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Cousins Subs expanding into Chicago


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CEO Christine Specht of Wisconsin-based Cousins Subs shared her deep family roots in the national sandwich chain that began franchising in the 1990s. Now, after repositioning the company with restaurant refreshes, new locations and an updated menu, Specht said the brand’s key differentiators are grilled meats and fresh-baked Italian bread that “people from out east would appreciate.”

As the brand grows behind its approximately 100 locations, 80 percent of which are franchised, it has also doubled down on its Wisconsin roots with fried cheese curds, shakes and floats and new items like Wisconsin mac and cheese.

“We give consumers a better experience and we have a better menu,” she said, highlighting the four core values that have driven the brand updates; being grounded, passionate, optimistic and purposeful. ‘It’s not terribly glamorous, but we do it well.”

In the role of CEO since 2015, Specht said she has completed the process of building her new leadership team at the Milwaukee headquarters, which means it’s time to add new locations. That effort is focused on the Chicagoland market, where Cousins recently sold a 40-store deal.

Future franchisees for Cousins will need to sign up for a three-store multi-unit deal, with a minimum net worth of $1.5 million, $500,000 in liquid capital and a clear history as savvy investors with a strong background in franchising

So far, the early results are painting an optimistic picture for the brand going forward, with significant improvements in unit-level economics in the system.

“From 2011 to 2018 we’ve had a 48 percent increase in our average-unit volume,” Specht added. “It took a lot of work and a lot of sweat to get there.”

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