The end of the year also meant the end of an era for the popular Sub Depot sandwich shop in Donelson, a likely victim of the coronavirus pandemic that’s adversely affected the restaurant industry across the nation.
“The last year-and-a-half has been difficult,” said Sub Depot owner Curtis Kubly, 69. “I can do the best job that I want to, but if you don’t have the people coming in the doors, you can’t do anything.”
Kubly closed the doors to Sub Depot for good Dec. 31, as many longtime customers streamed into the shop one last time to order their favorite sub sandwiches. Wiping away tears from his eyes, the soft-spoken Kubly had an appreciative greeting for every familiar customer.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride. There’s a lot of water under this bridge,” said Kubly. “These are more happy tears than worried tears; it’s just another chapter, and God’s going to take care of me. I know that.”
However, Kubly also voiced a lot of frustration with Nashville’s handling of the pandemic. He believed the mandates and guidelines negatively affected restaurants especially hard.
“It’s not just downtown that’s having issues. When they get hard on downtown, it’s out here, too,” he said. “It’s a difficult time. It’s tough. I’m not the only one, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people out there hanging on by a thread, also. I know what anguish they’re going through right now.”
After moving to Nashville with his wife, Cynthia, in 2008, Kubly took over the sandwich shop a decade ago, although the shop has been open for 25 years, he said. The Wisconsin-raised farm boy worked his way up as an entrepreneur in the food service industry. Kubly worked in fast food, a café, for a grocery store, owned a supper club and even a wedding and banquet hall.
“I put in probably my life’s savings to buy this place, and the 10 years were decent years for me. But I was trying to sell it and put that money toward my retirement. Well, that’s not going to happen,” he said.
Sub Depot occupied a space in a shopping center formerly anchored by Kmart, but its nine storefronts currently sit mostly vacant except for a custom homes leasing office and a vape shop. Also shuttered is the space that was once occupied by a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant.
Kubly’s challenges started about two years ago when the parking lot was leased for charter and school bus parking, he said.
“I lost about 20% of my business,” he said
Kubly thought about relocating the shop, but he said costs associated with a move would have been crippling. He said rent around town demanded more than double what he paid. Kubly then put his business up for sale, and that’s when he learned the shopping center was not signing any new leases.
According to investment property management website Colliers International, the shopping center is slated to become a mixed-use redevelopment project. A conceptual plan on the website indicated the property will be redeveloped to include residential and commercial space, including a hotel on the property at the corner of Royal Parkway and Donelson Pike.
While the COVID-19 pandemic hit his business hard and he wasn’t able to sell, Kubly’s optimistic attitude does not let him begrudge his situation.
“I can understand it sometimes. Progress is progress, too. I don’t want to say that I’m the only one that has to worry about anybody. So do they,” he said.
Reflecting on memories owning Sub Depot, Kubly is proud of the contributions he made not only on his loyal customers, but the community, as well. He fondly recalls catering “about 350 boxed Christmas lunches for two local FedEx outlets. We had to have them ready by 5 a.m. I was in here baking at midnight,” he said.
He also reminisced about providing catering for Ryman Hospitality corporate offices.
“It’s been fun. It’s been sad, and it’s been happy. Everything, there’s definitely a lot more happy things about it than there are sad,” said Kubly. He is going to miss the everyday interactions with his customers most, giving them a quality meal and a satisfying dining experience, he said.
“I’m a people person. I enjoy it when somebody else enjoys it – to fill that need that they’re really looking for. We get people in here two-to-three times a week, it’s a friendship after a while,” said Kubly. “I have customers that have been coming in here for years. People come in, and my employees know exactly what they’re going to eat. [The customers] don’t even have to tell them.”
Kubly said he is going to miss his employees the most. The father of three and grandfather to five, Kubly said, “My employees are family.”
Sub Depot employed about 10 people. Heather Goff was the sub shop’s manager for 16 years.
“Sub Depot was home. It was family. I enjoyed going in to work, and I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss seeing all of our regular customers,” said Goff. “[Working for Kulby] was the dad I needed at the time. He showed me many things. We had our ups and downs, but I was like a rebel teen, and he was just trying to reel me in.”
On an afternoon heavy with emotion, the man with a strong work ethic pondered what’s next and said, “want ads, the employment ads. I definitely have to get a job. The twilight years are the twilight years, but I have to try and prepare a little better than what I have right now for it,” said Kubly.
“I’ve always said before, you can’t keep a good man down. We’ll survive.”