By Steve Panella
After working for many successful years as first responders in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), my wife Olimpia and I were looking for a career change that would allow us to spend more time with our family while still giving back to the community. We found perfect harmony with Firehouse Subs, a submarine sandwich franchise system with more than 1100 locations that fund and support first responders in the U.S. and Canada. Today, we own two restaurants in Stoney Creek and Milton, Ont., with plans to open three more in the coming years.
A solid start
I was born in Toronto, but grew up in Mississauga, Ont., with my mom and my grandma. I attended school in the neighbouring city of Brampton, where I excelled at sports, especially rugby, wrestling, and football. Growing up, I only ever dreamed of becoming a professional football player. I played throughout high school and continued throughout my post-secondary education. I attended St. Mary’s University in Halifax, ultimately graduating in 2005 with a degree in psychology.
After university, I moved to the U.S. where I played arena football in Texas, Louisiana, and Colorado. From there, I kept chasing the dream and travelled to Europe where I played professionally in Finland.
When I was 28, I decided to hang up my football cleats and return to the GTA to pursue a different career path. I wanted to work in a field that was both challenging and rewarding, and would allow me to give back to the community. I started applying for positions with the Peel Regional Police and was hired in August 2009, right around my 29th birthday. The following year I met Olimpia, who would go on to become my wife, and we welcomed our first child.
I started my career working in 12 Division, a busy area in Mississauga with a high population. From there, I transferred to the neighbourhood policing unit, where I was stationed in community schools, and then to criminal investigation and street crime. I was eventually stationed at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, where I still work today.
In 2014, I decided to further my formal education. I attended the University of Guelph, where I obtained my master’s in leadership. Olimpia and I married the following year.
Olimpia and I both loved working as first responders. Helping people and keeping communities safe is a very rewarding feeling. However, despite having a lot
of passion for our respective careers, working shifts made finding a suitable work-life balance difficult. We were ready to grow our family, but first needed to find a suitable compromise.
We started reflecting on our lives and thinking about what was best for our family. We were interested in the freedom that came with entrepreneurship and liked the idea of being our own boss, but neither of us had experience in business.
In 2015, Olimpia and I decided to franchise with Booster Juice. The company was well established, and there were opportunities for expansion in Ontario. We purchased three franchise locations in the Region of Peel—two in Mississauga and one in Brampton.
Working with Booster Juice was fantastic. Franchising let us see how we could go about creating a lifestyle where we could be there for our kids, while also running our own business with the support and guidance of a franchise system.
The following year, we celebrated the birth of our first son, Cassius. Olimpia resigned from the fire department to care for him and spend more time at our franchises.