Paul Sidhu, Dave’s Cosmic Subs


Paul Sidhu

Sydney Allen, Editor-in-Chief

Paul Sidhu, 29, is the owner of the Oberlin branch of Dave’s Cosmic Subs, a sandwich restaurant franchise founded in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, by Dave Lombardy in 1997. Sidhu, a Cleveland native, launched a “soft opening” of the restaurant last Saturday to a high influx of College and community members. The restaurant, located at 55 E. College Street, has a ’60s rock-n-roll theme, and is known for its sub sandwiches and craft beers.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I went up to Bates College, a liberal arts college kinda like Oberlin, but not as good. So, I got a liberal arts education up there and came down here, and it just reminded me so much of school. … I’m very familiar with the college students, having gone through it and experienced it myself. I spent some time up in New York, too. So, I went to Bates College, went to NYU, worked in investment banking and real estate for some time, then went a consulting route, and actually my primary occupation is real estate.

Can you talk about the store’s operations?

Both Mary Ann and Dave are the chief executive officers of Dave’s Cosmic Subs; they’re my franchisor. I’m technically the franchisee and owner and operator of this store in Oberlin. They have the responsibility as franchisors to train and prepare the franchisee to run the store. So, there’s some one-week training, and they have some vested interest in the collective benefit of the store, but overall, they’re very hands-on. When we came to this site, I was looking specifically for a college setting. Somewhere that would be close to campus, also where there’s a need, especially for a unique product. I’ve known Dave Lombardy for years, so going with something like Dave’s Cosmic Subs — which speaks to that message of equality and liberalism and the whole 1960s movement, and peace era — it really was a shoe-in for this type of a setting and I think for the end user, which happens to be largely college students like yourself. I’d been looking for a few months, looked at a number of different properties throughout the Cleveland area — Akron and so forth — and ultimately, this area was untapped. So I thought, “Maybe this could be a good opportunity for us.” I do know that there was a lot of rollover. Before we actually went into this space, I know that there were a number of stores that didn’t have as good of experiences, so we were cognizant of that. But we thought both the experience and the product were going to really compensate for that. In addition, obviously the storefront, being a corner unit — you know, it’s almost 1,600 square feet, so it lends itself to great visibility.

Can you talk about the ‘60s aesthetic?

Again, Dave’s Cosmic Subs distinguishes itself from other brands, let’s say, especially sub shops. We do not like to be compared to Jimmy Johns or Subway. Directly, I will say that — and this goes without saying — we think that we are a unique product in ourself. Not only just with the products, but with the experience as well. So that’s what we bring to the table. We bring unique products, combined with a great experience. And our experience happens to be that 1960s classic rock era. That’s what you see … in there — from Van Halen to Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton — it’s just what we stand for, the classic rock theme, throughout all of our stores. It was a different era, and we try to continue that era.

Have you spoken to Dave and his wife about why this experience appealed to them?

Well, Dave had a rock band of his own. He played a number of stints in San Francisco. So, obviously they were very exposed, and Dave’s a singer, so … it just worked. And they wanted to continue that concept … and bring it into a sub shop. That was another thing — he lived in San Francisco, so he’s perfected his recipes over a long time, and it’s all about quality. And that’s what, ultimately, you’re going to taste every time you have a bite of our subs.

Will you be staying in Oberlin?

Yeah. I’m not living here, but I do commute from Cleveland, and I will continue to commute. So far I’ve been here every day. And I plan to be here continuously at least for the next few weeks until we get things into a process where I can ensure that consistency. But ultimately, the goal is to divide my time between the store that I have here in Oberlin — which really is going to be my first store, it has sentimental meaning to me as well, so this is really my flagship not only in terms of size, but even the amount of money that I’ve invested into it. So it has a specific part of my heart, and a specific part of my sweat equity. It will continue to be my most important store right now.

This is such a unique setting for me, one that I can relate to. Having every single customer come in there and let me know how they feel is really important. Don’t get me wrong, we are gonna have some times where we don’t fulfill the way that we want to, but ultimately the goal is to mitigate that, and to make sure that we are always satisfying and exceeding, really, the customer’s satisfaction. We take that very seriously. The suggestions, the messages, and the surveys that ultimately our customers provide. It’s really important to us that we listen to the end user. It’s been great. The feedback we’ve been getting so far has been very pleasant, and like I said, that’s been great for us. Very meaningful to me.

How has business been going?

Business is great. We are absolutely slammed. And it’s good to be slammed, and I’m so happy that that is the outcome, because realistically, when you invest so much time and energy and money into this store … I’m glad that we’ve gotten some great feedback and it makes all the difference.

Are you excited to be one of the few bars in town?

When I first came back here, we were thinking, “OK, maybe we can put seats in the back,” but then I looked up and we had some water lines, we had pipes up there. And I thought, “Wait a second, maybe we can create something new here and put a bar in the back.” And, you know, not a full bar — we don’t advertise to be one, we have craft beers and that’s kind of our thing. You can have a great sub, or you can have great craft beers, or you can have them both. In whichever order you please. We generally are going to have a lot of local breweries on our menu, so that’s really important to us as well. In addition, I think having a bar in this type of setting, especially in a college town like this … I hope it works. It’s sincerely my goal to make it work. That was ultimately the end use. And the visibility was another thing. The reason why we put it in the back … It has great visibility, so hopefully people will recognize that ultimately we do sell beer. Because as yet, it’s a little bit of a learning curve. We do understand we haven’t completely advertised that, but we do hope to change that in the future. We’re very excited to be here with the bar and also our subs.

Are you planning on doing much advertising?

Yes. We’ve already advertised with the Oberlin Conservatory, they’re going to be printing out an ad there. We have plans to get onto radio in terms of publicly advertising. In addition, obviously, some of the press agencies like yourself, and we will try our best to continue to advertise perhaps even more on social media. We’re just doing it in stages as yet, as we open up… The ideal was to do a soft opening and then build it up, and that’s the goal.

How did the soft opening go?

Well, I say “soft opening,” but it wasn’t that soft an opening. I wanted it to be soft, and actually we were so pleasantly surprised that it was so busy. It was great, it surprised us and got us moving, and that’s exactly what we needed in terms of the staff and in terms of the training.

I’d love to have the students know that we are here, we listen to them, and to continue giving us suggestions. I’m fairly new to Oberlin — not to the whole experience, and not to the liberal arts college experience, but I really do want to tailor this store to the end user and that happens to be the college student. And also the local townspeople.