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Debbie Faillace: The politics of sandwich making



Debbie and Joe Faillace have been slinging subs together just around the corner from the Capitol for 25 years. Their restaurant, Old Station Sub Shop, is an eatery popular among lawmakers, lawyers and several of Arizona’s governors. The couple has seen Phoenix grow during their years near the corner of Jefferson St. and 13th Ave. Technically, their little restaurant is a part the Capitol community as it’s within State Capitol Police jurisdiction. Debbie, 55, tells what it’s like to be a part of the Capitol community, but from an outsider’s perspective.

Cap Times Q&AWhen did you open Old Station Sub Shop?

33 years ago in March. When Joe had bought the restaurant, it had been a restaurant for about two years. The landlords converted it from a garage to a restaurant and it wasn’t very successful. My husband bought it with the idea of building it up and then selling it, but it’s just been so successful that we hung onto it. I joined him about 25 years ago. I used to work at a travel agency back when there were travel agents, and then we got married. We decided this was where we needed to dedicate most of our time and energy.

Tell me about your family.

We have two kids. They’re both grown now. My daughter works at Maricopa County, and my son is pursuing his Master’s at Arizona State. When I had my son, we expanded [the restaurant] a little bit more so I could keep him with us. We made a little nursery area back here for him. When he was about two, we decided he needed to go somewhere, to daycare, for a few hours each day because it was getting a bit dangerous.

Restaurants are a tough industry. How have you managed for three decades?

We purchased the actual property about 15 years ago so we don’t have any rent, which was huge. And we work together. I work in the front and I watch the front door. My husband works in the back and watches the back door.

What have you liked most about being in this downtown location?

The best thing about the location is the government and watching it grow. We talk about it all the time. None of these buildings used to be here. The Supreme Court wasn’t here. A lot of the buildings weren’t here. There was nothing around so it was really exciting to see everything going on around the area.

Being so close to the Capitol, do you hear a never-ending stream of political talk?

We do. What’s interesting is my husband and I, we’re not into politics so much so we’re not into the who’s who.

Even Joe Arpaio, when he came in, he would ask us, ‘Do you know who I am?’ And we’d say, ‘Yes, you’re Joe Arpaio.’ ‘Well, I’m the elected sheriff of Maricopa County,’ he’d say. But we’d say, ‘Here, you’re No. 65 because that’s what your order number is.’

Do you have a lot of regular customers?

We have regulars that come every day, and the funny part is we don’t know their names. We might know their first names, but we don’t know their last names. A lot of times we call people by their food order. We had one guy — we just called him cup of tuna. Or we have a guy who eats meatballs with no bread. We call him skinny meatballs.

Do a lot of the lawmakers come in here during the legislative session?

Oh, yeah. We get a lot of important people. We get a lot of attorneys and a lot of legislators come in. We do a lot of catering for the government area, the Capitol Mall. We’ve fed a lot of important meetings, I’m sure.

You mentioned that some of the governors come here. Which ones have you seen?

I think we’ve actually fed all the governors. Jan Brewer used to come in when she was the secretary of state and then when she was the governor, she continued coming. She still comes in every once in a while. We haven’t seen [Gov. Doug] Ducey, but we have fed him.

Tell me about the time that Jan Brewer left one of the members of her security behind.

That was really funny. She was here, and she was just so nice because she would wait in line just like everyone else. The security came in and maybe they didn’t think we would be as fast as we were or something, but her sandwich was done so they whisked her away before the security guard came out of the bathroom. He had to walk back. It was funny.

What was it like when the “Red for Ed” teachers were marching down this street?

That was crazy. I think that was probably our most memorable time in business. We hadn’t prepared for it because being here 33 years, whenever there was a march or a race, no one ever ventured this far. We didn’t really expect to get much business. And then all of a sudden, we’re at the windows and you can see all of the red T-shirts coming this way, heading west. Then, after they had their march and they were heading back, they were everywhere out back, everywhere inside because they were all so hot and thirsty. We ran out of food. We ran out of bread. They were all just so nice. We ran out of certain meats and I remember one lady told me, ‘I don’t care. Just put something on two pieces of bread.’

How long do you and your husband see yourself doing this for?

My husband just turned 65 and he’s on Medicare so I keep pushing him to retirement. But this is his little gig. He just loves it. He’s always had restaurants in his blood. I keep talking about retirement, but my husband just keeps talking more and more about the area.

What would you do if you retired?

He, actually, would probably pick up another little, tiny restaurant that’s easier for him to manage. This is a busy busy place and it’s hard to manage during lunch hour.

But one of the other challenges is working with your husband. We don’t fight. I’m in the front, and he’s in the back. But we have customers that work with their spouses so we get together socially and talk about how difficult it is. That can be very, very hard because you don’t ever stop. You go home and you’re still talking about an order, you’re still talking about a customer. What’s really difficult is cutting off the work and then going into playtime.

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