Dad, golf lover, restaurant owner helps children get in the swing of sports - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Dad, golf lover, restaurant owner helps children get in the swing of sports

May 15th, 2017 development
Dad, golf lover, restaurant owner helps children get in the swing of sports

By Alison Bailin Batz


Mark Roden loves golf.

In fact, it was high school friend Rick Duffey’s promise of sunny, golf-filled college days that brought Minnesota native Roden to Arizona State University in the late 1970s. Who knew this golf-fueled decision would mark the beginning of a nonprofit organization based in Chandler?

While attending ASU, and in between the putting green and driving range, Roden, whose daughter is now a freshman at Seton Catholic Preparatory, got a job at the local grocery store. Life moved merrily along for Roden until a fateful fishing trip with his father in the summer of 1986. During the trip, Roden’s father talked about his life-long dream – to start his own business and work for himself – but that he never had quite enough time to take the leap. He also told Roden that he wanted nothing more for his son than to start his own business and take the chance he never did.

That was the last time Roden saw his father.

In January, 1987, and just months before Roden graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree, Roden’s father suffered a massive aneurysm while driving home from work and died. Although rising in the ranks at the Tempe grocery store, his father’s words echoed in his mind.

Roden knew he had to make a change. He just didn’t know his exact path yet. So, he decided to go back to ASU. He loved kids and sports, and so he planned on working toward a master’s degree in elementary education.

“I figured I could be a teacher and a decent coach,” Roden said.

He was also one heck of a fan of a new restaurant on 48th Street and Southern called Subway®. So much so that he was one of the first Subway customers in Arizona and even got to know Subway’s  development agent for Arizona as well as his daughter, who worked at the location. The daughter happened to be the first Arizonan to graduate from “Subway University.”

“They hated it every time I stopped by, because I always ordered a cheese sandwich,” Roden remembers. “I thought I was being a good customer.”

It wasn’t until years later that Roden discovered that Subway sliced their cheese slice-by-slice every day – and there were 20 slices of cheese on each sandwich.

So, Roden went off and became a teacher and coach and catered all of the kids’ parties with Subway, right?


Fate (and Subway) had other plans for him.

The week his master’s classes were about to start, and just as Subway was opening its second location in Tempe (at ASU), Roden got the chance to visit his brother-in-law in California for what else? A little golf outing. During the outing, Roden’s brother-in-law could not stop talking about the new Subway brand and how they could get in on the ground floor of the franchise. During the conversation, all Roden could think about were his father’s words about working for himself and being his own boss, and something clicked.

After striking a deal with his brother-in-law, Roden took off for Albuquerque, New Mexico, to visit his brother and offer him a piece of the action, as well. In addition to wanting to work with his family, Roden figured that with 10 stores already in Arizona, they had no chance to get in with Subway in his own market and New Mexico might still have some opportunities.

While his brother eventually decided not to take part, Roden moved full steam ahead and to his surprise, in 1988 — he had the opportunity to buy a franchise in Arizona after all. Actually, within a 70-day period, Roden opened and acquired a total of three Subway stores, including his first location in the former Tempe Center on the northeast corner of 10th Street and Mill Avenue.

Challenged by the flood of business, Roden moved into his first office, located on Mill Avenue just south of Broadway in Tempe.

Things only got busier in 1989, when he opened seven more stores in the Valley, and started gaining traction within the brand.

“I still remember going to the Subway convention, which was in Hawaii and had some great golf,” said Roden. “Back then, opening two or three stores was considered a coup, so when the corporate folks announced I opened seven in one year, people were floored.”

In fact, when they announced his name to the attendees, they mispronounced it. He vowed that someday, they would know his name among the company’s management.

And know his name, they did.

Over the next two decades, Roden owned as many as 56 Arizona Subway Restaurants, and now, as founder and president of Desert Subway, Inc., he owns and operates 51 of the eateries in Arizona, as well as another five in Maui. He also had to keep moving to bigger offices until his business eventually grew to more than 600 employees. His office is now located in the heart of Chandler at 100 S. McClintock Drive near Chandler Fashion Center.

Along the way, Roden also added the role of father to his resume, with the birth of his daughter Marcee in 2002.

“And I thought life as a business owner was fun,” said Roden. “Nothing compares to being a dad.”

His daughter, who is now 14, is the apple of Mark’s eye – and has helped to make sure he lives a healthy lifestyle.

“Marcee keeps me moving 24 hours a day,” said Roden. “In fact, I started working out with a personal trainer a couple of years ago just to keep up with her and to ensure I am as healthy as possible so I am around for her forever.”

Roden also stayed close to his golf buddy Rick Duffey, and the duo even added another member to their merry band of golfers in the early ‘90s – fellow then-Subway franchisee Bob Burns, who would sit on local Subway advertising and franchisee boards with Roden for many years, as well as help plan some of the group’s more exotic outings over the years to such locales as Mexico, Las Vegas and Hawaii.


Paying it Forward

Roden’s love of golf, kids and sports eventually came full circle in 1999, when he gathered Burns and other community-minded Subway franchisees and launched Subway Kids & Sports of Arizona™, a non-profit organization that provides sports equipment, uniforms, registration fees, and access to major sporting events for kids who might not otherwise be able to participate.  He operates the charity out of his Chandler office on South McClintock Drive.

“The mission of Subway Kids & Sports of Arizona is to provide sports equipment, uniforms, registration fees, and access to major sporting events for kids who might not otherwise be able to participate,” Roden said. “We support kids in sports because we believe basic sports skills – teamwork, commitment and accountability – help kids throughout their lives. Subway Kids & Sports of Arizona has reached more than 25,000 Arizona children since its inception in 1999.”

He estimates they’ve given between $600,000 and $750,000 around the state since their inception.

Through the organization, Roden and his partners plan an annual golf tournament each year that has raised money for organizations such as The Salvation Army, Havasu for Youth, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Arizona Recreational Center for the Handicapped, Child Crisis, Junior Achievement of Arizona, Girls on the Run, Athletes in Training, Special Olympics of Arizona and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, to name a few.

“Mark’s dedication to this cause since founding the organization some 18 years ago has been paramount to our long-term success – with sponsors, with fellow franchisees and with the nonprofits themselves,” said Chad Barnett, a Subway Kids & Sports board member. “He works with many of our key partners including Coca-Cola, Shamrock Farms, Shamrock Foods, Frito-Lay and others on event concepts, grants, auction and fundraising ideas and our Cycle for Success program year round, not just when our annual fundraising events are happening. How he manages it all, not to mention his dedication to the Subway brand, his own business and his daughter, is commendable – and surely exhausting!”

This summer, the organization will give another $50,000-plus in grant money to local nonprofits.

“This year, Mark and Subway Kids & Sports are making it possible for four children with intensive special needs from rural counties (to have) a summer camp experience focused on improving emotional health, confidence, and independence, entirely free-of-charge,” said Pam Swanson, executive director of Lion’s Camp Tatiyee in Pinetop. “Depression and anxiety run high among kids with disabilities and things like camp allow them a time to try new things in a safe setting, with peers who are going through similar things.”

Sharri Runnels, executive director of the Spina Bifida Association of Arizona, said the money will also greatly help her organization.

“Thanks to our grant, Subway Kids & Sports is making it possible for us to purchase a specialized hand-pedaled bike for our children who are wheelchair users,” Runnels said. “Each of these bikes costs upwards of $2,000. The bike will allow one or more children whose family cannot otherwise afford it the ability to enjoy the freedom of riding bikes with friends, getting critical exercise, fresh air and sunshine.”

Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona is another recipient of the organization’s donations.

“Through a national partnership with Asics shoes, we are able to purchase brand new running shoes for our girls at a discounted rate,” said Marney Babbitt, Council director of Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona. “This grant will allow us to purchase 80 pairs of running shoes for girls in need so they can be a part of our 2017 program, which is a 10-week after-school program for girls ages 8-13 offered every fall, teaching girls healthy habits and life skills they can use to successfully navigate adolescent challenges.”

In addition to providing annual grants to local nonprofit programs supporting children’s access to sports, Roden and Subway Kids & Sports also visit schools each month via an outreach program called Cycle for Success.

Through the program, Subway Kids & Sports partners with Subway, the Be Kind People Project, Dasani Water and Shamrock Foods to surprise deserving local children (via a teacher-led nomination process) with bikes, helmets, locks and a fabulous catered lunch party for their random acts of kindness.

So, between his life-long friendships, his Subway empire, Subway Kids & Sports – and especially Marcee – it is safe to say Roden’s dad would be proud of the way that his son’s life has unfolded. In fact, Roden says his life “is his dad’s dream life” – a tribute to him and their common vision.

Alison Bailin Batz is a Senior Account Executive at HMA Public Relations.

(Photo by Alison Bailin Batz)

Mark Roden, founder and president of Desert Subway, Inc., says his daughter, Marcee, is the apple of his eye.