Community support on the menu at Winters Subway

Winters Subway owner Peter Malhi has embraced a community that takes care of each other culture at his business. Courtesy photo

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By Diana Mendez
Special to the Express

Barely a year into his ownership of the franchise at 180 E. Grant Ave., Peter Malhi is grateful his business remains open – and fully staffed – in spite of a slow start at the end of 2019 and the immense challenges of 2020. Where many small businesses have closed up shop, Peter’s Subway franchise has remained in operation and strengthened, due in large part, he says, to the spirit of community and commitment to giving back in spite of tight circumstances that he shares with residents in Winters.

Malhi has matched hundreds of meals donated by local customers to firefighters, first responders and medical staff over the past year, with a mutual drive to help out where it’s needed, and the flexibility to make things happen. The result has garnered significant aid for local firefighters, COVID essential workers and neighbors in need, and contributed to the success of his franchise and the workers he supports.

The franchise’s Facebook page is filled with accolades from customers and community members who applaud Malhi’s efforts over the months. This month, the Winters Fire Department took to social media to thank Subway for his ongoing support, and last month, the City of Winters acknowledged the work of Subway among a handful of local businesses helping Winters essential workers. In April, Winters Healthcare thanked Subway for providing its staff with free sandwiches.

The franchise has offered free sandwiches to all firefighters throughout the LNU fire efforts. Malhi converts customer cash donations to gift cards which he matches dollar for dollar and then uses to complete in-store transactions for essential workers. “We’ve received so many donations from our customers, we’re surprised we haven’t run out of gift cards yet,” he said.

Beginning in the spring, the franchise handed out free face masks, and ran multiple COVID happy hour programs simultaneously – a free sub on Sundays for seniors aged 65 and older, on Wednesday for first responders (Fire/Police), and on Fridays for Winters Medical workers – hours they still keep to this day. When he can, he also opens early – on some occasions 4:30 a.m. – for shift workers to get their meals, and delivers GrubHub meals personally from 11:30 to 4 p.m. to serve local customers who need to stay at home. The franchise also participates in Subway’s grocery program, providing grocery essentials via online order and contactless pickup or delivery.

“As a local businessman, I am only doing OK if my community is doing OK” said Malhi, a former process improvement manager with a background in manufacturing, production, processing, safety and quality. “An investment in my community is an investment in my business, in my people. We are all connected.”

Malhi instilled this philosophy last July when he took over the Subway franchise with all existing staff as a first-time franchise owner and his first foray into the fast-food business. He left his former career after 19 years in the same company, leveraging his business education and his expertise as a manufacturing manager overseeing a crew of more than 100 into a business plan for the franchise. Working closely with Subway’s regional business support team, he kept on all the staff, completed a multi-week renovation and relaunched to a small but growing customer base. The community has since rallied around Malhi and the reputation he’s established and strengthened as a good neighbor over the last 12 months.

“It was all totally new – it was nerve-wracking, but we are still here, one year later, and our numbers are up. I love being a hands-on owner,” Malhi said. “Most importantly – I’m honored to be a part of this community that has been so generous to its service community as well as to local businesses. Winters is an incredibly supportive town.”

“Peter understands that being a connected member of the community is core to what we do as franchise owners – it’s your neighborhood, your family,” said Akki Patel, president of the Letap Group, which supports hundreds of locations throughout northern California and Nevada, and also is a local franchisor for Subway. “He has done very well in an incredibly challenging environment, a testament to his personal philosophy of community engagement and local support. And he’s adapted well during COVID, embracing health precautions and flexible dining options; that’s been key to his success.”

Malhi is looking to add to his team in the coming weeks – two of his original staff are graduating programs in the medical field and moving on to serve their community in their new profession. While down the road a business expansion is not out of the realm of possibility, Malhi is committed to taking one day at a time. His wife, a nurse, helps out at the store when she can, and the family is shepherding three children – ages 15, 9 and 3 – through the gauntlet of distance learning and shelter in place.

“They’re handling it well – we’re all trying to stay focused on what matters, and I appreciate the flexibility and balance that being a franchise owner affords,” said Malhi. “We are very, very grateful.”

As LNU firefighting efforts shifts to fire recovery for those who have lost homes and resources, Malhi is continuing to make and match donations. Visit Subway Winters at 180 E. Grant Ave., or call 530-795-9900.

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