We are lucky to live in a place that has so many sandwich options, because sandwiches are pretty great.
However, not many places can claim to have served multiple generations a tuna salad on white.
ThunderCloud Subs is an iconic sandwich shop with three locations in the Lake Travis area at Four Points, Lakeway, and Bee Cave. They are celebrating two big milestones this year — 40 years of making sandwiches and 25 years of Turkey Trot’s. The Turkey Trot is an Austin Thanksgiving Day tradition that has raised over $2.5 million to help support Caritas of Austin.
We caught up with Mike Haggerty, co-owner of ThunderCloud Subs and run director of the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, and asked him a few questions about the journey to sandwich fame.
LTL: Congratulations on being an Austin original for 40 years! When you reflect back on the journey that brought you to today, what are the highlights?
Mike: A quick caveat: I was not a founder of ThunderCloud, but the first franchisee. My wife and I opened the Lake Austin Blvd shop in 1981. We no longer franchise and now there are two equally sized operating companies (one of which I own). My reflections are from that perspective.
When we opened in 1981, I never anticipated running 16 stores with 220 employees. ThunderCloud has created a lifetime opportunity that I never planned on.
In 1981 I just wanted to fill a spot in the building I owned, and I hoped the opportunity was there for that one location to be successful. Well, as things progressed it turned into the job of my lifetime.
LTL: What were the original menu items on opening day back in 1975?
Mike: ThunderCloud’s menu was a little simpler back in the day. Its menu included just six subs in 1975, compared to 27 now.
In April of this year, ThunderCloud ran our 40th anniversary promotion where our original subs were offered at the original 1975 price — a small Tuna for a buck, for example. (The other throwback specials were Ham, salami, Turkey, and the American Classic subs.)
To show how things have changed, it now costs us MORE than a buck to make that tuna sub today. And yes, we were very very busy during our 40th anniversary special and lost money on each sub we sold … but the promotion was very well received by our customers and we were happy to thank them for their years of allegiance to ThunderCloud.
LTL: You are also celebrating 25 years of the Turkey Trot. How has this event changed throughout the years?
Mike: When we started the Trot in 1991 we spread the word to our customers, employees and friends and had Paul Carroza at RunTex show us how to organize it.
We had it at Zilker Park, ran on the hike and bike trail for most of the run, and coned off Barton Springs and Lamar ourselves, out of a pickup truck. There may have been one policeman there to help. Maybe 400 participants. The prizes were pumpkin pies and turkeys. Pretty simple and easy.
Now we have over 700 volunteers, 45 policemen directing traffic, a $5,000 engineering plan, a traffic plan … and 20,000 participants. To say it has grown beyond our wildest dreams is an understatement.
We have always done the Turkey Trot for charity too. It was almost all organized and operated by ThunderCloud employee volunteers the first 10 or so years. The first few years we lost money on the event and wrote Caritas a check from our own pockets.
Wow, has it all changed. Last year’s event raised $335,000 for Caritas and we have now donated over $2.5 million to Caritas.
It is a lot of work for our company, but it all feels worthwhile in the end to be such a fun conduit of giving for our community.
LTL: Why did you choose the Caritas of Austin charity as the beneficiary for the Turkey Trot?
Mike: I’m not sure how we found them that first year but we now know they do the best job helping the working poor, legal refugees, and our homeless people in Austin.
The objective is to help them become self-sufficient and happy contributors to our Austin community. That is what they do best: help people get their lives back together.
Caritas is awesome. I’ve since become a board member emeritus of Caritas of Austin, and Caritas honored ThunderCloud Subs with its 2014 Harvey Penick Award for Excellence in the Game of Life.
LTL: You recently opened a store in San Marcos, that’s great! As you look forward to ThunderCloud’s next 40 years, what are your goals? Any plans to ever leave Texas and spread the ThunderCloud love across America?
Mike: Our expansion plans are organic. Our first job is to take care of what we are currently responsible for, 30 shops in Central Texas. If we have any energy left to grow and the opportunity presents itself we will open more shops. Our pace has been a new shop about every year.
LTL: Your employees are very loyal. A gentleman at the Four Points location has been there for over 17 years! What makes ThunderCloud an awesome place to work?
Mike: We strive to have healthy relationships with our employees. Hire nice people and be nice back to them. Then they are nice to the customers, who are nice back to them. Our commitment is to respect them, be fair and honest, and we ask for the same in return.
We hope to present a work environment that is a space they want to be in, a crew of fellow employees that they enjoy working with and allow them the right to be comfortable being who they are when at work.
Our greatest asset is our employees. They help create the company culture and the good-natured vibe of ThunderCloud. Good people are like gold, and mean people suck.
So, anyone hungry for a ThunderCloud sandwich yet? We sure are!
And if you want to get in a Thanksgiving Day morning workout, you can register for the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot.