MERCED -- The Merced County Courthouse became the first in California to house a major sandwich food chain when Subway restaurant opened its doors Thursday, county officials said.
The 190-square-foot restaurant moved into its new home on the second floor of the courthouse after the owner of the franchise beat out two other vendors in a year-long bidding process.
"There's not a lot of restaurants nearby," said Court Executive Officer Linda Romero Soles. "I just wanted to find something convenient that the public and the jurors could enjoy -- and at a reasonable price."
The vendor pays $100 per month to cover utilities and other costs, court officials said. That amount was agreed upon because the vendor invested $65,000 to convert the courthouse space into a Subway shop.
The vendor doesn't pay the Administrative Office of the Court any additional fee and doesn't pay it a percentage of the shop's sales, court officials added. A food vendor was needed at the courthouse to serve the public and staff.
Prior to Subway's arrival, a small coffee shop inhabited the space, court officials said. The courthouse was left without a food vendor after the coffee shop closed in June.
In addition to the 100-plus attorneys, judges and court staff who walk the halls each day, Soles said the restaurant will be a destination for the constant flow of litigants and jurors.
Last month, about 16,272 people walked through the main courthouse doors, and another 13,705 used the second building.
Soles said the Subway restaurant is a convenient stop for county and law enforcement officials who work within walking distance.
Opening a chain restaurant inside a county courthouse was not an easy feat, Soles said. Keeping the integrity of the court was a priority, which meant controlling the presentation of the restaurant, she said.
There were many setbacks along the way as the franchise owner, C.G. Soza, tried to appease strict state guidelines and requirements.
Soza had to convince court officials to give him more space and deal with equipment delays from Subway's Connecticut headquarters because of Hurricane Sandy.
But Soza, franchise owner of two other Subway restaurants, was not about to give up.
"It seemed like the more roadblocks that came up, the more I wanted to get through them," Soza said. "It was never a thought to give up on this."
Although Soza spent about $65,000 on construction, equipment, permits and taxes, he believes the investment will pay off in the long run.
The restaurant signed a three-year contract with the courthouse, but can extend the contract three times by one year.
"It's astonishing that a small- to medium-sized court is an innovator in bringing commercial businesses into the courthouse," said Presiding Judge Brian McCabe. "You'd think in the 21st century others would have done it -- but they haven't."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.