Micah Sharpe Of Penn Station East Coast Subs: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Make sure that you have a solid support system and people that will stand behind you throughout your journey.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Micah Sharpe.

Micah Sharpe is Managing Owner of the Fresh Management franchise group, operating 11 Penn Station East Coast Subs restaurants in Northeast Ohio. He has been part of the Penn Station system for five years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was born into the restaurant industry, with a family that owned and operated restaurants. My grandfather, father and uncles collectively owned sub shops in Northeast Ohio. I have been working in restaurants since I was a child.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I believe that leading through a crisis, specifically Covid was an interesting time. It takes a certain type person to get up and go to work every day as an essential employee. Keeping our teams together and motivating people through fear of the unknown was a day to day challenge. I am proud to say that we maintained all ten restaurants through Covid with zero closures and were available for the public in a time of need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“We must all wage an intense, lifelong battle against the constant downward pull. If we relax, the bugs and weeds of negativity will move into the garden and take away everything of value.” Jim Rohn

I believe that we should strive to become the best version of ourselves. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. Complacency kills progress.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Fresh Management standout is the operator’s ability to control their financial success. We operate with a system that has no cap on earnings. Our general managers can be as successful as they are motivated to be. We offer more freedom to our operators than a standard QSR chain.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

I think when committing to a food service franchise it is critical that you believe in the product that you are selling and are willing to stand behind it. I personally could not get behind a concept that did not produce excellent food. After that I believe that corporate support is very important, especially for someone that may be new to the QSR arena.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

A few years ago, our team encountered the “Great Resignation”. Many people in the restaurant industry abandoned their positions and changed careers. Building a strong culture was critical to keeping our teams intact. This started at the restaurant level with our general managers, implementing a positive work environment. The operations directors and I continuously discussed how we could become better employers and focused on the retention of our current teams rather than looking to staff from the outside. Developing and promoting from within was critical to our success.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

What surprised me about the Penn Station model was to see the operating partner model in action. I quickly learned that most of the general managers on our team operated and treated their business as if it were their own. This was a refreshing change from other concepts in the quick service arena.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

Find a franchise with a proven track record of success, that also can support you in times of need.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

We believe that if we follow the Penn Station operations manual that we will be successful. Our focus is perfect food, served fast in a clean environment. Each of our general managers operates independently and they have the autonomy to run the business as if it were their own.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

To be honest there were not many surprises after working in the industry for so long, but I listed some thoughts below.

1. I partnered with Rich Moore who started the Fresh Management operating group years ago. Since I joined the group, I have learned that you must wear many hats outside of just daily restaurant operations (human resources, construction, IT, crisis management) etc.

2. You really must remain adaptable to every situation and every season. Things are moving fast and constantly changing.

3. The selection of your team will be the key to your success. Who you allow to join your organization and represent your brand is the most important decision that we make every day.

4. Focus on the micro details of your business every day.

5. Make sure that you have a solid support system and people that will stand behind you throughout your journey.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

People are the key to our success. Without the right team, we will never win in business. We work relentlessly to source and select the right operators to take ownership of the business. We also place a heavy focus on internal development and work to promote from within the company.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

What is currently front of mind is transitioning from the pandemic and great resignation period, back to somewhat of a new normal. I think we are headed towards a new base line. Working to manage rising commodities and wages takes a lot of effort from our teams to achieve our financial goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see a resolution to childhood food insecurity. I believe every child should have the opportunity to eat healthy food and I believe that we can do more in this country to improve in this area. There are great local organizations such as Food Rescue Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland that work to get food from grocery stores and restaurants to children in need.

How can our readers further follow you online?


Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.