This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Customers at Even Stevens, which promises to give a sandwich for each one it sells, may envision a kitchen in the back where employees make sandwiches for homeless people, but co-founder Sara Day, 28, explains it doesn’t work that way.
Day, the cause director for the 20-store chain operating in six states, says they scrapped the idea of making sandwiches before the company opened its first store in June of 2014.
The team decided against making sandwiches for two reasons.
First, they quickly recognized that making sandwiches at exactly the moment that nonprofit partners would want them would be impossibly difficult. The result of not doing so would be lots of wasted food.
The second problem is that making and delivering finished sandwiches would be too expensive. The normal margins on sandwiches aren’t big enough to allow the company to make two for the price of one. Customers wouldn’t be willing to pay the full retail price of two sandwiches to get just one—at least not often enough to make the business work.
So, Day and the team came up with another plan. Each store selects four nonprofit partner organizations that it sponsors. The nonprofits are set up with accounts with the wholesale food supplier Sysco. Every time a customer makes an entrée purchase, Even Stevens donates $0.54 to the Sysco account of one of the nonprofit partners–enough to buy the ingredients for a sandwich.
While that may sound modest, Day says the downtown Salt Lake City store sells 15,000 sandwiches every month. Across the chain, the company is now producing 110,000 sandwiches every month. At that rate, the sandwich making firm is donating over $700,000 per year.
Kathy Cady, the co-coordinator for the Tucson Neighborhood Food Pantry, effuses over the support the pantry receives from Even Stevens. “Unfortunately, the population numbers for those in need seem to grow faster than our donations from other sources can keep up. Even Stevens donations have allowed us to provide quality foods to clients who may have had to go without. We are overjoyed to be able to supply fresh meats, non-perishable goods, fresh produce, and dairy all thanks to Even Stevens and their generosity.”
The model is also working well for the business, which Day reports is profitable. She notes that “mature stores,” those open for more than 24 months, generate operating margins of 15%.
Day was drawn to social entrepreneurship, she says, because she started college in 2008 as the Great Recession was beginning. She was appalled by what she calls the “incessant greed, fraud and quite frankly bullsh–” of the time.
“As a business major, I knew wanted to do something more and work for a company who cared more about people than just profits,” Day says.
“When I heard about the initial concept of Even Stevens, I knew it would be the perfect mix for my food experience, emerging degree in Business Administration and a passion for wanting to do something more than status quo at the time,” she adds.
More than a million donated sandwiches later, Day says, “I couldn’t even have dreamed—we’ve grown to over 80 nonprofit partnerships; we’re partnered with boys and girls clubs, senior centers, addiction recovery, domestic violence shelters–like really all over the place we are helping people.”
If you share my passion for doing good with your money, learn how you can become an impact investor with my online course, 25% off with this link.
Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!
Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!