Don Fox, CEO of Firehouse Subs, believes restaurateurs need to give back to local communities.

Don Fox, CEO of the Firehouse Subs sandwich chain, is a true believer in the power of corporate responsibility. Here he talks about the importance of philanthropy and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's Restaurant Neighbor Award.

Fifteen years ago, the restaurant group joined American Express to create the Restaurant Neighbor Award. The award promotes restaurants’ roles as cornerstones of their communities, and it highlights their efforts to improve quality of life.

Each year, a small business, a mid-size restaurant company and a large/national chain each receive $5,000 to support a favorite charity or community project. One person receives the Cornerstone Humanitarian award. Each participating state restaurant association will select winners in their respective states that will compete for the national award.  A panel of industry leaders selects four national winners to receive $5,000 each to support their community efforts.

Q: Why is there such a connection between restaurants and the communities they serve?
For as long as there have been restaurants, they’ve been associated with philanthropy. After all, food is the most basic of necessities. The restaurateur of today has inherited the rich tradition of giving back, and it’s fair to say that spirit of giving is as important now as during any other time in history. The growth of our industry has produced wealth and good fortune that enables us to play a philanthropic role well beyond the boundaries of just providing sustenance. Restaurant companies from coast to coast can embrace causes that extend across the philanthropic spectrum.

Q: Have you seen this philanthropy personally?
Fox: I’ve served as Restaurant Neighbor Award judge for four consecutive years and can attest to many of the stories of restaurateurs who’ve stepped up to help those in need or who are hungry in our society. It’s our most basic instinct to satisfy that most basic of needs. At my own brand, Firehouse Subs, we’ve donated more than $15 million in lifesaving equipment and resources to public safety entities. Since 2005, the firefighter founders of our company have channeled their passion for public safety into the formation of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. As our brand has grown, our primary purpose is to enable the success of the foundation. After all, what could be more important than saving lives?

Q: What do your customers think about those philanthropic efforts?
Fox: It' a bit of a cliché to say that when you give back to the community, the community gives back to you. But in my experience, it’s absolutely true. Of course, if the public recognizes our philanthropic work and rewards us with their loyalty, that’s just the icing on the cake.

Q: Why is the Restaurant Neighbor Award important?
Fox: When we judge the awards, we see a small fraction of the philanthropic work done by members of our great industry. Submissions come from various organizations, and their efforts are both large and small in scale depending on the size and success of the businesses. But without exception, they are all noble achievements. In fact, some of the most impressive submissions come from the smallest organizations because, proportionately, they’re making herculean attempts to give back.