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Which Wich fights hunger with PB&J


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Jeff Sinelli, founder of Which Wich.

When your business card boldly states you want to make the world a better place, don’t expect to leave a Conscious Capitalism conference unchallenged.

That’s what happened to Jeff Sinelli, founder and chief vibe officer of Dallas-based Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, when he attended his first Conscious Capitalism conference in San Francisco in 2013, and the CEO of the Container Store asked him what he was doing to live up to his business card’s mantra.

Chastised, Sinelli ruminated on it during the flight back to Dallas, and came up with how he could make the world a better place: peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

One of the reasons PB&J sandwiches came to mind, according to Hala Habai, director of communications for the 400-unit chain, is that Sinelli consumed quite a few of the low-cost, nutritious sandwiches during lean times in his entrepreneurial journey. Sinelli created fast-casual concept Genghis Grill before selling it and starting Which Wich.

Project PB&J was launched in mid-2014 and by year end Which Wich stores sold about 50,000 sandwiches for around $3 each, which means 100,000 sandwiches were donated to local shelters and through other avenues where hungry people seek food. For every peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich bought in the restaurants, an additional one is donated to the community or “banked” for large-scale areas of need, says Habai. Think Toms, which provides shoes to a person in need for every pair someone buys. While a few Which Wich customers eat the PB&J sandwich themselves, most donate the sandwich back to the store. Others hand them out to homeless people they encounter on their way home or as they go back to their office.

A display showcasing the sandwiches along with the mission statement is located by the cash register.

Sinelli’s goal is 1 million sandwiches in 2015, Habai says. The Dallas-based company has locations in 38 states and eight foreign countries.

One franchisee on board with Sinelli’s “go-big-or-go-home” attitude is 30-year-old Patrick Melody, a three-unit franchisee in Minneapolis. “I love it,” he says of the program. “Jeff nailed it. He’s that person—it’s never a costume with him—he’s not just cashing in” on compassionate capitalism.

On the day Franchise Times visited the Minneapolis skyway location, Melody took off his suit jacket and donned an apron over his yellow-striped tie to demonstrate for the camera how the sandwiches are made. With some help from his staff, he performed the ritual known to every mother out there: spread peanut butter on one slice of white bread, spread grape jelly on the other and place the sticky sides together. The uncut sandwich is then placed in a wax-paper bag and sealed with a Project PB&J sticker.

Most of his customers—especially in the downtown location—buy the sandwich and donate it back, Melody says. Customers have already filled out the information on a sandwich bag, which serves as a recipe card, by the time they reach the counter, so the $3 is an add-on.

Other businesses ask for $1 at the register for various charities, Habai says, “and you don’t know where it goes.” The PB&J sandwich, she adds, is tangible.

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