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Sub shop owner breaks a sound barrier

Ray Park, owner of four local Charley
Ray Park, owner of four local Charley's Grilled Subs locations in the area, was honored for his hiring practices.
— image credit: Nat Levy, Bellevue Reporter

When Ray Park immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1989, he wanted a piece of show business. He studied film and worked in New York and Los Angeles, before ultimately jumping into small business ownership.

Now Park is writing his own inspiring script.

Park, a Bellevue resident, owns four Charley’s Grilled Subs franchises throughout the area and he is using these stores to give back.

Through his church, Park began attending a service that catered to deaf individuals. He noticed the job market for the hard of hearing was a tough one, so he decided to make a difference. Park hired three deaf individuals, including the church’s deaf pastor, to work at his shops. They worked the morning shift — opening the store, prepping the vegetables and ingredients. At first it was a big adjustment for them, and the other employees.

“They complained about the deaf peoples’ functionality because fast food restaurants require one person to multi-task,” said Park, who spends his days traveling between stores and working on the front lines with customers. “Other crew members had to do a little bit extra for them.”

But, Park said, things quickly smoothed out. Many of the employees learned sign language phrases for things like “cheese fries, for here, to go.” The new method of communication even made things a little more efficient.

The parent company took notice.

Park was honored last week with the company’s Brotherly Love award, given to franchise owners who work hard to create positive change in the community. The company also recognized Park for mentoring new owners and donating furniture to employees when they need it.

“All of the Charley’s franchisees have done a tremendous job being active in their communities,” said Bob Wright, president and COO of Charley’s. “But Ray Park won the Brotherly Love Award because he’s a model owner when it comes to helping improve those communities and giving aid to those in need. He is beloved figure in his markets due to his gracious and charitable nature.”

When Park first heard about the award he was stunned. He felt he didn’t deserve it. Others were doing more in the community, he thought.

The award represents a long journey for Park and his family. Park’s wife and her sister originally jumped into the franchise game because they were unfamiliar with American business practices. Franchisers can provide guidance to new business owners. Park was in California at the time working for a DVD company, when he got laid off. So in 2006 it was time to join this freshly-minted family business. He started off mostly doing administrative work, but soon after his wife stepped back in her duties.

Park took over much of the operations for the stores at Southcenter Mall in Tukwila, Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Westlake Center in Seattle and Kitsap Mall in Silverdale. When he made the move to hire deaf workers, he placed one in each of the three Seattle area shops.

For Park, the best part about the arrangement is it has helped them improve their situations. Two of the three were able to find full-time work, while the pastor moved back to South Korea.

“They found a better job, so I’m happy to see them promoted and going forward,” Park said.

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