Restaurant Development & Design

JAN-FEB 2019

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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1 6 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 9 Peer to Peer President and CEO of Cousins Subs Q&A with Christine Specht By Amanda Baltazar S ince it was founded in Milwaukee in 1972, Cousins Subs has saturated Wiscon- sin — from a single restaurant owned by real-life cousins, Bill Specht and Jim Sheppard, to 100 restaurants across the state. But by 2008, when Specht's daughter, Christine Specht, took over as president and COO, it was clear some changes needed to be made. Specht has led a revamp of the com- pany as she's prepared to move the chain beyond Wisconsin. Realizing she had an uphill battle to revitalize the brand, Specht needed to make some tough choices to carry on her father's legacy. In 2011, she made the difficult decision to close several stores. Since then, Cousins has closed more than 40 underperforming units. Since scaling back to survive and thrive, Cousins has remodeled 36 locations and continues to do more. Here, Specht discusses how she spent several years contracting the business in order to eventually expand as well as the chain's current plans. When will your first stores open outside Wisconsin, and where will they be? CS: We expect the first location to open in downtown Chicago in January. That initial opening will be followed by a num- ber of openings in and around the Chica- goland area. We're also actively looking at opportunities with franchisees in other states near our established presence in Wisconsin, such as Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana, as we strategically branch outward from our base. You have remodeled 36 locations. Are the changes aesthetic or operational? CS: It's a little bit of both. Most of the changes have focused on the aesthet- ics for the interior and exterior of our restaurants, but each has also had an operational component. The intent is to streamline the look and feel of all locations to effectively communicate our brand to communities in new markets. The remodel uses an earth-toned color palette, wood features and other natural elements to be more inviting. It also celebrates our Midwestern roots by incorporating a little more of an industrial feel. The new design provides a more balanced environment where guests can sit, stay and work, or guests on the go can get in and out in an ef- ficient manner. What's your goal with the changes? CS: Part of the interior design is meant to highlight the three key areas of Cousins. First, we highlight our history and legacy by incorporating a design that reflects our Midwestern roots. Second, we are able to talk about our cuisine philosophy of offering fresh veggies, grilled-to-order meats and freshly baked bread. Finally, throughout the walls of our restaurant, we highlight our commitment to commu- nity with our Make It Better Foundation, for which our three pillars are Health and Wellness, Hunger, and Youth Education. It's not just about materials; it's about communicating a message — the value of Cousins and why it's important to us — and we want our guests to know that. The rebranding creates a dynamic in-store environment that we finally feel matches the high quality of our product. For years, people have said our product is the hallmark of the Cousins Subs' brand. But now, it really matches the environment. It's modern, inviting and it gets noticed. People are seeing

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