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This Austin Sub Shop Fights Homelessness One Mile at a Time

With nearly 20,000 participants, ThunderCloud’s Trot is a cherished Thanksgiving Day tradition in Austin
With nearly 20,000 participants, ThunderCloud’s Trot is a cherished Thanksgiving Day tradition in Austin | © ThunderCloud Subs
What Americans call the submarine sandwich may have been born in the Northeast – in the Italian sandwich shops of New York, Connecticut or even Portland, Maine, depending on which historian you believe – but it was perfected in Austin, Texas.

At least that is what some Austinites will tell you when you ask them for the best place to get your sandwich fix in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” as they direct you to ThunderCloud Subs. Founded in 1975 by Andy Cotton and John Meddaugh with the simple philosophy of selling a fresh meal at a reasonable price, ThunderCloud introduced the sub to Austin while embracing the city’s quirky sensibility in a perfect pairing that mixes tasty sandwiches with social responsibility.

ThunderCloud Subs Trot, Austin, TX. © ThunderCloud Subs

One co-owner, 43 years, over 400 employees and more than 30 locations later, it’s a venerable Austin institution that’s just as well known for its California Club – ThunderCloud’s most popular sandwich filled to the brim with turkey, avocado and bacon – as its multiple charitable efforts.

Indeed, under the direction of Cotton, Meddaugh and co-owner Mike Haggerty, who joined ThunderCloud in 1980 after first meeting the founders as a customer, the company has contributed millions to local charities and donates a large part of its annual marketing budget to supporting local non-profits and their initiatives.

The ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, its first and most ambitious effort to give back to the community, however, is the tentpole event in the company’s fight against inequality, and those extra pounds that can sneak up on you during the holidays.

2018 marks the 28th anniversary of the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot scheduled for Thanksgiving morning. © ThunderCloud Subs

Established in 1991 with just 600 runners, this beloved Austin Thanksgiving tradition has blossomed into what organizers claim is the largest five-mile (eight-kilometer) run in Texas, with over 20,000 competitors – many in colorful costumes – and runners from 48 states participating. Most importantly to ThunderCloud, though, the event has enabled the company to donate more than $3.5 million to Caritas of Austin, a non-profit whose mission is to prevent and end homelessness for people in Greater Austin, over the past 27 years.

“Last year alone, the Trot raised $325,000 for Caritas,” ThunderCloud spokesperson Brenda Thompson said. “About $16 from every registration goes directly to Caritas, so you’re helping them fight homelessness just by participating.”

ThunderCloud has raised nearly $3.5 million for Caritas of Austin through the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. © ThunderCloud Subs

Haggerty, who also acts as the run director of the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, is a board member emeritus of Caritas of Austin, and Thompson added that all of the owners support Caritas’s mission to help the working poor and homeless in Austin.

According to Caritas’s spokesperson Lauren Halpern, the fact that ThunderCloud gives 100 percent of Trot proceeds to the non-profit has been crucial to its mission.

“All proceeds from the event benefit Caritas of Austin and go towards helping them continue to house those experiencing homelessness,” she said, noting that Caritas not only houses people but also provides support services to those who have been housed to allow for access to healthy food, job and life skills and help during their job search.

100 percent of the proceeds of the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot is donated to Caritas of Austin, a nonprofit organization that provides housing, employment, education, and food services to more than 20,000 homeless, working poor, and documented refugees in Travis County. © ThunderCloud Subs

“They have a case manager who is like a social worker that helps them through that process for as long as they need it,” Halpern said. “We don’t abandon our clients once they are housed.”

Registration is still open for the 28th Annual ThunderCloud Turkey Trot. If you’re not up for the five-mile (eight-kilometer) timed run, there are other options including a one-mile (1.6-kilometer) run/walk and a Kids K. The Trot also features live music, children’s activities, post-run snacks, photo ops and “all types of fun for people of any age,” according to organizers.

You can also buy a ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot Raffle ticket for a chance to win a new Honda Accord from First Texas Honda. You don’t need to participate in the Trot to enter the raffle or be present to win. Tickets are $25 each or $100 for five, and they’re available online at thundercloud.com/register. Also, if you love a good run or just being in the great outdoors, be sure to check out our guide to the best hiking trails just outside Austin.

The ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot has grown exponentially in its quarter century, from 600 participants in 1991 to nearly 20,000 participants in 2017. © ThunderCloud Subs