Following his time in the navy, in the late ‘60s, Bill Specht moved from New Jersey to join his wife, Sandy, in her home town of Milwaukee. A newcomer to the Midwest, Bill found nearly everything he needed to start his life in Wisconsin, but there was one glaring omission. Bill grew up on the grilled subs and sandwiches that New Jersey and neighboring Philadelphia are known for, and Milwaukee’s version wasn’t cutting it. But rather than lamenting the loss, Bill saw a business opportunity. He called up his cousin Jim Sheppard in New Jersey and told him about an idea for an East Coast-style sandwich shop in the Midwest. A few years later, Bill and Jim opened the first Cousins Subs restaurant in Milwaukee.
Some forty-five years later, Cousins Subs has become a staple of the Midwest. The franchise currently has 100 corporate and franchise-owned restaurants open in Wisconsin and is growing strategically throughout the region. According to the brand’s vice president of marketing, Justin McCoy, that growth is largely due to Cousins’ resolute commitment to providing quality East Coast-style sub sandwiches, which even today sets the brand apart from every other sub sandwich franchise.
“The concept was developed around the East Coast-style subs that Bill grew up on, with a particular emphasis on three key principles: quality, fresh, and made to order,” said McCoy. “That’s the same focus that our brand is still known for today.”
The key elements of Cousins Subs, McCoy says, are simple: a proprietary bread recipe baked daily, freshly sliced cheeses, meats and veggies and hot subs made to order off the grill.
“Our Cheese Steaks made with either all-white-meat chicken or USDA choice steak and are made to order on our flat top grill for each guest,” McCoy said. “That’s not something you’re going to find at many of our competitors, and it’s a huge draw for guests.”
Beyond those core elements, much of Cousins Subs’ authenticity comes down to its unrelenting commitment to quality. McCoy says every element of the menu and kitchen operations has been built around a simple mantra: “quality has no substitute.” To that end, Cousins also features high-quality locally sourced items whenever possible.
Cousins Subs commitment to local sourcing can be found throughout their menu. McCoy points to the brand’s use of all Wisconsin cheeses as a key component of this strategy.
“As part of this initiative we have partnered with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to continually source the finest cheeses the Dairy State has to offer,” he said.
As Cousins continues to expand its footprint outside of Wisconsin, McCoy says the franchise will continue to look to its local communities for produce.
“We pride ourselves on sourcing from vendors local to our restaurants,” he said. “Not only is that the best way to get the freshest and highest-quality ingredients, it’s part of our commitment to giving back to our communities.”
That commitment to giving back is borne out in a number of outreach programs Cousins has established, including the Make It Better Foundation, a nonprofit developed by the brand with three key areas of focus: to fund causes for youth education, to combat hunger and to support local initiatives for health and wellness.
“Our community outreach programs are an enormous part of the brand,” McCoy said. “We are still a family-owned company, and a commitment to people is in our DNA.”
Cousins Subs’ commitment to supporting its local communities has made each new restaurant a welcome addition to its neighborhood. These efforts have helped establish an eager customer base in every market Cousins has entered, and McCoy says that connection with local communities is essential to the success of the brand.
“Once guests have a taste of one of our traditional East Coast-style cold subs or a hot sub made to order off our grill, we know we’re going to win them over,” McCoy said. “And once they get to know us and our commitment to their community, we are confident they will truly identify us as their sub shop of choice.”