Ten years later, local sub shop expanding across area

Subliminal Subs owner Karl Buckman stands behind the counter of his Waterloo shop at 141 South Main Street. (Kermit Constantine photo)

A Waterloo sub sandwich shop founded 10 years ago is making such a name for itself that it is rapidly expanding throughout the St. Louis area.

Karl Buckman, owner of Subliminal Subs at 141 S. Main Street, said the 10-year milestone means a lot to him because of the success his stores have had.

Buckman’s business experience began 33 years ago on the west coast, where he ran casual fine dining restaurants such as steak houses. He worked for a number of chains, including Wolfgang Puck, where he was able to hone his business skills and develop an ability to connect with consumers and satisfy their cravings.

Buckman moved back to the this area in 2002, where he discovered a company on the Internet called Obee’s, a sandwich shop based out of Florida.

“I liked the concept, the quality and the food,” he said. “I ended up buying the St. Louis market for that company.”

However, it did not take Buckman long to realize Obee’s was not a well-run company. He said although the concept was good, there was “a piece missing.”

In 2006, Obee’s went out of business, and Buckman’s shop turned into an independent operation at that point.

“Because of the volume I had done in Waterloo, all of my purveyors kept me under the Obee’s contract,” he said. “It saved me money.”

When the recession hit around 2009, Buckman said he knew he had to do something different to keep his store in business.

“I brought in a home griddle and created two sandwiches: the California turkey club and the Philly cheese steak,” he said. “They were instant hits.”

Buckman said within two weeks, he had to purchase a new griddle because the original one had been ruined by usage.

“Business was increasing right off the bat, and within a few months, I had people asking me about franchising,” he said.

In April 2010, Buckman was introduced to an attorney in St. Louis who specializes in franchising.

“We put together a group of split equity investors here in town and created Sublime Restaurant Group,” he said.

Buckman said the new name for the store was brought about by simply sitting down, listing names and picking one.

“I wanted something where the word would make you think of a sub sandwich,” he said. “Subliminal had so many meanings to it, but it also started with ‘sub.’”

Buckman said he did some research with his group, found out the name was available, and bought the federal trademark for Subliminal Subs.

In addition to Waterloo, Subliminal Subs currently has locations open in Troy and O’Fallon.

But that’s not all. Buckman said Subliminal restaurants will make their way into West Port Plaza in January and the Central West End in March.

Buckman also has two additional locations pending for the metro-east following the openings of these new St. Louis locations.

When complete, the total number of Subliminal locations will be seven.

Buckman said he looks for- ward to the future of the stores, because the growth has been so vast. His group has even started an advertising campaign on KTRS 550 AM radio.

“The third month into that (campaign), we’ ll start some more franchises,” he said.

Buckman said that although he is not in Waterloo as much these days, his partner Dawn Ritzel runs the home location.

“Our goal in the next year or two is to stay in the St. Louis market,” he said.

Buckman said he has had an “interesting” 10 years working with these restaurants.

“What’s been the most interesting has been watching the support of the community, especially in the past few years when I’ve created my own concept,” he said. “People in town have really taken ownership of it.”

The customer feedback Buckman has received over the years has been extremely positive, he said.

When the sub shop opened 10 years ago, Buckman said there was a lot of doubt whether or not he’d make it.

“Here, 10 years later, we have regulars that eat here every day,” Buckman said. “We’ve truly become a part of the community.”

For more information on Subliminal Subs, visit www. subliminalsubs.com.

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