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Business booming for Bowman Subway: One-of-a-kind look helps well-known sandwich franchise stand out in small town

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn The location has a unique “red barn” look that differentiates it from other stores in the franchise.1 / 2
Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Franchise owner Amanda Johnson shows the drive-thru order menu at the Bowman location on March 6. 2 / 2

BOWMAN — With a technologically advanced drive-thru and a classier exterior than most, the Bowman Subway stands out — not just because it’s in a small town.

The store opened in September 2012 in a brand-new building that Amanda and Chris Johnson, co-owners and husband and wife, designed themselves. It doesn’t look like most Subways on highway exits or in strip malls — the red barn style of the building fits in with North Dakota’s agricultural lifestyle. The couple got to design the outside, but the Subway company had control over the inside, once it got the specs from the Johnsons.

The building’s restaurant level includes a conference room, for meetings or birthday parties.

“When we built it, there was no place in town where you could go and use a conference room,” Amanda Johnson said.

The upper levels include office space, with an accountant and a trailer sales office in there now. Chris Johnson said they built the building big so they don’t have the need to expand in the future and to have an open back room. When touring other Subways for ideas, he said they noticed a lot of cramped backrooms.

“The biggest issue was space,” he said.

There are still plans to grow, though. With the lot they’re on, the Johnsons could add on a strip mall.

‘Brand recognition’

drives business

Night manager Casey Houle, who’s worked at other Subway locations, said the Johnsons’ location is “way better than all the other ones,” which he said were cluttered.

He said when building sandwiches, he sees a little bit of everyone — from truckers and oilfield workers and high school students.

And with the store’s location between tour stops Bismarck and Rapid City, the store has seen some big names too.

Big & Rich’s tour bus stopped in, as have a professional golfer and a professional motocross driver.

Amanda Johnson said the pair wanted something healthy in town. They also went with Subway because, as franchises go, Subways have a good success rate and carries a recognizable name for the many out-of-towners that come through Bowman.

“That’s one of the things about being in the middle of nowhere — brand recognition,” Houle said.

Bowman sits at the intersection of U.S. Highways 12 and 85, so it sees a lot of truck traffic — Amanda Johnson estimated that made up about 20 percent of business.

“Location was a key thing,” Chris said.

During the Sturgis motorcycle rally, the location sees traffic from vacationers on their way south, and the Johnsons consider Bowman the ideal spot for food between Belle Fourche, S.D., and Dickinson.

“So we are really the middle point,” Amanda said.

But the restaurant gets good local support, too. The town was excited for something knew, the Johnsons said.

A big chunk of the business comes in big orders, like crews ordering multiple sandwiches for the next day. On summer days, the line can stretch out the door.

Quick service,

good employees

The Johnsons attribute a lot of success to how quick it is to get in and out of their Subway.

Their location is, in ways, even quicker than the average Subway because of a drive-thru touch screen that remembers regulars’ orders. Customers just have to put in their phone number to get their favorite sandwich made.

Amanda Johnson said theirs is the only Subway in North Dakota with a touch-screen drive-thru.

She and Chris are happy with their employees, especially four that have been with them since they opened. They don’t take that for granted with all the competition for employees, like the oilfield.

The 14 total employees come mostly from Bowman and Scranton.

As for the most popular sandwiches? The winners are Steak and Cheese, Philly Cheesesteak and Chicken & Bacon Ranch, Chris said.

“It’s cowboy country,” he joked.