“Lithuania is a hidden gem,” claims Leslie Liautaud, writer and Honorary Consul to Lithuania for the State of Wisconsin who is in the process of attaining Lithuanian citizenship. Liautaud is the wife of Jimmy John Liautaud, the billionaire founder and owner of the Jimmy John’s restaurant franchise. Together, Leslie & Jimmy, as well as Jimmy’s Lithuanian mother Grazina “Gina” Gudaityte Liautaud, have supported a variety of Lithuanian philanthropic causes for many years.
In her Interview with DELFI.lt, Liautaud explains her connection to the country and why she wants to become a Lithuanian citizen.
What is your connection to Lithuania?
I know that your mother-in-law, Grazina, comes from Lithuania. Tell us about your family.
– I myself came from Kansas City, Missouri, where I worked in the performing arts. My job took me to Chicago. While there, I met Jimmy John Liautaud and we got married. Over the past decade, I have become an active playwright and novelist. I have written some full-length plays, as well as a coming-of-age novel for teenagers called “Black Bear Lake”.
My connection to Lithuania came from my husband’s family. His mother, Grazina Gudaityte Liautaud, was born in Zeimelis in 1938. She has been providing financial support to Lithuanian causes for decades. She devotes her time and money to supporting Lithuanian business, improving the health care system, advancing social issues, improving education and promoting cultural progress. She contributed heavily to the beautiful Lithuanian traditions in our family life. I will always be grateful to her for that!
Many years ago, I joined my mother-in-law in devoting time, effort, and financial support to non-governmental organizations which support Lithuania both locally and abroad. Due to those efforts, I am an Honorary Consul to Lithuania for the State of Wisconsin. I have been working with Lithuanian diplomats and US leaders in areas relating to agriculture, health, education, and politics. In addition, I place a special focus on promoting entrepreneurship and advancements in the performing arts.
The focus on entrepreneurship is a joint passion of mine with my husband, Jimmy John Liautaud. Jimmy is the founder, chairman, & owner of the Jimmy John’s restaurant chain. The company employs more than 70,000 people across the US. There are now over 2,700 stores in 43 states, and it’s still growing fast. Last September, we sold a large portion of the company to Roark Capital Group, a Private Equity firm which specializes in franchise restaurants, but Jimmy is still the single largest individual shareholder in the company. He has also invested in several hotels, wineries, airlines, bars, and restaurants, as well as in real estate. Jimmy has a passion to help others. He and Jimmy John’s give generously to a variety of causes including dental care, health and wellness, the US Military, education, and the arts.
At the same time, we’ve raised three children together: Spencer is 23 and works at Jimmy John’s, Lucy is 18 and a student at the University of Iowa, and Freddy is 17 and a student at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Jimmy and the kids all have dual US and Lithuanian citizenship. I am very proud of the family’s Lithuanian roots, and I’m working hard to become a Lithuanian citizen as well!
Have you ever calculated how much money you’ve contributed to Lithuanian causes?
– No, we’ve spent time and money to support a variety of Lithuanian causes for many years now, but we prefer not to publicize the amount we give each organization. I am proud of the projects we’re working on to support the people of Lithuania.
As an Honorary Consul, I fund all of this work. As I mentioned, I was inspired by my mother-in-law, Grazina to dedicate my time and financial support after seeing her do it so diligently for decades. Many years ago, I joined Grazina in support of the “Lithuanian Children’s Hope”, a nonprofit organization that provides specialized orthopedic treatment to Lithuanian children. As a family, we funded and worked closely with the people on the ground in Lithuania to establish an orthopedic department at the Vilnius University Children’s Hospital. In addition, we bought new windows for the whole hospital. We also assisted with and supported the country’s post-independence elections.
In 2014, Grazina, Jimmy, & I visited Lithuania and met with the students of ISM University of Management and Economics. We were so impressed with their entrepreneurial spirit that we established scholarships for five of the most outstanding students.
What would Lithuanian citizenship mean to you?
– As I mentioned, my mother-in-law and my husband have instilled in me a great pride in our shared Lithuanian heritage. I feel a strong connection with the country and its people. I hope that by acquiring Lithuanian citizenship, I can strengthen these ties in our family for future generations.
I also think that citizenship would help me support the Lithuanian people more effectively. I would like to continue my mother-in-law’s endless commitment to help Lithuania. I think that we can bring great entrepreneurial lessons to the country from our experience growing Jimmy John’s.
How often do you come to Lithuania?
– I have been here three times over the last decade. Once I’m a citizen, I hope to spend much more time in this beautiful country.
How would your life change if you got the dual citizenship?
– I am already extremely blessed, but dual citizenship would make my life even better by allowing me to further integrate into the Lithuanian culture which I love so much. We’d also love to buy some land and a house in Lithuania. I would certainly take advantage of the opportunities that I see in developing the country’s relationship with the USA in areas like agriculture, health, education, politics, and especially entrepreneurship and the performing arts. I promise to continue my commitment to support the country in any way that I can. It would be an honor to be a citizen of Lithuania.
What aspect of Lithuania is your favorite?
– I was born and grew up in the USA, and I love my country, but Lithuania has captured my heart as well through the family heritage that I received. The country is beautiful, calm, and rich in history and traditions. People are kind and gracious and they are always looking to learn and grow. I am constantly surprised that the country has not attracted the attention it really deserves. Lithuania is a hidden gem.