Cousins couldn’t continue growing for the sake of growing, Specht says. It wasn’t an easy call, Specht admits, but without sustainable and smart expansion, the company would outgrow its operational strengths. She also wanted to build partnerships with franchisees dedicated to the brand.
After six years of extensively rebranding and remodeling, Cousins is ready to bring its subs to new markets. The refreshed locations promote the history of the legacy chain while educating customers about the fresh direction.
“My goal for this environment was to coin the Milwaukee sub shop,” Specht says. “It has an essence of where we started and guests will understand a little bit more about who we are, more than just the sub that they're eating.”
The biggest part of the expansion will take place in Chicago, where Cousins had a presence before exiting in 2013.
The chain inked a deal last summer with the OM Group to open 40 stores by 2025 in the area. The experience of Amit and Kalpesh Patel of OM Group attracted, Specht says.
“It makes sense to us to have continuous growth,” Specht says. “But we recognize [Chicago] is a very large market, densely populated, with a lot of competition at the same time. So going there wasn't just going to be an afterthought. We really wanted to think about who we might want to partner with to go into the Chicago market. We found the OM group and the two brothers have had the experience in the Chicagoland region with other businesses that they currently operate. So we feel really good about who we're partnering with.”
So far, two new Cousins locations have opened in the Windy City. Specht believes they are on track to open five to seven new restaurants by the end of 2019. In order to saturate the market and gain brand awareness quickly, Cousins will continue to open at this rate.
“It's not just open up one, wait a year, and then open up another one because you just don't get the traction that you need to,” Specht says. “So we're very optimistic, and we'll see where it goes.”
Specht plans on growing the 100-unit chain throughout the Midwest, but doesn’t have a specific number of units in mind. Over the next few years, she sees Cousins breaking into markets across Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky. Specht will rely on local research and building relationships with potential franchisees to extend Cousins’ reach.