then husband wanted to get back into business and on the advice of a friend who owned three Subway Sandwich Shops in their small town; they brought Subway to Las Vegas. They had so much faith in the business and despite the risks; the couple took out a home equity loan to buy the first store.

The store proved to be so successful that the couple grew the business to four stores, all of which Curry managed. It was not until they opened their fifth store that Curry leased an office.

“When I opened the first store, there were only 282 stores in the whole country. Now there are more than 40,000 locations. I am one of the pioneers of the company,” Curry explained. The first store was located at Paradise Road and Twain Avenue. “When I first started 35 years ago, that was the heart of Las Vegas. People would move to the apartments in the area and get jobs in the casino. I felt when we put our first store there; we could educate people about Subway and then start growing from that location. As the population grew, so did we. I have 169 locations in my market right that I manage as a development director.”

Throughout her early days with Subway, Curry didn’t experience any unique problems or obstacles as a female franchisee. Curry believes her expertise as a problem solver and the ability to multi-task was instrumental to her success with the company.

Curry juggles three careers at Subway. First, she is a franchisee of Subway and Curry owns more than 60 locations adding four to five stores each year maintaining a growth pattern.

Second she is a Subway development agent. She is the corporate liaison in Las Vegas covering Lincoln, Nye and Clark counties. She sells franchises, finds locations and negotiates leases.

She also works with existing franchisees on an ongoing basis, sending teams of business consultants to make certain the company’s standard is maintained, assist the franchise owners with any challenges or concerns as well as help them achieve and continue their success with Subway.

“In fact, I just celebrated my 30 year anniversary doing this in August (2013),” she said and credits her parents for her success. “My parents always told us that we can dream whatever we wanted to dream and be whatever you want to be; then go out and work for it. That is what they taught me – make the decision and then work towards it.”

As for charity, Subway contributes to a number of projects and Las Vegas Subway locations has partnered with Make a Wish foundation. Subway in Las Vegas worked on a project for two young boys where were blind and deaf which Curry found very moving. While Curry is not serving on any nonprofit boards, she does donate to many charities and is looking to serving in a nonprofit organization in the future.

However, one event close to her heart is DJs for PJs. For the past 11 years, the organization collects new pajamas to benefit abused and neglected children in Southern Nevada. Sizes infants through adults are donated to 20 charities including Child Haven, Boys Town Nevada, Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and S.A.F.E. House.

“I always go out and buy one pair of pajamas to represent each store in Las Vegas for this event. I have been doing this for years,” she said. “My staff takes them out on the day of the event and they love participating.”

Subway also participates in the Heart Association walks due to the inspiration of Jared Fogle who lost over 245 pounds by changing his diet to incorporated low-fat Subway sandwiches and walking. In fact, The Jared Foundation has been created to raise funds and awareness in an effort to fight obesity.

Curry has one daughter, Johanna, who is married and her son-in-law works for her as a business consultant. The close family lives within minutes of each other and Curry is also a grandmother to three grandsons with another grandchild on the way at the time of this article. She also owns the Winchell Donut Shop chain in Las Vegas.

Her philosophy is to never give up and to always think outside of the box. “Being in business, you are a problem solver. I am a people person and I tell everyone we are in the people business. It is just not about making sandwiches, it is about encouraging your employees to want to take care of the public, produce a good product with a clean store and friendly service.

Curry believes to be a success, “you have to work really, really hard. I think when many people go into business, they think that since they own a business they don’t have to work; just make the bank deposit and go home. That is not true. I am personally fully engaged in my business every single day. While I realize at this point, I don’t have to be this involved; I choose to be since I know you have to take care of customers and your staff.

“I believe as a woman, we have to run a little faster and jump a little higher to prove ourselves so be prepared to roll up your sleeves, dig in and work hard to achieve your goals.”

On a personal note, Curry found love again at her 40th high school reunion at Newark Catholic High School in 2009. It was during her sophomore year that she attended the Mardi Gras dance as his date but it never progressed any further.

When Curry flew to New York City to shop at Kleinfeld’s Bridal with her daughter, who was also getting married, she didn’t realize the TLC program, “Say Yes to the Dress,” was filmed there. After selecting a dress designed by Pnina Tornai to be designed in a blush pink, an executive from TLC approached her and asked if she would consent to appear on the show. For the next two days, the camera crew filmed her time at Kleinfeld’s. The show also shoot her wedding held poolside at Green Valley Ranch.

“I work hard and I play hard,” Curry said. “We just bought a new home and I am looking forward to showcasing it. This was one of my goals: to purchase a nice home. I was able to do that through my hard work and drive. I appreciate the rewards as much as I appreciate my family.”

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