The Department of Transportation’s Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (ACDBE) program is designed to level the playing-field for small minority-owned businesses that participate in airport contracting opportunities. At the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), there are currently 19 ACDBE participants, including Strother Enterprises Inc., a minority-veteran-owned business that operates two PHL Food & Shops Subway franchises in the B/C food court and Terminal E. The organization services concessions, operations, and labor management as well as consulting. This summer, Strother Enterprises plans on further expanding their operations at PHL by opening an Asian cuisine location in Terminal F.
“We’ve been actively involved at the airport for over six years and as a franchise of Subway, we’ve been one of the top performers in this region,” said Strother Enterprises Chief Legal Officer Michael “Mike” S. Jackson. “We try to project a positive image of the airport. We emphasis excellent customer service and serving a quality product.”
During the beginning of the pandemic, Strother Enterprises struggled financially just like many small businesses across America. With financial assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, COVID EIDL and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Strother Enterprises was able to continue operating at PHL. The company’s long legacy of respect, consistency and excellent customer service are the main reasons they continue to thrive.
Under the leadership of Business Unit Manager Younes Benheddi, employees focus on customer-centrism. “Younes embodies excellence and instills it in his team,” said Strother Enterprises President and COO Robert G. Strother. “They have been able to pivot during pandemic challenges. I commend him on his leadership.”
Strother Enterprises is a family-owned business. Ernest “Ernie” L. Strother Jr is the chairman and CEO, and his daughter Natasha Strother Lassiter is the executive vice president. Robert and Ernest are twin brothers, born and raised in Philadelphia. They both served in the Vietnam War.
“We operate like a family—that’s who we are and who we’ve always been,” said Robert. “We treat our employees fairly, that’s what makes a business successful. We treat people like our guests when they visit this airport, we want to satisfy their appetite.”
“Employees at this company are treated like family,” said Benheddi. “I feel like I’m a part of their company. We spend more time with our coworkers then we do with our families. Our employee turnover rate is low because of the way we treat our staff.”
Strother Enterprises actively sought out ways to keep their employees during the beginning of the pandemic by focusing on educational training. “We encouraged our employees to complete training provided online through the University of Subway,” said Benheddi. The courses include sandwich making, customer service and COVID-19 cleanliness guidelines among various other topics.
“Operating now is better than the beginning of the pandemic where it was difficult to navigate the new norm,” said Benheddi. “We’re optimistic about the future.”
Strother Enterprises strives to find innovative ways to continue to enhance diversity, company culture and employee equity. The company seeks to continue to establish partnerships with different entities and would like to work with other Black and minority owned businesses through mentorship.
“We’ve always had the goal of growing and becoming a significant operator in the airport,” said Jackson. “This was basically our flagship airport. We’d like to expand to other airports. Our goal is to become a major operator.”
Strother Enterprises is a member of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) and the Airport Restaurant and Retail Association (AARA) where they stay updated on industry trends.
“We owe something back to Philadelphia because it enabled us to become who we are,” said Jackson. “We want to give something back to the community. Most of our employees come from Philadelphia.”
With decades of experience in food service, Strother Enterprises seeks to broaden their business goals and aspirations. As of March 2022, Subway under the management of Strother Enterprises at PHL has reached $10 million in sales.
“We’re creating a top-notch structure,” said Robert. “That’s what Mike, Ernie and our whole leadership team is doing. It’s critical seeing where we were, where we are and where we’re going. It’s about creating a legacy and becoming a larger company overtime.”