Chicago’s first Cousins Subs is pegged to open on Friday in the Loop. The Wisconsin-based chain over the summer announced an aggressive expansion plan that targeted Chicago and its suburbs. The 47-year-old chain counts 91 locations in Wisconsin. Its 92nd location at 120 W. Madison Street spans about 2,600 square feet on two levels.
This is the biggest expansion in the chain’s history, said CEO Christine Specht. Specht has seen the company evolve since her father Bill Specht co-founded the chain with cousin James Sheppard. The two grew up near Atlantic City and based their sandwiches on the style they found in New Jersey. The company plans to open 40 locations around the city by the end of 2025. That’s five to six openings per year in towns like Hoffman Estates, Lombard, Palatine, and Wheaton. The company’s already signed leases for stores in those suburbs.
While there are differences between America’s Dairyland and its neighbors to the South — Christine Specht admitted to being a Green Bay Packers fan — there’s also a lot the areas share in common.
“There is a kind of community in the Midwest where there’s some shared beliefs and shared values,” she said.
That Midwestern friendliness will help Cousins stick out in a sea of sandwich competitors in Chicago, Specht said. The menu won’t change in Chicago, as the chain wants to focus on consistency. The subs feature Italian breads baked on site. The stores also have flattops so employees can make grilled subs, and that’s another way Cousins sticks out versus its competition. They also feature cheese curds.
Cousins is trying to make Chicagoans take notice of their brand with their first Chicago store. There’s room for 40 seats. The location reflects a new design that new Cousins locations opened after 2016 have utilized. Elements include digital signs. The size of the restaurant is consistent with other locations, but it’s a city design that takes up a smaller footprint compared to locations in Wisconsin.
Franchise owners Amit and Kalpesh Patel have worked with brands including Dunkin’ Donuts, Wingstop, and Rosati’s. They’re not content on waiting after opening a single location, Specht said. The aggressive strategy of opening multiple locations at once was attractive to Cousins.
Delivery will also be a big part of Cousins’ Chicago presence. Residents in the big city rely on third-party delivery services and apps, and Cousins is eager to jump in the fray. Specht hopes Chicagoans will embrace her family’s chain and is excited to introduce the subs to a new market. Cousins is ready to enter a city with players like Potbelly Sandwich Works, Mr. Submarine, and Subway.
“I just love the brand,” Specht said. “The product is just so amazing.”
Chicago’s first Cousins subs opens on Friday in the Loop.