Business owner Doug Thomas doesn’t make an issue out of it but he tries to be a Godly man. That’s why when he decided to start a new sandwich shop he sought out a way that his new endeavor could benefit not only his family, but other people as well.
BOGO Sandwiches, located at 12 South Jackson Street, looks on the outside to be like any other small business. Even once in the front door, the furnishings and workers give no indication of what is really happening behind the scene. The only telltale sign of the real mission of the little sandwich shop lies in the chalkboard just inside and to the right of the front door.
It reads” Feb 1) 54 to Ministerial Alliance ... Feb 4) 78 to Elvins Food Pantry ... Feb 27) 66 to Backpacks”, with the days in between filled out in similar fashion. There’s no big flashing signs with arrows stating “Look at me, look at me, see what I’m doing”. No, the chalkboard is simply an accountability reminder that Thomas and crew are keeping up their end of the deal.
“BOGO” Sandwiches stands for “Buy One Give One”, meaning that for every sandwich sold by the shop in a given day another sandwich is donated the following morning to one of roughly a half-dozen charity or help organizations. If 65 sandwiches are sold today, tomorrow an organization will receive 65 free sandwiches to share with anyone in need.
Some would say it’s a brilliant business model. Thomas admits it wasn’t necessarily all his idea. He was selling insurance when that market started to be become a little shaky last year. After helping with a fundraiser at St. Paul Lutheran Church in 2011, he knew he really liked making sandwiches.
He said he talked to several friends and family members about his dilemma. More than one, he admits, gave him the same advice ... follow your heart! Being a Christian, he had a desire to do good work and “couple it with some sort of ministry.”
The plan for BOGO Sandwiches began unfolding for Thomas in July. He determined he would open a sandwich shop, locate it somewhere with decent visibility but as low overhead as possible, and give away a portion of his profits to a good cause.
“It’s been a testimony of walking in faith,” Thomas explains. He says the next three months flew by as he found a location, designed a business model and logo, researched the applicable building and health codes, explored advertising, and did all the nuts and bolts things required to hang out a sign and open the door for business.
“God set things up for this,” he feels. He said the different aspects of the business, including building and health code inspections, fell into place. “I can look back and see miracles,” he adds. He opened the door on Nov. 5.
While he’s not bashful to share his faith if asked, the sandwich shop is not another church that just happens to sell good sandwiches. All the signs and advertising, and even the big chalkboard showing where the donated sandwiches have gone, tell very little of the entire story. Most people who walk through the door really don’t know the entire story behind the business. Thomas says his goal is to spread the gospel, and do good works that are “not in your face.”
The first help organization to benefit from BOGO’s “buy one give one” business plan was the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry. From there Thomas asked the pantry manager to suggest other organizations or groups that might benefit from free sandwiches. He quickly added the Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry, Elvins Food Pantry, Hands of Christ ministry in Bismarck, and the Farmington School District’s backpack program — which provides food discreetly to be taken home by children who might otherwise not get regular meals when not at school.
Every afternoon the number of sandwiches sold that day are tallied up. Thomas pays a high school student to come in after school and help him make up however many sandwiches that is for the day. The least BOGO has ever given on any day was 36, and the most was 119. A worker with one of the organizations shows up the following morning and receives the donated sandwiches and signs and dates a log sheet.
BOGO is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thomas can be found behind the counter methodically putting together the next order. Most days he is joined by his mom, Debbie Thomas, and his grandma Jane Christian. Debbie helps with keeping ingredients at the ready and making the sandwiches and dipping the soup of the day, while grandma handles the cash register and directs customers to the soft drinks, chips, plastic ware and napkins.
Thomas says he was told while helping with the church fundraiser a couple years ago that “everybody wants to help” others. The goal is to find opportunities to allow that to naturally occur. As for BOGO, he tries to make it a ministry of sorts but without blatant signs — with the exception of the scripture John 1:1-18 printed on the papers he wraps around the sandwiches.
Despite the fact that it’s a way to help others, Thomas admits that BOGO Sandwich is a sandwich shop. He knows that people will find other ways to give if he can’t provide them with a good sandwich and soup at a fair price. Selling great sandwiches is his business ... giving away just as many is his ministry.