Take 5 is a weekly conversation with a local business owner.
It was a combination of wanting to be involved in the community and frequent trips to a sandwich shop that led Kathi Bonlender’s family to establish Sub Shop of Yakima almost 30 years ago.
At one point, Kathi and her late husband, former Yakima City Councilman Ron Bonlender, had up to a half-dozen locations throughout the Upper Valley. Originally a Seawest franchisee, the Bonlenders struck out on their own in 1994.
Today, Sub Shop is down to a single outlet on North Second Street that attracts a loyal — and diverse — group of customers, ranging from local business people to attorneys at the nearby Yakima County Courthouse. And if you’ve ever served jury duty and they had to order lunch in during deliberations, you were most likely eating one of Bonlender’s creations.
Customers are encouraged to ring a bell when they leave to show their satisfaction, which elicits whoops from the kitchen staff — two full-time and two part-time employees. And Bonlender can often be found at the shop, either behind the counter or holding court with friends at one of the booths.
Bonlender, 74, has had all six of her children work at the shop at one point, including Brian Bonlender, director of the state Department of Commerce.
What led your family to start a sandwich shop?
The reason Ron and I decided on making sandwiches was the fact that he didn’t feel as though he was part of the community. That changed when we started our shops. Ron used to sell Snap-On Tools and did for about five years. He would stop at Subway and liked them. Ron had set up to maybe sign a contract with Subway, but a friend of ours down in the Portland area told us to come down and try Seawest Sub Shop. We did and we liked them more than the other. Ron contacted the Seawest Company, and we set our first shop across from Valley Ford in 1990.
Is there any particular thing to which you attribute your success?
I feel that we are successful because we get to know our customers. We know the names of our regular customers, and I point out to our staff that we have to always have a smile on our faces and to forget about any problems outside of the shop.
What is the best thing about working with family?
It was a way that they learned how a business works and how to interact with the customers.
How would you describe the atmosphere at The Sub Shop?
We show that we truly like our customers. We have become friends with them.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
I would say it is the chicken teriyaki sandwich.