Ithaca, N.Y. — Grilled steak, breaded chicken, cheese, wing sauce and ranch dressing, all loaded onto a roll, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil.

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These are the ingredients to the “signature sandwich” of Rogan’s Corner, as part-inventor Mike Brainard puts it  — the Bomber Sub.

Mike Brainard in front of Rogan’s Corner. (Kyle Friend/Ithaca Voice)

The sandwich has by far been the most popular menu item at Rogan’s Corner, says Brainard, also part-owner of Rogan’s.

“We’ve sold thousands and thousands and thousands of Bombers” since Brainard revived the convenience store in 2006 with his brother Hayden and Jim Reynolds, a business partner.

A Rogan’s history

Located just behind Ithaca College on Danby Rd., “Rogan’s” has been a staple of Ithaca College students’ diets since its inception in 1982.

In the early 1980s, Brainard says, Jim Rogan — the current owner of the property, not the business — purchased the lot that Rogan’s Corner currently sits on and opened the store, becoming one of the first establishments in Ithaca to offer delivery.

“In 1981, there were three delivery places,” Brainard said. “The amount of business they did in the 80s … you’re never going to get there [today] because [back then] there was no competition.”

“They were doing something unique and the food was good,” he said.

New ownership

In the mid-1990s, Rogan’s son, Frank, took over the business, Brainard said, and in 2001, the business was sold. A sandwich and pizza shop named “King Subs” moved into the building.

Around 2006, Brainard — who, at the time, was working in the finance industry — and his colleagues started talking to Jim Rogan about the possibility of moving into the space and starting his own business. The current tenants caught wind that the businesses’ future in that location was in jeopardy.

Overnight, Brainard said, the tenants of the building sold “everything that wasn’t bolted down.” By the next day, “the door was locked, the store was empty, and they were gone.”

For Brainard and his brother, the business venture was simply an investment; for Reynolds, who had experience in the convenience store business, he “just happened to need something to do,” Brainard said with a laugh.

“We were in there the following day,” he said, cleaning the entire store, replacing 20-year-old kitchen equipment, and developing relationships with vendors so the store could be stocked with product when it opened.

Within 30 days, the revamped “Rogan’s Corner” was opened — albeit with a limited range of foods, consisting of a make-your-own-sub menu, traditional pizza offerings, hot dogs, and hamburgers. “Real basic,” Brainard said.

After doing some research, the owners decided that Rogan’s needed to move in the direction that the restaurant industry was moving in — a gourmet menu, more seating, and a variety of offerings, Brainard said, were essential for growth.

The Bomber

The owners researched the different possibilities for sandwiches that they could offer, scouring menus on the Internet from restaurants in Maine to restaurants in California.

But Brainard said that he gained inspiration for the signature “Bomber Sub” by looking at a sub made by King Subs — the former tenant of the building — called “The Stinger.”

“It [wasn’t] the Bomber by any stretch,” he said. “But we evolved into it, basically — once we changed the menu and named it The Bomber it instantly became … well, you know.”

The Bomber, above, was named the top sandwich for IC students in a ranking on the school’s website

The owners currently manage a staff of about 25 employees, some of which are Ithaca College students.

Over the span of their ownership, Brainard estimates that over 500 different people have worked for Rogan’s — delivery drivers, cashiers, and kitchen workers alike.

The current owners are approaching 9 years as owners of the business, and in that time, Brainard said, only the first quarter of 2014 has failed to bring in profits — which Brainard largely attributes to the cold weather.

The lack of profits in that quarter was more than made up for after “Kendall Day” — a large party on Kendall Avenue near IC — in April, when the weather became nicer and the business began booming once again.

Well-versed in finance and economic knowledge from his 15 years in the finance industry, he said that the 2008 financial crisis hasn’t impacted Rogan’s in the slightest.

“We haven’t owned it in a period where the country wasn’t in a ‘financial recession,’” Brainard said. “Some day we’re not going to be in a recession, and I’d be happy to see what that looks like,” he added with a grin.


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Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: kyleafriend@gmail.com.