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Denny's COO Robert Rodriguez leaves company

The family-dining chain says it will rethink the position as it continues a refranchising initiative

Denny’s Corp. said Friday that chief operating officer Robert Rodriguez has left the company for unexplained reasons after 18 months, effective immediately.

The company noted the development in a filing with securities regulators, but offered no further details about Rodriguez’s departure. He joined Denny’s in September 2010 after serving as president and chief operating officer of the Pick Up Stix Asian fast-casual chain, and before that as president of Dunkin’ Donuts’ U.S. division.

Whit Kincaid, senior director of investor relations and financial analysis for Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s, told Nation’s Restaurant News the company had no further comment at this time about the particulars tied to Rodriguez’s departure.

He said Rodriguez’s staff will report to chief executive John Miller, who joined Denny’s in February 2011, and previously served in operations management roles at other companies, including Brinker International Inc. and Taco Bueno.

Kincaid said Miller will re-evaluate the need for an operations executive, or at least the duties assigned to such a post, given Denny’s ongoing refranchising initiative. During the past five years, the company has refranchised 344 of its corporate restaurants to end 2011 operating 206 of the Denny’s family-dining chain’s then total 1,685 locations.

That refranchising campaign has shifted the share of company restaurants in the Denny’s chain from about 33.7 percent of the system at the beginning of 2007 to 12.2 percent at the end of 2011. Denny’s executives have said their goal is to reduce that share of corporate restaurants even further, to about 10 percent of the system.

“John is going to take a step back” to weigh “what is needed for our franchising system,” Kincaid said of Miller.

Kincaid said franchisees will have a “key voice” in discussions about whether or how Miller might modify the company’s chief operating officer position, or eliminate it in favor of some other management structure or strategy.

For the year ended Dec. 28, Denny’s Corp. reported net income of $112.3 million, compared with fiscal 2010 earnings of $22.7 million, but noted that much of the improvement came from an $89 million gain from a tax benefit and impairment expense. Fiscal 2011 revenue decreased 1.8 percent to $538.5 million as a result of refranchising, it said. Systemwide same-store sales rose 0.7 percent, compared with a drop of about 3.6 percent a year earlier, marking the first time since 2007 that that both company-operated and franchised locations simultaneously registered growth in that metric.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [3].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN [4]