Christine Specht grew up with Cousins Subs — the sub sandwich chain her dad, Bill Specht, founded with his cousin two years before she was born. In 2008, she became the President and Chief Operating Officer of Cousins Subs and in 2015 assumed the role of President and Chief Executive Officer following her father’s retirement. In this role, she successfully brought new life to a legacy brand by leading a series of system changes, including a largescale rebranding strategy, implementation of grills in all restaurants, and inclusion of the brand’s Midwest heritage with signature local products throughout its menu. Under Specht’s leadership she strengthened the brand’s unit-level economics, created a strong core of franchise partners, and positioned Cousins Subs for growth. In January 2019, Specht transitioned from her two-part role to narrow in on her responsibilities as CEO. In this leadership role she remains the visionary for the brand, focusing on building a strong culture throughout Cousins Subs system while continuing to lead growth and strategy. Specht also leads the brand in helping to adapt to the ever-changing needs of guests through advancements in technology and innovation.
Specht earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and law studies from Marquette University. While she worked toward her master’s degree in public administration from American University in Washington, D.C., she spent time in the human resources departments of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington. Specht serves as the Chair of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor’s Foundation Board, a director of The Management Association (MRA), a director of the First Federal Bank of Wisconsin (FFBW), a director on the FFBW Community Foundation, a director of Serigraph, Inc. and is the President of Cousins Subs Make It Better Foundation board. Specht has received the Cum Deo award from the Lutheran High School Association in 2017 in honor of her Christian service and accomplishments in business. In 2021, Specht received the CHART (Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers) Commitment to People Award and in 2022, was honored as one of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Business Leaders by BizTimes.
As a former CFO for a large multi-unit franchise partner of Applebee’s and Pizza Hut, Westhoff brings more than 10 years of prior franchising experience to Cousins Subs. He also has more than 25 years of financial and business experience from his time working in financial services, home improvement services, manufacturing, recruiting, and software development. He holds a bachelor’s degree in management from Luther College, an MBA from Northern Illinois University, and he’s completed an executive M&A program through the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is a recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s CFO of the Year award.
Joe Ferguson has been with Cousins Subs for 19 years, and he has more than 25 years of experience in real estate and franchise sales. In June 2011, he assumed the role of Vice President of Development and has since been instrumental in reinventing the brand. Since he began overseeing Cousins Subs’ franchise development initiatives, he implemented a store remodeling programs and processes to ensure all restaurants follow brand standards. Ferguson manages franchisee recruitment, overseeing all phases of franchising including: site acquisition, lease negotiations, in-store design and construction. Ferguson’s leadership and experience have helped entrepreneurs realize their dream of owning their own business. He holds a degree in real estate and finance from the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
Justin McCoy joined Cousins Subs in January 2006 as an entry-level marketing specialist and held several marketing positions before being named Vice President of Marketing in May 2013. In his role, he is responsible for managing advertising agency relationships, developing national promotional calendars and creating system-wide strategic initiatives related to advertising, marketing and public relations. McCoy brings more than 17 years of restaurant industry experience, more than four years of experience in public and media relations with the Milwaukee Bucks and several years of experience in the finance industry to Cousins Subs. McCoy serves as Vice President of the Make It Better Foundation Board and has been a board member since its 2013 inception. He has also served on the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Board of Directors since 2016 and is on the Executive Team. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Cardinal Stritch University.
Mike Arend joined the Cousins Subs Leadership Team in August 2023 as the Vice President of Finance. He is responsible for overseeing the Accounting, Finance, Purchasing and IT departments at the Cousins Subs Corporate Support Center. Arend brings more than 15 years of franchise system experience to Cousins. Most recently, he served as the Sr. Vice President of Finance for Junk King Franchise Systems. During his tenure, Junk King was named one of Inc 500’s Fastest Growing Franchises. With more than 150 franchisees in 19 states and Canada in his former system, Arend has a strong background in franchise relations, operations, real estate and market expansion.
Arend holds a B.S. in Finance from Iowa State University. Arend also holds undergrad certificates and minors, as well as Graduate Certificates in Accounting from UC Santa Cruz and Economics from Cornell.
J.J. Palmert joined Cousins Subs as the Franchise Sales Manager in 2013. In this role, he evaluated and renewed existing franchise agreements and worked to exit those franchise partners who did not meet brand standards. Palmert has successfully renewed or transferred more than 50 franchise agreements throughout his tenure, in which he secured each brand partner’s commitment to reinvest through the adoption of the brand’s remodeling program. These efforts have led to higher Average Unit Volumes throughout the Cousins Subs system.
Palmert is consistently engaged in the expansion of Cousins Subs into new Midwest markets through multi-unit franchise development. He works with franchise candidates to identify if Cousins Subs is the right investment opportunity and select the ideal territory for development. Additionally, he works with existing franchise partners to develop new locations, acquire existing locations, or sell their locations.