Cousins Under New Ownership

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Sandy Strothmann's near-lifelong relationship with the national Cousins Subs franchise was meant to be.

How else do you explain these incredible but true facts:

Strothmann's first job back in 1979, when she was a 16-year-old high schooler in the company's home state of Wisconsin, was at Cousin's Subs' eighth store (the chain now has over 300).

By age 18 she was the sub shop's manager and close, personal friends with the corporation's founders and head honchos, real-life cousins (hence the name) Bill Specht and Jim Sheppard. Over the next several years, Strothmann oversaw the operations of stores all over Milwaukee.

When Strothmann and her husband, Dale, chose to end their 26-year residency in the cheese state for the warmer climate of the American Southwest, they moved to Tucson. Upon deciding to re-enter the work force, the first help-wanted ad she saw was for a national submarine-sandwich franchise that was in the process of building its first Arizona store. Strothmann was hired immediately, and within a month was promoted to manager ... and, later, trainer of all the area's new Cousins franchise owners.

Five year's later, Dale then a Circle K convenience-store supervisor for northeastern Arizona was given the choice of moving to Holbrook, Winslow or Payson. He chose Payson, and, soon after the couple's arrival here in 1995, Sandy was tracked down by a former trainee and offered the manager's job at the new Cousins Subs that was about to open in the Ponderosa Village shopping center. She accepted, becoming owner Walt Hogate's first hire in July of 1998.

Last year, Hogate opted to put the store up for sale in the wake of a stroke that he says "slowed me down to the point where I couldn't help my wife, Judy, run the business as well as I wanted."

Corporate honchos Specht and Sheppard knew who they wanted the new owners to be: their old friend Sandy Strothmann and her husband, Dale. Hogate agreed. "Sandy's been with us from the start, doing a great job," he says. "It was the right time and the right opportunity."

Specht and Sheppard called Strothmann to offer her first right of refusal. She did not refuse and, one week ago today, the Strothmanns officially became the new owners of Cousins Subs in Payson.

Asked the secret of the perfect submarine sandwich, the Strothmanns quote Cousins' mission statement: "Better bread, better subs."

"We make Eastern-style subs, which aren't like the other subs you get here in the Southwest, where the bread is like a glorified hot dog bun," Dale says. "It's not the crusty Italian bread that we use in our signature cold-sub sandwiches bread with substance and taste and texture."

The bread is also a critical element in making Cousins subs easy to eat, Dale adds, "because it conforms to the ingredients without tearing off in large chunks and without becoming soggy."

But that's not the only secret to the Cousins success story.

"Proper portioning and presentation are also important," Dale notes. "Anybody can slap together a sub; but when you put one together the right way, it looks appealing even before you bite into it. And let me tell you something. Nobody can make a sub sandwich more appealing to eat, or to look at, than Sandy."

That would make perfect sense for a woman who has dedicated her life to sending Cousins customers straight to hoagie heaven.

Cousins Subs is at 303 E. Highway 260, west of Safeway. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 474-4700.

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