According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 48.1 million Americans have insecure access to food, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children (approximately 1 out of 5).
Several restaurants recognize these needs, and are trying to win the war against hunger. For example, Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia, has a "pay-it-forward" concept allowing customers to feed local homeless people a slice of pizza for one dollar.
Inspired by TOMs shoes, the company that gives a pair of shoes to someone in need with every pair sold--Even Stevens, a new restaurant based in Salt Lake City, gives a sandwich to a local hungry person with every sandwich sold. According to their website, Even Stevens has donated 421,872 sandwiches so far.
Conscious capitalism as the concept behind Even Stevens
The founder of Even Stevens, Steve Down, is a serial entrepreneur with several start-ups he's currently trying to build to IPO. As the father of millennials who care deeply about social consciousness and giving, Down saw the opportunity to use his skills as an entrepreneur to turn the food service industry into a force for social good. The result is "a sandwich shop with a cause."
Even Stevens is growing rapidly, with two new restaurants opening per month. During the month of April, 2016, they opened three new locations: in Logan, Utah, Ogden, Utah, and Boise, Idaho--making 7 current locations since the first opened in Salt Lake City in June, 2014.
Down plans to have 20+ locations open by the end of 2016. The 10 year plan is to have 4,000 locations feeding over 1,000,000 people per day. To put these numbers in perspective, Subway has approximately 34,000 locations and Chipotle has approximately 2,000.
Anyone inside the restaurant industry would consider the objectives of Even Stevens to be ludicrous. Yet, Down doesn't care about these perceptions; but believes it takes someone outside the industry to approach things differently. He believes the results of Even Stevens speak for themselves, with each location currently opened achieving profitability within the first 30-60 days.
Down believes the success of Even Stevens comes down to a few things:
- Creating "raving fans" with an emphasis on social consciousness.
- Having a product worth coming back for, meaning the food has to be delicious.
- Amazing service and customer experience, with local art and graffiti decorating each restaurant.
Initial challenges faced by Even Stevens
To be clear, Even Stevens has faced difficulties in implementing their concept. For example:
- Formulating the concept and getting investors to buy-into it was very difficult for Down. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of restaurants fail within the first year. And to have a concept where you're giving sandwiches away was originally a hard sell. However, Down says, "With several profitable locations open and many more close to opening, many people are eager to invest now."
- When they first started, Even Stevens didn't have any experts from the food industry. In the formulation stages before the first location opened, the food wasn't impressive. In order to adjust, they had to bring in restaurant experts to take the brand to a multi-unit level focusing on quality and growth.
- The original conception was to have the staff make the sandwiches and deliver them to the local non-profits. However, from a scale-ability and sustainability perspective, this made no sense. Consequently, they developed a system to deliver the product (i.e., the food for the hungry people) to a local a non-profit to serve as needed. Non-profits are used to dealing with "left-over" foods to serve their clients. Consequently, this system allows them to order fresh and wholesome food as needed, which they love.
Even Stevens is a unique new startup set on a mission to disrupt how business is done, with an emphasis on giving. Down believes every business should have a give-back.
As with most companies attempting rapid growth, Even Stevens has challenges on their road ahead. The primary obstacles for most restaurants is quality of food, good management, and continuing to raise capital. According to Susan Knight, their chief investment officer, the biggest hurdle for Even Stevens will be "making sure not to compromise quality as they grow."