Wisconsin-based sub sandwich chain targets Indianapolis market

Wisconsin-based Cousins Subs, which recently opened its first Indiana location in Crown Point, is now eyeing expansion into the Indianapolis market.

The chain is in the preliminary stages of seeking franchisees to open eight to 10 stores in the Indianapolis market, which in Cousins said could be as far north as Lafayette and as far south as Columbus.

Cousins is eyeing locations in Castleton, Carmel, Greenwood and downtown as particular areas of interest, said Joe Ferguson, the chain’s vice president of development.

The company’s founders, cousins Bill Specht and Jim Sheppard, opened their first Cousins Subs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1972. The Menomonee Falls-based chain now has more than 100 locations, most of them in its home state.

Its signature menu items include grilled subs and deli-style subs, milkshakes, cheese curds and fries.

Specht’s daughter, Christine Specht, took over as CEO in 2008, and since then the company has been working to reinvent its brand.

Over the past eight years the company has improved food quality, remodeled about 45 percent of its stores, closed underperforming stores and seen its same-store sales increase by 24.2 percent, Ferguson said. “Now, we’re really looking to go out and grow throughout the Midwest.”

In August 2018, the chain signed a franchise deal to open 40 locations in the greater Chicago area. To date, four stores have opened in that market, including the Crown Point location that opened in September. Two additional Chicago stores are set open by the end of the year.

Now that the first few Chicago-area stores are open, Cousins is looking for franchisees in a number of other cities. Its top 10 target markets include Indianapolis, Minneapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Louis; Grand Rapids and Detroit in Michigan; Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati in Ohio; and Louisville.

Cousins hopes to identify one or more franchisees for the Indianapolis market within the next 12 months, Ferguson said. Once that takes place, Cousins would open two or three stores a year.

The ideal Cousins location, Ferguson said, occupies between 1,000 and 2,400 square feet and offers drive-through access, either on the end of a shopping center or as a standalone building.

Cousins looks for franchisees who can open at least three to five stores. The company requires its franchisees to have a net worth of at least $1.5 million and at least $500,000 in liquidity. Franchisees pay a $25,000 franchise fee for their first location and $17,500 for subsequent locations. Investment to open a store is in the range of $197,200 to $648,000.

In other news this week:

Ellison Brewing Co. is set to open its Indianapolis brewery and restaurant Saturday at 501 Madison Ave.

Ellison is taking over the 7,500-square-foot space formerly occupied by Tow Yard Brewing, which went out of business in early 2018. It’s also moving into an adjacent 2,500-square-foot space that will serve as a special-events area.

Based in East Lansing, Michigan, Ellison opened its first brewery there in 2015. The company also has a location in Lansing.

IBJ first reported on Ellison’s Indianapolis site in April.

Massage Heights has opened its third Indianapolis-area location, at 9705 Fishers District Drive, on Oct. 31.

The company’s first local operation opened in 2017 in the Ironworks Hotel Indy at 2721 E. 86th St. Its second location was at 1438 W. Main St. in Carmel.

Based in San Antonio, Massage Heights has 129 locations around the United States.

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