Around two years ago, Krystal had an in-house conversation about its core values. Since the brand was founded in 1932, long before many of today’s 6,000-plus employees were born, the company felt it was time for a refresh. Even if it wasn’t a complete realignment, Krystal wanted to reinforce the cultural and integral details that helped mold it into one of the South’s iconic restaurant chains.

The conference resulted in five points: promoting teamwork, respecting everyone, impressing customers, delivering results, and exemplifying integrity.

Something that also emerged was a desire to deepen its community outreach.

Starting March 1, grant applications will be accepted from schools and teachers as part of The Krystal Foundation’s inaugural efforts. Krystal, which launched the foundation on February 22, is lasering in on funding for educational enrichment, namely the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) programs in the 11 states it operates.

“That concept of respecting everyone, for us, was how do we go beyond, and I don’t want to diminish or dismiss any other initiatives, but how do we go beyond this generic we just want to help notion?” says Jason Abelkop, chief marketing officer for The Krystal Company and president of The Krystal Foundation. “How do we get more in touch with it? How do we get more specific and more measurable about where we can give money and where we can see results?”

This extends to music and the performing arts, culinary instruction, and various sports programs. Abelkop says Krystal hopes to award north of $50,000 in grants this year, dispersed in $1,000–$2,000 gifts.

“We deserve the right to get smarter as we go along with this,” he says. “But we’re definitely excited about where we are.”

Landing on education came down to a number of factors. Krystal, Abelkop says, has a more regional, local feel than many chains its size. A sizable portion of the 350-plus units are located in small, sometimes rural communities throughout the Southeast and have always engaged on the ground level. In some cases, those ties stretch back decades.

“A more personal part of it is somewhat by happenstance,” he says. “Throughout our leadership team and throughout our organization and the Krystal family, myself included, we have mothers, fathers, wives, daughters, and sons who happen to be teachers and who happen to participate broadly in STEAM. So there was the broader, more pragmatic connection, and then there was very much the personal connection for those of us in our organization.”

That pragmatic approach refers to the fact that Krystal saw a gap in funding in STEAM, and a chance to make an immediate impact. The company spoke with customers, team members, franchisees, and business partners across its footprint about the possibility, quickly realizing that it was a hot-button, intimate, and nearly universal issue for people. And it also enabled Krystal to get involved past just writing checks.

“We wanted to figure out how we would bring it to life and really ended up at two components—an overarching component that was grants that we would provide to teachers and schools and organizations to fulfill the needs, and then local restaurant-driven fundraising opportunities that would provide and fill that need as well,” Abelkop says.

In addition, Krystal is using its stores and support centers as education facilities. Students can job shadow employees. Abelkop says they will offer internships, both on the restaurant and operations side. Students can learn how to make the food as well as how food cost systems work. Then, on the flip side, Krystal will find new ways to empower its employees.

“We have some folks within our support center as well where, if they have a graphic arts background, they get to come in and help with our marketing team on the social and digital media front,” he says. “Or on our merchandising. And they get to experience some of that. We’re still working through how that happens on an ongoing basis but we already have a couple of folks in place who are benefiting from that.”

Building out the details has been an ongoing process as well. To date, Abelkop says they raised funding through franchisees and business partners and Krystal corporate. Through various fundraisers, he says, “we far exceeded our expectations. We are really opening the doors with significant base funding. Maybe double what we thought.”

Abelkop says that path will continue, and some franchisees and partners have already come forward with some consumer-driven promotions they plan to run.

For example, Coca-Cola, a company partner since the beginning, has offered to donate some percent of proceeds from every beverage sold to the cause.

Packaging was also redesigned, much like a packaged goods boxtop program. With a Squaring is Caring chit, local organizations will be able to connect with managers and franchisees to fundraise on a hyper-local level.

Educators who apply will submit an application that Krystal keeps alive for a year. There are three windows to enter, and Abelkop says they will be looking for anybody who wants to make a difference, with a nod toward Krystal team members directly involved.

“We’re excited about the launch of it. We think it’s going to be a great thing,” he says.

By Danny Klein

Charitable Giving, Fast Food, News, Krystal