A Q&A with Cousins Subs Franchisee Keith Novotny About Why It’s Good Business to Give Back

Owner shares why he truly embodies what it means to be "Local at Heart"

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Since the doors to the first Cousins Subs location opened in Milwaukee in 1972 it’s been about more than creating quality sandwiches, it’s been about making a difference for those in the communities we call home. Cousins Subs franchisee Keith Novotny, who has been addressing vital community needs in Wisconsin’s West Bend and Kewaskum areas for more than 17 years, sat down with us to shed light on the components of Cousins Subs’ charitable commitment many may not know and share why it’s good business to give back.

Many companies give back to the community. What makes Cousins Subs’ support unique?
On the door to all Cousins Subs locations guests will find a decal that says, "Local at Heart.” That's who we are – a loyal, passionate brand with strong community bonds.

What’s more, in the Cousins Subs mission statement you’ll find the following line, ‘when our communities are in need, we offer our support.’ What this line doesn’t include is the vital community support Cousins Subs provides on a hyperlocal level. The brand works diligently to address the pressing community needs of hunger, health and wellness and youth education in all its communities. It does so on the store level and through the company’s Make It Better Foundation.

Cousins Subs contains a strong franchise network that is comprised of community-minded business owners who believe in being Better at Heart and are grounded in their communities. In fact, many of us, including myself, grew up in the same city we now do business. This strong community tie shapes our day-to-day operations around serving the folks who make our hometowns a great place to spend a lifetime. That means in addition to providing delicious meals in-store and via delivery, we give back proceeds or product to amazing organizations that serve our neighbors in need. Cousins Subs provides the framework and resources to efficiently plan and host donation nights to benefit community organizations, forge relationships with local shelters to, regularly, donate food, seek out programming needs and, in many cases, sponsor children’s education and athletics and support the health and wellness of our communities in other ways that improve its vitality.

Through the Make It Better Foundation, Cousins Subs provides support in three critical areas of interest: youth education, hunger and health & wellness. How do you address these community needs in West Bend and Kewaskum?

Having grown up in the community I do business in, youth education is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. For this reason, most of my philanthropic efforts work to improve student’s access to educational resources. To help local schools, I host donation nights and fundraisers to raise money to purchase new books and fund educational class trips. I’m proud to have donated more than $10,000 to local schools. I also invite area students to tour my stores to see how to successfully run a business and give them a taste of what a career in the fast-casual restaurant industry is like. Additionally, I award kids with free sub coupons when they read over the summer months through a partnership with the West Bend Community Library and Kewaskum Library. Since the inception of the partnerships, I’ve handed out over 300 free sub coupons to area students.

Community support shouldn’t start and end with myself. I encourage my crew members to harness their passions to give back to the community. I’ve found that sports are a common interest among my crew. To benefit young athletes in our communities, we provide discounted nutritious meals for West Bend and Kewaskum sports teams to enjoy before, after or in between games.

What tips do you have for business owners seeking to forge strong community partnerships?

I’m fortunate to have developed strong community relationships since becoming a Cousins Subs franchisee over 17 years ago. Many of which were forged via networking. For this reason, I urge franchise owners to step out of their store and into the community and get involved on the local level. A great place to start is by joining your local chamber of commerce and networking with like-minded business owners. This will open your eyes to new opportunities to not only enhance your brand, but also learn about the needs and opportunities within your community. As you network, remember it’s designed to be mutually beneficial – help where needed and let others help you.

Through networking, I came across the ‘Do Good Bus’ in Washington County. Volunteers travel on the bus to and from different community organizations and destinations to volunteer and do good deeds. Recognizing an opportunity, I asked to become the official food sponsor. Now, after their hard work volunteers enjoy Cousins Subs at no charge. This is a great way to build brand awareness and champion volunteerism.

I’ve found success by refraining from saying no to requests for support. After all, there’s a reason your help was solicited. If the ask isn’t a good fit, work with the organization to see how you can shape your assistance to fill their need and benefit your business.

As a franchise owner of two successful restaurants, why is it good for business to give back?

Just like business owners, the unexpected happens to guests. While we have a plan in place to anticipate and manage through crisis, often our guests do not. Help those who help you succeed by staying in business. This can be on a small or large scale and should be tailored to the support you can provide.

I’ve held many donation days for families who have suffered a tragedy or to provide medical support for community members battling a life-altering illness. Easy to coordinate, donation days provide an outlet for me to drive community support and sales to help the folks in my community who make it an exceptional place to do business. By supporting the community that supports me, I instill the importance of helping those who help you in my crew members.

In my mind it’s simple, follow the golden rule and treat others the way you want to be treated. When you do, you’ll find the return on being kind and giving to others is tenfold. But remember to give within your means. Being kind is a cornerstone of community and compels guests to choose you over your competitors.

About Cousins Subs

Wisconsin-based Cousins Subs®, a family-owned, fast casual sub shop established in 1972 by Bill Specht and his cousin, is driven by the mission to Believe in Better – both in the quality of food it serves and in the communities it supports. Cousins Subs and its franchisees operate nearly 100 sub sandwich shops throughout Wisconsin and Indiana, providing guests with quality deli fresh and made to order grilled subs using only the freshest ingredients on its signature bread baked daily. For more information, visit cousinssubs.com. You can also find Cousins Subs on Facebook, X, Instagram and TikTok.