Utah-based Even Stevens restaurants have suspended their ‘buy a sandwich, give a sandwich’ charity donations for 60 days while the company restructures

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Even Stevens Sandwiches in Salt Lake CIty, which donates one sandwich for every one purchased, has suspended its charity donations for 60 days while it restructures.

Utah-based Even Stevens — which gives one sandwich to charity for every one sold — has temporarily stopped donating to its nonprofit partners while the company restructures, officials have announced.

The 80 charities — in six states — that benefited from the buy-one, give-one program were told last week that Even Stevens would be suspending contributions for 60 days while it looks for ways to reduce costs and improve revenue, said Brooks Pickering, who was brought in by the board of directors as the company’s chief restructuring officer.

As part of the changes, Even Stevens closed five of its eight stores in Arizona last week. The company — which Pickering said grew too rapidly since its founding in 2014 — now has 15 stores, including eight in Utah, three in Arizona and one each in Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Washington.

“The expansion plan, in Arizona, was simply too aggressive,” he said in a telephone interview. “That has caused losses that we are looking to clean up.”

None of the Utah stores is in danger of closing, he said. “We are refocusing energy here and looking to expand our business." Namely, the company — with headquarters in West Jordan — plans to put more breakfast, dinner and dessert items on the menu to better match its 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. operating hours.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Utah-based Even Stevens Sandwiches, which donates one sandwich for every one purchased, has suspended its charity donations for 60 days while the company restructures.

Pickering said that while the company temporarily suspended charitable giving from Aug. 1 through Sept 30., the nonprofits that partner with each store will continue to accrue credits and will be given funds retroactively under a new giving program that is being developed.

“We’re changing our cause campaign to strengthen it,” he said. “We really want to develop more engagement between the charities and customers, so they have a greater understanding of food insecurity.”

Since opening its first store in Salt Lake City, Even Stevens has billed itself as a “company with a cause." So far, Pickering said, it has donated more than 3 million sandwiches — worth almost $2 million. This year it is on track to donate about $750,000.

Even Stevens doesn’t donate actual sandwiches. Instead, at the end of each month, the company multiplies the number of sandwiches sold by 54 cents — the average cost of its sandwich ingredients. The money is distributed to nonprofits in the form of a credit with national food supplier Sysco. The groups use the credit to order ingredients they need for their food programs, and Sysco delivers the products to their door.

Volunteers of America (VOA) is one of more than a dozen charities that has partnered with Even Stevens, receiving between $7,000 and $9,000 annually from the sandwich business, said Cathleen Sparrow, VOA’s chief development officer. “It’s been a significant donation for our kitchen."

The VOA ordered meats, cheeses, breads and other sandwich items for its Homeless Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City. In the past year, the offerings from Sysco had expanded to include cleaning supplies and paper goods.

“It has been really nice to have that kind of support,” said Sparrow, who added that she was surprised when she heard about the Even Stevens restructuring.

“They’ve been very generous and great partners,” she said. "Hopefully, they will come back with an equally amazing program and help support our homeless teens.”

More than two dozen Utah charities receive funds from Even Stevens. Each store selects four charities to support, and there is overlap. The groups range from Boys & Girls Clubs to Rescue Mission Salt Lake, the YWCA and Crossroads Urban Center.

Even Stevens' restructuring comes just months after co-founder Steven Down was accused of making misrepresentations in a separate business venture.

According to a lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Down built and operated event centers in five states — including The Falls Event Center in Salt Lake City — through high-interest loans from private investors.

Down, a self-described “cause capitalist," agreed to pay a $150,000 fine without admitting or denying the allegations.

Down is no longer involved with Even Stevens.

“I don’t think the legal challenges affected us very much,” Pickering said. “Our focus is on strengthening the operation and the overall brand. It’s a natural evolution and something young companies go through.”

In addition to Down, three other Even Stevens co-founders have left in recent months, including President Michael McHenry, brand Director Jamie Coates and cause Director Sara Day, who oversaw the nonprofit arm of the company.

All three were contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune and said they were disappointed that the donations were being suspended — even if it was just temporarily.

“It feels like a dark hour for the company,” said Coates, who also blamed the company’s circumstances on its swift expansion.

“It’s why I left last October,” she said. "I wondered why we were making rapid expansion a priority, rather than growing in the communities we were already committed to.”