Even Stevens – Eat to Give
by Adele Park
There is such a thing as a free lunch when it comes to helping feed the hungry. Even Stevens, a restaurant chain with fourteen stores in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho has built its entire business model on benefiting those dealing with food insecurity. The plan is simple, for every sandwich they sell, Even Stevens donates a sandwich to a nonprofit agency which includes a food component as part of their services. So far, Even Stevens has donated the equivalent of nearly 1.4 million sandwiches to nonprofit organizations in the areas they serve.
Food with a Mission
In a country with such abundance, it is a shocking statistic that one in eight Americans do not have enough to eat. The sandwich with a cause business strategy crafted by Even Stevens is working to change that. While the plan is described as a sandwich giveback, Even Stevens does not actually provide nonprofits with the same number of sandwiches they sell. Instead of an item for item donation, groups who benefit from the program receive an equivalent amount of food from Sysco, a food distribution network.
Nonprofits that are part of the giveback program can choose from eighty-five different foods offered by Sysco. Samuel Grenny, Director of Community Engagement for Even Stevens, says this allows nonprofits the flexibility to order what they want when they need it most. “We allow their funds to roll over month-to-month so they don’t feel like they have to order food that might later get wasted.”
How can they pull all this off and remain in business? Grenny says the giveback program is funded through what traditional restaurants spend on marketing. Rather than spending a lot of money on advertising, Even Stevens relies on support from groups they serve to advocate on their behalf. So far, Grenny says the word-of-mouth marketing plan has worked well. “Now three years into this, even we have been surprised by the extent to which this has taken place.”
Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is
Each Even Stevens Restaurant chooses four nonprofit organizations in their community as recipients of the giveback program. In St. George, these groups are Switchpoint, the Utah Food Bank, the Dove Center, and the Learning Center for Families. Each of these organizations provide unique services which weave the common thread of helping clients facing food insecurity. For example, the Dove Center provides emergency shelter and crisis intervention for victims of domestic violence.
The Learning Center for Families, TLC, focuses on helping children get off to a good start with medical screenings, educational programs, and mental health services. TLC uses donations from Even Stevens to provide nutritional meals for families with young children. TLC Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Leonelli notes that proper nutrition plays a huge role in infant brain development. “Research shows eighty-five percent of brain development occurs within the first three years of life.”
Each time Even Stevens opens a new restaurant, a director from the Cause Department spends time in the community assessing which nonprofits have a food-centric mission. These organizations must meet specific criteria and have a proven track record for the services they provide.
Think Globally, Act Locally
As is becoming a trend in many communities, Even Stevens buys as much locally grown and produced products as possible. For example, the Even Stevens in St. George sells beer from several Utah breweries, coffee from River Rock Roasting Company in LaVerkin, Pepperlane Jelly from Midway, and goodies from Cravings Gourmet Bakery in Santa Clara. Even Stevens tries to encourage other companies to adopt socially conscious business models through leading by example.
Fresh Taste on Nostalgic Foods
The food at Even Stevens is familiar, yet wonderfully different at the same time. For example, the pot roast dip sandwich has all the usual ingredients such as beef and cheese, and features a distinctive addition of red onion and jalapeno jelly. Many of the sandwiches also boast an international flavor with ingredients such as chorizo, garlic aioli, soy-glazed pork belly, and roasted red pepper hummus.
Patrons say the giveback program makes the food all the more delicious. One customer, Theresa Fox, remarked that she was happy to dine at a restaurant which donates Sysco food vouchers to nonprofits serving the underprivileged. “They don’t give leftovers to people in need, but fresh bread, meats and vegetables,” Fox says. “Thank you, Even Stevens, for helping to combat hunger!”
A Different Business Model
The Eat to Give program is not the only thing unique about Even Stevens. Customers are drawn to the family-friendly and pet-friendly environment. Even Stevens Restaurants have become hubs for live music and other events like Paint Night and Trivia Night. Jason Ball, Experience Creator at the Even Stevens in St. George, says the management philosophy centers on this kind of energy. “The staff gets along very well with each other. It feels like a big, happy family.”
Even Stevens has a neutral stance on politics and religion, which makes it a welcoming place to work. As their employee moto states, “Be Who You Is, Have the Difficult Conversations, and Be Present.”
With all the positive vibes involving the giveback program, customers at Even Stevens are sure to have a unique dining experience. Do your part and Eat to Give.