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Four Years Later: I-35W Bridge Survivor Finds New Dream

Garrett Ebling, a survivor of the Aug. 1, 2007 bridge collapse, celebrates life in his new sandwich shop.

Sometimes things in life are determined in a matter of seconds.

On Aug. 1, 2007, Garrett Ebling was on his way home to Minnetonka from a work lunch. He was driving over the I-35W bridge when, before he knew it, the road was shaking and his car was falling 110 feet into the Mississippi River.

Ebling survived, but narrowly. He suffered broken facial plates, two broken ankles, a broken jaw, a collapsed lung, a fractured diaphragm, internal bleeding and brain trauma. He remembers nothing of the first days after the ordeal.

After two months in the hospital undergoing assorted operations, Ebling went through a long process of therapy to help him get his life back in order. He still feels the reverberant pain of his multiple injuries. But Ebling refuses to be handicapped. He’s gotten back to normal life with a vengeance.

“When you go through a life-altering experience, and you come out of it, you gain a greater appreciation for the life you have left,” Ebling said. “You see opportunities, and you make the most of things.”

Thus, despite a 110-foot plummet, Ebling’s life has taken an upward turn.

He now owns a new sandwich store, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, opening this July in Blaine.

“I wanted to find something I could do that was active. I was so injured and inactive for so long,” Ebling said. “This was about proving to myself that I can be active even though I have aches and pains as a result of the bridge collapsing.”

Prior to the I-35W bridge disaster, Ebling was working in the Great Clips corporate office doing communications work. He’d been a journalist and an editor before that. It was at Great Clips that Ebling says he learned the value of franchises.

He chose the Which Wich franchise, which is based in Texas and specializes in entirely customizable sandwiches, because he felt the company produced the best sandwiches within fast sandwich sector. He and his wife first visited a Which Wich shop in Colorado, and he liked the atmosphere.

“We had an awesome experience,” he said. “The food was top notch. The customer service was excellent. We really felt like we got a full service restaurant in a fast food restaurant.”

The business has been taking up all of his time lately, and Ebling admits he’s “at work open to close.” However, he says the hard work has been worth it. 

“The community has been really energized about us being here,” he said. “We’re beginning to see a lot of regulars. When that happens you know you’re doing something right.”

it’s about more than business for Ebling, too.

“I wanted to be able to do something where I feel like I’m giving back,” he said. “Like any business we want to make a profit. But you can also make an impact, helping with fundraisers, being a community place to hang out or just making a customer’s day just a little better.”

In the little free time he has, the husband, father and now business-owner likes to ride his motorcycle and visit the family cabin on the North Shore.

Ebling and his wife, Sonja, are approaching their third anniversary (they got engaged right before the bridge collapsed). Together they have a five-month-old son, Cooper.

Getting his life back on track has been less than easy, but Ebling tackles any challenges that come his way, embracing what opportunities he can.

Last year, for instance, he went skydiving. His next dare will be downhill skiing, which he hasn’t tried since the bridge collapse.

“I want to do for a large part and do things I used to do,” he said, calling running a business all day a good start to that.

His bold thirst for the good things in life might explain his favorite sandwich on the Which Wich menu. According to Ebling, it’s one of the more unconventional meal options- one that few customers ever really order, even though the menu calls it a classic.

“The Monte Cristo,” Ebling said. “It’s got ham, turkey, grape jelly and powdered sugar on the bun. I figure anything with sugar on it has got to be good!”

Gretchen Lowery August 01, 2011 at 04:22 PM
I am a huge fan of Which Wich in Blaine! What an amazing story about survival, fighting and accomplishing your dreams.

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