The food from the catered party J. got thanks to becoming an “Official Hoagie Head” through the Taylor Gourmet loyalty program. (Photo courtesy of J.)
Taylor Gourmet, the local hoagie chain that closed down over the weekend, had a loyalty rewards program that promised $5 for every $50 spent there.
But as one local found, customers could potentially spend a lot less and get a lot more. “I’ve spent probably $80 and received $250 in benefits,” says J., a man in his 20s who lives at The Wharf.
He contacted DCist last week, well before the news broke that the chain was shuttering its storefronts. He asked that we not used his name because he “doesn’t want to be the guy who embarrassed Taylor Gourmet.”
J. downloaded the app when it offered a promotion during the opening of The Wharf location. “I started poking through the rewards and it’s not rocket science,” he says. “It’s silly how little you could spend for what you could get.”
That’s because the rewards program was visit-based. Each time a transaction was registered at a Taylor, that counted as a “visit.” Downloading the app netted a person $5 off a regular-sized hoagie or salad on your first visit. With 15 visits in a year, a person became part of “Team Taylor” and scored a free regular-sized hoagie, salad, or cheesesteak. After 30 visits, the customer was deemed a “Hoagie Addict,” which translated to free Taylor Gourmet swag, plus a free starter on the first of each month for a year. A customer became an “Official Hoagie Head” after 60 visits in a year, scoring a free catered party for 10. Taylor would sprinkle extra perks throughout the year as well.
Here’s the loophole: buying a soda or a cookie was considered a “visit.” Even the trip to Taylor to redeem the free hoagie or starter counted as a “visit.” “They probably think people wouldn’t go for a soda but I’ve done that like 25 times. All of this adds up to a ridiculous deal,” says J. “I guess they’re not aware.”
Turns out, Taylor Gourmet leadership was aware of the lifehack, according to someone close to the company, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “We want people to walk through the door,” the person says. “We were confident in the people we had in our stores and we thought our food spoke for itself.” Plus, “most people, if you’re coming in to buy a water bottle 10 or 15 times, you’ll probably buy a sandwich.”
While the loophole wasn’t created by design, “the response was, collectively, who cares?” the person says. “If people want to hack through and get cookies, that’s fine.”
And indeed, the loyalty program has unquestionably brought J. through the door. “I think they’re fine, they’re not my favorite place to eat,” he says. But “if you give me 75 percent off, it becomes my favorite in a hurry.”
When J. spoke to DCist last week, he had netted 60 visits and had his catered party scheduled for Friday. We agreed not to publish the story until after the sandwiches and cookies were delivered and devoured.
Then, it became clear that a much bigger story was afoot. Our source confirms Washingtonian’s reporting that Taylor Gourmet owner Casey Patten’s visit to the White House under President Donald Trump contributed to the closure.
“That day those pictures came out [of Patten with Trump] and then the call to boycott came, we just dropped in sales,” the person says. “There were instances, you’d walk up to the [Taylor Gourmet] units and people would just start yelling at you. It’s tough to win those sales back.”
It wasn’t Patten’s first time at 1600 Penn—he also attended an event with then-President Barack Obama. Obama ventured to the Taylor Gourmet on 14th Street NW in 2012, leading to a bump in sales. He went to the Pennsylvania Ave. location with his vice president, Joe Biden, during the 2013 government shutdown.
Aside from an adverse reaction to Patten’s meeting with Trump, there’s another reason that’s been floated for the closure: a too-fast expansion. The first location opened on H Street NE in 2008. In addition to its 17 outposts in the D.C.-area by this fall, the company also expanded to Chicago. Earlier in September, Washington Business Journal reported that the chain was considering closing several of its local outposts and trying to renegotiate leases with its landlords.
Real estate woes extend from Patten’s work history to personal life. The founder of Taylor Gourmet has been taken to court in D.C. multiple times for housing-related issues, most recently for leaving an H Street NE home vacant mid-way through renovations, causing damage to his neighbors’ properties.
The sudden closure has left approximately 350 people without jobs, says the person close to the company. Some other local food establishments, like CAVA, are hosting job fairs this week and hoping to employ some of the people who lost their source of income, reports Washington City Paper.
Still, much to J.’s surprise, the news did not affect his catered party. “Literally 35 minutes after all the news came out, I got my phone call,” he says. “The guy was there with plenty of sandwiches and cookies for everyone.”
He says the news of Taylor Gourmet’s closure was upsetting to hear. “It’s a shame, you never want to see a homegrown company like that go down,” J. says. “I hope somebody comes along and buys them or restructures because they have great locations. I’m happy to help them design their app.”