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National Restaurant Association - Which Wich spreads the love with Project PB&J

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Which Wich spreads the love with Project PB&J

Over the last 12 years, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches has tried to live up to its mission statement: “Some want to make superior sandwiches. Some want to make the world a better place. We want to do both.”

The Dallas-based company organized employee teams for fun runs and walks, sponsored philanthropic events and donated food and money to charities. But the employee connection to the cause often stopped after the fundraiser.

“We’ve been a good steward of our community. But we didn’t always see the tangible effects, the benefits of what we do,” says Charles Ballard, national director for the 350-location chain’s newest philanthropic venture.

Enter Project PB&J. For $3, guests receive a peanut butter sandwich and a promise the store will make and donate another sandwich to someone in need. Restaurants “bank” the sandwiches to make and donate later to a partner organization, such as a homeless shelter or youth program. The stores bank up enough until the partner needs a specific number of freshly made sandwiches, such as 45 for an after-school program.

As employees sell, make and deliver more sandwiches, they tell guests about it. “Now you have an hourly employee who is engaged, and the customer starts to get excited, too.”

The sandwich price also covers the cost of a third PB&J. One dollar of each peanut butter sandwich sale goes toward the company’s global fund for disaster relief. For recent flooding in Texas, Which Wich called its suppliers and asked them to send huge quantities of peanut butter, jelly and bread to partners in the area, which then made the sandwiches and delivered them to emergency-service providers and relief workers.

“Two hundred and fifty sandwiches isn’t financially feasible for one franchisee,” Ballard says. “But it is through the global fund. A purchase of one PB&J sandwich triggers all that.”

Here’s how Which Wich keeps the energy high:

  • Tap employee creativity. When a Kingsport, Tennessee franchisee was looking for organizations that might need sandwiches, a 16-year-old employee suggested delivering to a foster care program because his neighbor was a foster mother. Employees become so connected to the program that some went through training and background checks so they could read to the kids. The program dubbed the service “Which Wich Wednesdays. “When you listen to your employees, you can hear things you would never expect,” Ballard says.
     
  • Find a need. Which Wich encourages operators to look for organizations in their communities that would benefit from sandwiches. “If you find the need, it will engage your employees, and the program will build itself,” Ballard says.

    That’s what happened in with franchise owner Manny Toor’s Leesburg, Va., store. Its 13 employees, all high school students, provide sandwiches for the Kids Now Network, which feeds about 1,000 children considered homeless. It also provides PB&Js to a chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. “It’s something the entire store falls in love with,” Toor says. “It’s something concrete that we made with our hands.”

    The project resonates more with employees and guests than a donation box. Some employees tell Toor the No. 1 reason they came to work that day was to “feed the kids.” And parents call to ask why their kids are “talking about peanut butter sandwiches all day.”

  • Seek feedback. The stories from beneficiaries inspire employees and guests. “We’re fortunate enough to hear those stories,” Ballard says. One Which Wich employee told her co-workers how she and her mother had to live in a domestic shelter. Every day, when she got home from school, the shelter had a peanut butter sandwich – comfort food  waiting for her.

    The payoff: Franchisees buy in when they hear stories about how Project PB&J engages their hourly employees. They say, “All I did was bring it up to the employees, and they took it from there.”

  • Roll out slowly. Which Wich launched the program with corporate stores in January 2014 before asking franchisees to get involved. Management understood it could be challenging and time-consuming to find partners and educate teams so they could talk about it to guests.

    Some franchises were concerned that they had small stores in small markets with few customers. But Ballard encouraged them to look for partners that didn’t need many sandwiches. For example, the Kingsport, Tennessee foster program can accept only about 40 sandwiches at a time.
     
  • Make it a party. When Which Wich stores bank enough sandwiches, they have “Spread the Love” parties to make sandwiches for partner organizations. Toor closes the restaurant and buys pizza or Chick-fil-A for employees. Depending on the partner organization’s need, they make 200 to 800 sandwiches at a time. Afterward, they clean up. “They want to make sure the restaurant is spotless when they leave,” Toor says.
     
  • Compensate employees. Free pizza isn’t enough. Ballard says Which Wich operators pay team members who come in after hours to make sandwiches for spreading parties. 

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