Denny's names John C. Miller CEO

Interim chief Debra Smithart-Oglesby will remain chairman

Denny’s Corp. said Monday it has named John C. Miller, a Taco Bueno and Brinker International veteran, to serve as president and chief executive of the family-dining restaurant company.

Miller will take hold of the role Feb. 1 from interim chief executive Debra Smithart-Oglesby, who will remain as company chairman. Smithart-Oglesby had stepped in as interim chief executive last June after long-time chief executive Nelson Marchioli resigned amid investor pressure [3].

Miller joins the Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s, which operates or franchises more than 1,600 restaurants, with more than 30 years of restaurant industry experience. Since 2005, he had served as chief executive and president at Taco Bueno Restaurants Inc., operator or franchisor of 190 quick-service Mexican restaurants. Prior to Taco Bueno, Miller spent 17 years at Brinker International where he held numerous management positions, including president of Romano’s Macaroni Grill and president of Brinker’s former Mexican Concepts division that included On the Border and Cozymel’s.

“John is a proven leader in the restaurant industry who has the talent and experience to build upon our current momentum and accelerate the resurgence of the Denny’s business and brand,” Louis P. Neeb, head of the Denny’s CEO search committee, said in a statement. “We conducted an extensive international search including dozens of highly qualified candidates and believe that John has the right combination of skills and experience to further our growth and create additional value.

“He brings a passion for understanding and building brands, extensive operating skills at all levels of the business, a talent for leading management teams and working with franchisees, along with a proven ability to deliver growth and financial performance,” Need said.

The Denny’s Franchise Association said in a statement Monday that it supports the appointment of Miller.

Denny’s spent much of 2010 involved in an investor battle that led to a proxy fight over management and board directors, as well as threats of franchisee litigation over confidential documents. A group dubbed the Committee to Enhance Denny’s, which included investors Oak Street Capital Management and Dash Acquisitions, had sought to remove senior managers, including Marchioli, and elect friendly board directors. The group lost its battle at Denny’s shareholder meeting last May, but management changes ensued.

For the company’s latest quarter, ended Sept. 29, Denny’s earned $9.9 million, or 10 cents per share, on revenue of $139.9 million. In the same quarter of 2009, Denny’s earned $10 million, or 10 cents per share, on revenue of $146.1 million. Same-store sales during the latest third quarter fell 0.7 percent at corporate locations and 1.2 percent at franchised restaurants.

Contact Sarah Lockyer at [email protected]