As Cousins Expands to Big City, Charitable Efforts Do, Too
VP of Marketing Justin McCoy, left, CEO Christine Specht and President Jason Westhoff at Cousins Subs headquarters in Wisconsin.
Now that Cousins Subs is entering the Chicago-area market in a big way, from its home base in Wisconsin, VP of Marketing Justin McCoy is starting over again to build relationships with sports teams and community groups as potential partners in the family-owned franchise’s charitable efforts.
“Before we ever opened our first restaurant in Illinois, I began discussions, just getting to know the Bears and the Bulls,” he said, referring to the professional football and basketball teams, respectively. “I talk to them a lot about the community angle.”
In Wisconsin, Cousins’ charitable efforts are well established, going back to the co-founding of the sandwich franchise in 1972 by Bill Specht. His daughter, Christine Specht, is CEO today.
“In 2011 I began having discussions about formalizing our efforts under a 501(c)(3), and in 2013 we did that,”McCoy said. “We wanted to give back to the communities we call home,”and creating the Make it Better Foundation enabled him to tell a more coherent story about all the disparate initiatives.
Cousins established three “pillars” for charitable efforts, which are youth education that gives scholarships for athletes and last year began to give scholarships to Cousins shops employees as well.
The second pillar is health and wellness, in partnership with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation for cancer care and research and a Punt, Pass and Kick competition to give to the Bart Starr foundation for pediatric cancer care and research. Starr was a famous player for the Green Bay Packers.
The third pillar is hunger, including a partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks called the Block Out Hunger campaign. Every blocked shot by the pro basketball team equals a donation.
“If you take the national programs we’ve had and the grants we’ve done, we’ve given out roughly $378,000 to more than 70 different non-profits,” McCoy said.
He approaches every partnership in the same way, whether on home turf or new territory. “You really have to meet and get to know one another. In each of those cases I spent probably a year or two trying to get to know those organizations before we decided to do anything,” he said. “My approach is they’re geared around some sort of community give-back. I don’t approach them with, ‘Hey, here’s our logo,’so it’s one of 50 logos up there. It kind of gets lost. I really try to create engaging programs with them. That makes sense and has a large impact.”
Cousins inked a 40-store deal in Chicago earlier this year with the OM Group, nephews of existing Cousins franchisees in Wisconsin, at first signing for 10 stores but then asking for the entire market to box out others who wanted a piece.
Attracting sophisticated big-city operators like the Patel brothers, who also own Dunkin’, Wingstop and Rosati’s restaurants, gave Cousins an economic and psychological boost and validated their hard work, CEO Christine Specht told Franchise Times in May. Does the biggest deal in modern Cousins history make her nervous? “It makes us just nervous enough to not take it for granted,” she said at the time.