The Port of Subs chain of sandwich shops is based in Reno and owned by Reno High grad John Larsen. The chain is currently marking its 40th anniversary.
What made you get into this business?
I’m an accountant by trade and [clients] who started this business got a little upside down with the Internal Revenue Service. It was originally a place called the Sub Shop in 1972 down on Rock Boulevard behind Sparks High School. And they opened another place in downtown Reno in ’74 where the new theatres are at on Sierra and First. They didn’t bother to file tax returns for ’72, ’73 or ’74. The IRS caught up with them, they hired me, I put together three years worth of tax returns, realized they had a decent business, invested as a silent partner, bought them out a year later. So, you know, I never planned on getting into the food business [but] I spent … junior high school, high school and college in grocery stores. You know, I was actually born—my parents owned a grocery store and I was born right over the top of it in Susanville, California. I’ve been in the food business for many years of my life.
Did you expect Port of Subs to be as big as it is?
When you go into something like this, you don’t think about if it’s going to be this big. You know, you hope that you’re going to end up with maybe eight or 10 stores—or five stores. … For a period of seven years, from 1976 when I bought them out—at the time we had three stores—until 1983 … my wife and I never took more than one day off a week, never took a vacation for seven years. And at the end of seven years, we had 10 stores paid for. I think people can—if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want. Now there’s trade-outs in life, right? Work that dang hard and sometimes you don’t get to enjoy your kids grow up as much as you should. There’s all kinds of trade-outs. I think everybody’s trade-out is a little bit different. … We were making a fortune. This was back in 1983. We were making a ton of money going into franchising. … Sometimes we hit it wrong when we first went into it. You’re old enough to remember the savings and loans, the fiasco we had—not dissimilar to what happened in the last four or five years here [the savings and loan crisis ran from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s]. We had savings and loans going bankrupt everywhere from bad loans. … From ’85 to ’89, we lost everything we had put into it and finally turned the corner in 1989. … It’s not always easy, you know? Heck, we were pretty young kids still at that time. We had to get through an entire business cycle on the downside, the bad times. So we just about lost it all. …
You’re in seven states now?
Yes. Right around 150 [stores]. The economy’s taken its toll. …
Do you ever think about pitching it all and taking it easy?
Oh, sure. You know, about once a week I think about it. It lasts for 20, 30 minutes or an hour. Actually, a couple years ago, I tried to do that, took a few months off and did a bunch of fishing and hiking and sailing and traveling and at the end of two months, I was ready to come back to work. You know, I think everybody’s made a little differently and I’m not sure I’ll ever retire. I hope I will, but I’ve got to find something that’s fun to do.