A potential franchisee is allegedly attempting to open a Subway restaurant in Nashville’s Belmont neighborhood, near the corner of Portland and Belmont, creating a stir among nearby residents and business owners.
Some say a Subway would be out of character in the area, which is currently dominated by eclectic, independent businesses. Others believe the restaurant would do no harm to the neighborhood, and argue that owners of Subway franchises are typically local small businessmen and women.
The buzz began at the end of July, when Arnold Myint, owner of PM restaurant in Belmont and son of prominent area business owners Win and Patti Myint, began gathering signatures of individuals “in protest of any development of a Subway, fast food or any chain restaurant to be developed in the Belmont commercial area.”
Myint said Tuesday that he’s gathered close to 1,000 signatures, and that he began circulating the petition after hearing from staff members at Tabouli’s restaurant, located next door to PM at 2015 Belmont Blvd., that a deal was in place to open a Subway at the location.
Myint is also preparing to open, with partners, a restaurant on the other side of Tabouli’s. The new business will be called Cha-Chah, and Myint describes it as a global tapas and tea house.
Moe Titi, owner of Tabouli’s and member of the family that owns the building, confirmed that owners of the property have talked with a potential Subway franchisee, but said there’s no agreement in place. He added that Subway is one of a large number of entities interested in buying or leasing all or part of the Tabouli’s space.
“Everybody likes the location,” Titi said. “I have so many people calling, left and right, asking to buy the building.”
As of Tuesday, the Davidson County Register of Deeds had no new leases recorded for the property. The identity has not been confirmed by Subway, and Subway’s Nashville-based regional development managers Tom and Bob Nolan did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Prior to talking with the Titis, a potential Subway franchisee contacted Patti Myint about leasing at 2013 Belmont, where Mad Mod used to be located before moving downtown, and at 2010 Belmont, home of International Market and Restaurant. Arnold Myint said the franchisee was told that the Myints weren’t interested.
Myint said he circulated the petition, as well as a recent letter to community members, strictly to generate conversation and draw awareness to the matter.
“I think it will depreciate the value of what we’ve all built up here,” Myint said. “I’m fighting to preserve the integrity of what I feel the community wants in this area.”
Bledi Tahiri, the restaurant’s manager, emphasized that no deal has been made with Subway. But he said it isn’t fair to categorically oppose Subway restaurants, as each location is owned by individual franchisees. The individual attempting to open a Subway restaurant in the building is more of a small business owner, in Tahiri’s opinion, than members of the Myint family – who own 2010, 2012 and 2017 Belmont Ave., as well as numerous other properties in the neighborhood, according to Davidson County property records.
“[The potential franchisee] is an immigrant. He’s from India. He’s a mom-and-pop guy,” Tahiri said.
Tahiri believes a Subway would add “more choices and more options” to the neighborhood.
“What is wrong with $4 health sandwiches?” Tahiri said. “That doesn’t break the community. It doesn’t ruin what this street is. It gives it more options.”
Kevin Kane, a spokesperson for Subway, said all Subway restaurants are owned by franchisees, not the corporate entity.
“We provide a business model,” Kane said. “In most cases, it’s [franchisees] who decide they want to go into business for themselves.”
Most franchisees are local, though information on Subway’s Web site indicates that many franchisees own more than one location — more than 70 percent of new Subway franchises are purchased by an existing franchisee.
Myint said he doesn’t object to Subway restaurants in general, and does not oppose the right of small business owners to open franchises. His only point, he says, is that the business is branded as a corporate entity, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the neighborhood.
Bob Bernstein, owner of Bongo Java, said Tuesday that the situation in the Belmont neighborhood mirrors what’s taking place across the city. He agrees that a Subway would be out of character for the neighborhood, and is concerned that increasing rents across town are narrowing options for independent businesses — and opening the market to corporations and franchises.
“Every street’s starting to look the same. You don’t know you’re in Nashville anymore,” Bernstein said. “It has nothing to do with me being jealous of business loss. Why should Nashville look like every other city?”