From the heart of Texas, Air Force veteran Chad Fulkerson continues to live a spirit of service through his business. Fulkerson’s transition from military life to finding success in franchising captures the connection between serving the nation and serving others through entrepreneurship.



Born to Serve the Country

Growing up with a father in the United States Air Force, Fulkerson was no stranger to the military lifestyle. Just one year after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and at the age of 28, Fulkerson felt a call to serve and contribute to the greater good.

After flight school in Pensacola, Florida, he was stationed in Abilene, Texas, where the Fulkersons eventually decided to make their forever home. His time in the USAF was marked by roles that demanded precision, dedication, and leadership — from a navigator officer and weapons officer trained on a B-1 bomber to instructing the next generation of service members. During his 10 years in the service, he was deployed twice to Diego Garcia to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

“It was an adventure every day, a responsibility to protect that I took very seriously,” said Fulkerson. “Every mission reminded me of the importance of service, something that’s shaped all my life’s decisions.”


Journey Into Franchising

Post-service, Fulkerson was fueled by a new mission — the desire to own a business that aligned with his values. He had no idea where to start, but Fulkerson’s wife discovered Firehouse Subs during a year-long search involving various industries, franchised and non-franchised businesses. 

Fulkerson was attracted to more than the brand’s flavorful sandwiches. He was intrigued by the brand’s success and family-owned nature. Since the brand was founded by two former firefighter brothers, the value system mirrored that of military principles such as integrity, service before self, and excellence. Fulkerson’s decision was influenced by the brand’s low closure rate, community focus, and the support offered to franchisees.

“The decision to join Firehouse Subs was more than business; it was about continuing to serve in a different capacity,” said Fulkerson. “Their commitment to helping first responders and the family-oriented atmosphere was exactly what I was looking for.”

Fulkerson opened his first restaurant in Abilene in 2014 and a second location in San Angelo, Texas, four years later. He is now working on his third restaurant on the north side of Abilene.


Leveraging Military Skills for Business Success

The skills honed by the Air Force — leadership, teamwork, and resilience — were instrumental in Fulkerson’s franchising success. Adapting these skills to a business setting meant building a cohesive team and leading by example, much like he did in the military. Fulkerson admits that transitioning from coordinating aerial missions to managing a restaurant presents its own set of challenges, as his expertise was originally in weapons, not in hiring and business operations.

His military background instilled confidence and a “can-do” attitude, which is crucial in navigating the challenges of franchise ownership. It’s advice from a senior instructor during basic training that Fulkerson said has stuck with him through both his military days and franchising career.

“The instructor told me to stay quiet and be a sponge. It didn’t register with me at first, but as time passed, I used the advice in both my military and entrepreneur journey,” said Fulkerson. “Whether that was in flight school or franchisee training, I soaked up every piece of knowledge that I could because who knew if I’d hear it again.”


Fulkerson’s Advice to Veterans

Fulkerson’s franchising success isn’t an isolated case, with 14% of franchisees in the United States being veterans, according to VetFran. Franchising offers a familiar structure for those accustomed to military life. The skills veterans acquire, such as leadership, dedication, and discipline, allow them to thrive in franchising.

Recognizing veterans’ skill sets, Firehouse Subs launched the First Responders Program. The unique program within the Quick Service Restaurant industry offers $100,000 in cash to qualifying veterans and first responders for every Firehouse Subs restaurant that they open, easing the burden of the initial investment costs.

“We’re committed to supporting those who have served the country and those who protect us in our day-to-day lives as first responders,” said Kelly Crummer, Senior Director of Franchising for Firehouse Subs. “At the core of our brand is flavorful food, service, and public safety. We see the excellence that Chad and other veterans and first responders bring to our brand and can’t wait to add more franchisees like them and watch them flourish.”

Unlike many other incentive programs, this $100,000 is not broken up into future payments but is paid upfront to help with the restaurant buildout. Firehouse Subs wants to provide local heroes like Chad with the opportunity to build their own legacy in their communities and support their families.

“The incentive is a genuine effort by Firehouse Subs to give back to those who’ve given so much,” said Fulkerson.

Fulkerson’s biggest piece of advice to fellow veterans is to utilize the wealth of available resources. For example, leverage the support from business development centers or use financial advice from the Small Business Association.

“Franchising with Firehouse Subs provided a roadmap to success, leveraging my military skills in a new, rewarding way,” said Fulkerson. “For veterans contemplating this path, the opportunities for growth, leadership, and community impact are vast.”