Buffets Inc. has hired two executives to the newly created positions of vice president of training and senior vice president of real estate and development, signaling a step toward the growth phase of its turnaround plan.
Jay Allen, who most recently was vice president of restaurant development for Atlanta-based franchisor Focus Brands Inc., will now manage the real estate portfolio for Buffets Inc., which operates the HomeTown Buffet, Ryan’s, Country Buffet, Old Country Buffet and Fire Mountain brands. In his more than 25 years in the restaurant industry, Allen has held development roles with Sodexo, Marriott, HMSHost, O’Charley’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.
Chip Romp is Buffets’ new vice president of training, a role he recently held for Lexington, Ky.-based quick-service chain Fazoli’s. His career in foodservice spans more than 20 years and includes training roles with casual-dining chains Applebee’s and Damon’s.
Hiring Allen and Romp for the training and real estate positions signals that the operator of nearly 350 steak-buffet restaurants is ready to move forward in its “Plan to Win,” beyond initial efforts to shore up unit economics toward renewed system growth, said chief executive Anthony Wedo.
“It’s an enormous indication that the old Buffets Inc. is no longer, and we’re now focused forward as opposed to managing our past,” Wedo said in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. “We’re turning the tables from playing defense to playing offense.”
The company is coming off its first positive quarterly same-store sales result in several years. Third-quarter same-store sales rose 1.7 percent, a result Wedo credited to an expanded menu, service improvements and successful promotions such as Family Night every Thursday.
Now that Buffets can think about resuming unit growth, “the next step is continuing to invest in our people,” Wedo said, adding that Romp is developing a new training platform for all restaurant staff members and multiunit managers.
Allen’s charge as senior vice president of real estate is to evaluate all 347 restaurants in Buffets’ portfolio and scout new sites, Wedo said. He also noted that new locations could include sites where former Buffets-owned restaurants closed during the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 2012.
“Some sites were certainly snatched up, but there are a fair amount of them still out there,” Wedo said.
Additionally, all the company’s restaurants will soon have the “Better Now” reimaging package that includes new staff uniforms, updated wall art, and new buffet-line signage and menu descriptions. A more comprehensive “Main Street Remodel” program is planned over the longer term, Wedo said, with the first conversions scheduled soon for the Denver market.
“We’re very excited to be in the position we’re in, having had our first up quarter and trending positively for our next quarter,” he said. “We’ve reached stabilization, and now we’re focused on growth.”
Buffets Inc., which has dual headquarters in Eagan, Minn., and Greer, S.C., operates 337 restaurants under its buffet brands, as well as 10 locations of the Tahoe Joe’s casual-dining concept, in 35 states.