Cousins Subs co-founder Bill Specht dies at age 80

A one-time East Coast Navy man trained to sink submarines, he found success in the Midwest selling another sort of sub.
Bill Specht | Photo courtesy of Cousins Subs

William “Bill” Specht, a co-founder of the Cousins Subs sandwich chain, died last week at age 80 after a long stretch of ill health.

He founded the chain with a cousin, James Sheppard, after relocating to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area from the East Coast. One shortcoming of his new Midwestern home, Specht discovered, was a lack of establishments selling the oversized sandwiches known back east as subs, short for submarines. He invited Sheppard to move to Milwaukee and open a sub shop with him. After much deliberation, they decided to call their venture Cousins Subs, and opened the first store in 1972.

There was an irony to the name. Specht had spent a number of years in the U.S. Navy as a torpedoman on a destroyer, trained to sink enemy submarines. Now he would be building subs instead of practicing how to destroy them.

Specht and Sheppard found a ready market for subs in the Midwest, expanding their operation to dozens of units in Wisconsin and Indiana. Specht retired from the business in 2015, relinquishing the CEO’s post to daughter Christine in 2015. The chain, now extending to about 100 locations, remains family operated.

Even after the elder Specht’s retirement, he continued to visit stores and chat with managers, workers and guests.

He remained equally devoted to his two passions outside of work, golf and card games.

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