From remodeling and digital campaigns to systemwide restructuring, 2009 and 2010 are often seen as the years Hungry Howie’s reignited its business. But in those post-recession years something else took shape: The Love, Hope & Pizza promotion in October. Like the brand itself, which has reported same-store sales growth for 30 consecutive quarters, the campaign, now in its ninth year, has only gained momentum since.

Last year, Hungry Howie’s Love, Hope & Pizza promotion crossed the $2 million mark in its efforts to raise funds and awareness for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

“That was a big plateau for us to hit and we were very pleased to be at that point,” CEO Steve Jackson says. “What we’ve tried to do is not change the program completely but just make it more relevant.”

In 2010, Hungry Howie’s decided to commit all its charitable efforts to the cause. Perhaps the most recognizable image to emerge was the pink pizza box, emblazoned with an NBCF logo. This year alone, Hungry Howie’s ordered some three million boxes. Planning for such a haul isn’t easy, Jackson says. The team has to basically project how many they expect to sell and hope they don’t over or undershoot it by too much.

“When they’re out, they’re out,” Jackson says. “Some [restaurants] might run out October 25. Other ones might have pink boxes until November 10. We do the best we can and we’ve been fortunate to not be too far out.”

Jackson says the campaign continues to evolve each year, while leaning on the pillars that customers look for—the in-store donations, pink boxes, T-shirts, option to donate online, and so on. This year, the team wanted to engage younger guests and further the discussion. The new campaign is built around the idea of being “a warrior for the cause.” Hungry Howie’s commercial features a man suited up in armor made of pink boxes. Guests can tag the brand and #LoveHopePizza on Instagram for a chance to win free pizza for a year.

The idea, Jackson says, was to open the campaign to a broader audience. In the past, Hungry Howie’s has featured managers, employees, customers, vendors, and more, in short videos where they discuss how the disease has affected their lives. Instead of being experience-driven, this year’s is designed to activate guests to get involved.

“We’re trying to engage customers to want to be a part of this. And truly we picked breast cancer as our main cause because everyone is affected by breast cancer, somehow, some way. With a friend or relative. … It was much more of an experience-related commercial [in the past]. Now we’re taking more of the approach to encourage people to be a warrior for the cause.”

The commercials are running in Hungry Howie’s home state of Michigan. They’re also broadcasting through social media channels nationwide.

Over the years, Love, Hope & Pizza has come to represent much of what Hungry Howie’s stands for. During the chain’s annual convention, there’s a “Pink Night” where everybody dresses up in the color. The emcee this year was clad in an all-pink suit.

Many employees wear pink to the corporate office during October. Hourly workers don shirts at stores, and it’s something that members of the organization—at all levels—anticipate every fall.

“This isn’t just something that happens in October. It’s something that happens year-round,” Jackson says. “Love, Hope, and Pizza is a big part of our culture.”

Part of the decision to focus on one cause was driven by the fact, Jackson explains, that “you’re so fragmented when you’re a business because you’re approached by so many companies to do so many things.” It also positioned Hungry Howie’s to connect with millennials, even if the chain didn’t quite foresee that fact at the time.

“The younger generation and the millennials are a cause-related demographic,” he says. “They want to participate with companies that have a purpose and have a reason other than just selling a product. I think we’ve been a beneficiary of that over these years.”

Charitable Giving, Fast Casual, Story, Hungry Howie's