It’s a time of change at Menomonee Falls-based Cousins Subs. The family-owned company and 1,400 Cousins employers have major expansion plans to open franchise locations throughout the Midwest.
Cousins CEO believes the sky is the limit.
Christine Specht got her first job when she was 15 at a Cousins Subs in Germantown. She wasn’t expecting to become CEO. In fact, she majored in criminology at Marquette. Then in 2001, Specht decided it was a good time to return to the company her father started with his cousin in the 1970s.
These days, you can sometimes find Specht working in the stores or running the cash register. It’s something she likes to do since dropping president from her title this past January.
"It’s really important for leaders to be accessible and present," said Specht. "That doesn’t happen if you’re stuck in the corner office, and it's just great fun, being in the restaurant. This is where the magic happens.”
Specht wants to spread that magic to locations beyond Wisconsin. She says the company will “grow responsibly, meaning we don’t want stores on top of each other.”
When TODAY'S TMJ4 anchor Susan Kim asked if there was a limit to the growth, Specht said, “I don’t think there’s a limit. Who doesn’t want to eat Cousins Subs?”
Specht recently dropped president from her title to focus on moving the company into the next 40 years. The remodeling and rebranding started several years ago and is ongoing.
Specht says the changes set up the company to expand in the Midwest now. Leaders have 20 locations for possible Cousins Sub shops in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and have a franchise agreement with a Chicago company to open 40 restaurants over the next several years in the Chicago area. The first opened this past January.
"It was amazing how many people came up to me about how excited they were that Cousins Subs was in the area," said Specht. "On the surface, you could say we’re just another sub shop, but really when you look at it, the menu’s different, all our meats are high quality and the bread is the hallmark of our brand.”
Specht also believes the Wisconsin flair on the menu, local cheeses and cheese curds, and Sprecher root beer will help draw new customers.
“We love our Midwestern heritage stemming from Wisconsin,” she said.
Along with the stores, Specht also renovated the corporate offices with desks, treadmills, shuffleboard and a test kitchen that looks like a Cousins Subs. These are the changes that landed the company on The Milwaukee Business Journal’s “coolest offices” list.
Specht sees herself as a visionary moving the company forward. She also says even though she’s a woman CEO, she wants to be seen as a “competent CEO.”
Cousins isn’t done trying new things. It’s first ‘commissary’ is expected to open this spring in Walker’s Point. It will be a delivery-only location to fill a void in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. If it works, you can expect to see more commissaries in the future.
Specht also lead the company’s efforts to create a non-profit organization. Its ‘Make it Better Foundation’ started in 2013 and has donated more than $600,000 to local youth, hunger and research organizations.