Customers standing in line to order a sub sandwich at Firehouse Subs, 9600 N. Milwaukee Avenue, can view a wall-sized mural of the Chicago Fire, complete with Mrs. O'Leary and her cow rowing away in a boat.
"He looks guilty, don't you think?" quips Phillip Forfar, pointing to the cow.
Forfar, along with his brother Alan, owns the Niles franchise of the Jacksonville, Fla. company, which was founded by two firefighter brothers when they retired. The Forfars have the third store in the Chicago area; Wheaton and Naperville are the previous two.
Firehouse steams its meats and cheese to release the flavor and offers a choice of white or wheat breads, said Steve Szalinski, an area representative. He franchises the Wheaton store, but helps new stores in the Midwest get off the ground when they open, he explained.
Sandwich choices include the Hook & Ladder (smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham and Monterey Jack cheese), New York Steamer Sub (corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone), Firehouse Meatball, Firehouse Steak & Cheese and Turkey Bacon Ranch, among others.
The store also offers chili and salads. A Coca Cola Freestyle machine lets diners choose any of 120 soda flavors at the touch of a button.
Phillip Forfar, a former accountant who runs the operation, said he and his brother, an oral surgeon who is mainly a silent partner, looked at several franchise opportunities but were very impressed when they went to the Firehouse Subs in Wheaton, then investigated further.
"We went down to Florida, met everybody at corporate, and they were all just normal guys," said Forfar. "It was nice. Everybody there was enthusiastic. We were impressed.
"We already loved the culture and ambiance."
Though running a sub shop is different from his previous profession, Forfar says one still has to manage time and employees, something he knows how to do. He also thrives on chaos, he said.
Firehouse sells the plastic buckets its pickles arrive in for $2, which goes to the company's foundation and buys equipment for firefighters, Forfar said. The buckets, which have rubber-sealed lids, can be used for painting, floor-washing, car-washing, gardening or whatever, he said.
"We want to give to the community we're in and be part of it, and able to donate to the fire community," he said.
According to the company's literature, it has bought defibrillators, thermal imagers and other life-saving equipment for fire departments around the country.
When Forfar called the village of Niles, he said he was told the village cannot accept donations. Joseph Annunzio, the village attorney, said Friday that was too strict a reading of the village's relatively new ethics policy.
"There's nothing in the ethics policy that would prevent that," Annunzio said.
Niles Fire Department Chief Steve Borkowski said he would welcome any donations.
"Equipment that would benefit the citizens? Absolutely," he said.