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National Restaurant Association - Fast casual philanthropy: How a Guinness record spurred a movement

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Fast casual philanthropy: How a Guinness record spurred a movement

When Which Wich Superior Sandwiches launched its latest charitable initiative, it set out to win a Guinness World Record.

“We wanted to go for the most sandwiches made in one hour,” Charles Ballard, national director for the 350-location chain’s Project PB&J. The previous record was 22,000, and Ballard was confident his franchisees could break it.

So last January, he organized a giant Spread the Love party at Which Wich’s national convention in Dallas.

By the end of the hour, 458 franchisees had used 2,210 loaves of bread; 2,550 pounds of peanut butter; and 2,065 pounds of jelly to make 26,710 sandwiches. Then they kept going to make 27,000 sandwiches.

They won the record, but more important, the franchisees provided food to 24 Dallas-area charities, Ballard said.

And then the spreading parties took off.

Thanks to media coverage, Twitter posts and Facebook pictures, other organizations began contacting Which Wich about Project PB&J.

First up: the IGA Global Rally, a conference for independent grocers in Orlando. The grocers made 12,381 sandwiches in an hour and donated them to several charities in central Florida.

Since then, other companies and organizations have offered Spread the Love parties for teambuilding and philanthropic initiatives. In May, the National Restaurant Association Marketing Executives Group made 3,659 sandwiches for the Salvation Army and two homeless shelters in Chicago.

Which Wich works with the organizations to find charitable partners and organize the events. Ballard asks them to call charities they work with already to make sure they can use large numbers of fresh sandwiches. Many shelters can’t take that many fresh sandwiches, so the groups often need to find more than one charitable partner.

If the spreading party is in the morning, Ballard looks into lunch programs. For afternoon events, he seeks out afterschool programs or shelters.

At the parties, Which Wich provides a giant sound system to blast energizing music, volunteers to scrape tables, and risers to ensure all tables are at counter height (39 inches). 

“It always becomes a competition,” Ballard. “It’s extremely important that people enjoy what they’re doing.”

In most cases, Which Wich provides the ingredients at $1 per sandwich, thanks to discounts from suppliers such as Hormel for Skippy peanut butter. That covers packaging, labeling and all supplies. At the spreading parties, Ballard or one of his colleagues explains how to follow the system and make an assembly line.

“We ask them to bring the love; we can bring everything else.”

Project PB&J began in 2014 at Which Wich corporate stories and later rolled out to franchises. 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.

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.

Which Wich’s Project PB&J is one example of how restaurants support philanthropic causes and their communities. The NRA recognizes exemplary community service through its Restaurant Neighbor Award. Apply, or nominate your favorite restaurant.

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