Ohio was one of the first states to issue stay-at-home orders, with Gov. Mike DeWine ordering all bars and restaurants March 15 to close their dining rooms that Sunday night.

The following day, David Coury was in the hospital getting surgery to remove cancer from his tongue. Watching the early response, he called his brother-in-law, Ghazi Faddoul, and asked to help. Faddoul, a local Subway franchisee, engaged five restaurants and 25 employees and delivered 5,000 sandwiches in less than 28 hours to healthcare workers.

Now, they’re working to bring more.

Coury and Ghazi chatted with QSR about the response, and what it’s been like navigating COVID-19 over these past few weeks.

Let’s start from the beginning. When you knew you wanted to give back, how did you land on delivering thousands of sandwiches? What were those talks like?

Ghazi: After being diagnosed with cancer, my brother-in-law, David Coury, had to undergo a life-saving procedure at University Hospital in Cleveland. Following his surgery, David was looking for a way to give back to all those he saw on the frontlines working so hard to keep our community safe and healthy.

David contacted me asking if we would be able to feed the people at UH. When I asked how many people he responded—“all of them!” He informed me there was about 5,000 employees at the hospital and David wanted to thank everyone working in the hospital from the CEO to the parking lot attendant. And I said, “no problem!”

David, had you worked in a restaurant before?

David: I have worked in the health care field for many years, but never in a restaurant.

How did employees react to the program? Especially given it was in the very early days of the COVID-19 spread, at least as it pertains to shutting down dining rooms.

Ghazi: Our restaurants are primarily downtown and have been hit hard due to the shelter-in-place act that our governor had put in place. We were able to remain open for takeout and delivery and our employees were very eager to help feed our community and the hospital workers. It took five restaurants and 25 employees to complete the order.

Additionally, my niece approached me and wanted to help feed more frontline workers and first responders, so she donated $1,000, and shared our efforts on Facebook. Since then, many friends and family members have continued to reach out offering to help the community. This opportunity has allowed us to keep our employees working and continue to feed and serve our guests, as well as first responders and medical staff fighting the virus on the frontlines.

How did you manage to deliver that many sandwiches in less than 28 hours? Talk about the logistics involved.

Ghazi: While it sounds like a large undertaking, having 5 locations that are experiencing less traffic than normal due to shelter in place gave us the ability to handle making and donating 5,000 sandwiches. Our employees were happy to come to work for as many hours needed to make these meals and I’m so proud to work alongside of them. Each location was tasked with preparing 1,000 meals (sandwiches, cookies, and chips). 

The day before we delivered the sandwiches each location worked hard to freshly-bake the bread and cookies and cut fresh produce that would be necessary for the delivery. At 10 p.m. the night before each location began assembling their 1,000 sandwiches. Our team worked tirelessly through the night and once completed, the meals were loaded into vans and transported to the hospital.

Give us some examples of what the response was like on the ground level. This was before many other chains started giving back.

Ghazi: It is an honor and a blessing to be able to work and help the communities that support us daily. Everyone has been so moved and grateful for the food they receive. People have said that is so kind of us to make these donations and others have been so moved they were actually in tears! Every day, more people continue to help us support those in need, from the frontline workers to those in need of a nutritious meal. We are grateful to have the opportunity to give back!

From the business perspective, Ghazi, how have you navigated COVID-19 in recent weeks? What’s the biggest success story you’ve had?

Ghazi: Like many businesses, it has been hard to keep moving forward during this time. When this started, we were at our busiest time of the year. Each restaurant had thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory at hand.  Hoping to not waste the food and keep employees working, we thought it would be a great idea to help feed those in need. From the initial donation, we have continued to find every possible way to raise more money and feed people. We are not looking to gain large profits from the work we are doing, instead we are stretching every dollar we can to feed as many people as possible while still keeping our employees working and our restaurants open. Feeding the 5,000 people at University Hospital has been by far the largest single catering order we have fulfilled during this pandemic. Shortly after serving University Hospital, another donor approached us looking to provide lunch for the staff of Marymount Hospital in Garfield Heights, Ohio. In total we have fed over 8,500 people with another 1,000 on the horizon, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

Where have you seen the biggest shift? How has to-go business picked up?

Ghazi: Since the shelter in place order, all business is currently to-go for takeout and delivery. With the nature of our business, anywhere from 60-80 percent of our business is already to-go. Our business model is well equipped to handle the shift to take-out and delivery orders only.

As a restaurant owner, how do you think this will all change the industry? What are some examples.

Ghazi: The industry will have to adapt to survive. We have turned our dining rooms into social distancing friendly lines, giving people the comfort and personal space needed to stay safe. We are also able to provide online ordering through order.Subway.com and delivery through our third-party delivery providers. We have seen these avenues of ordering increase with people wanting less interaction. The other area we have seen increase is catering. We have had an increase of large orders to feed offices and families looking for a break from cooking. It is important to see how consumer needs change and adapt to meet those changes.

What do you think the early recovery days will look like? Do you plan to keep some COVID-19 practices, like contactless ordering, in place?

Ghazi: We have already seen an increase in the number of contactless orders versus traditional orders. I think that this will only continue to increase during this pandemic and will transition into a convenience after things transition back to normal. We plan to keep these things in place and are looking to explore more options to enhance our customer experience.

Have you rolled out any special employee initiatives during this period? What’s it been like managing the labor side?

Ghazi: It is important for our employees to be able to provide for their families. We are doing all that we can at this time to ensure they have hours. We have worked hard to ensure that they can work.

Returning to the donations, how do you see this expanding? What’s the next step?

Ghazi: It is nice when one donor can help feed so many people, but even a little bit can go a long way! With that in mind, our family started a GoFundMe page. In just three days, we raised $5,000; with this support we will be able to contribute 1,000 meals to local first responders and keep our employees working. It is through the kindness and generosity of the community that we will keep this effort going and feed as many people during this pandemic as we can! Every time we donate, we find there are more people in the community that would like to help and support the cause!

Ghazi: Thank you from Team Subway!

Charitable Giving, Story, Subway