Having Words With Tim Pulido President, Mimi’s Cafe

Having Words With Tim Pulido President, Mimi’s Cafe

Tim Pulido stepped in as president of the 125-unit Mimi’s Café [3] chain in December after outgoing president Russ Bendel left to join The Cheesecake Factory [4]. Pulido came from Shakey’s USA [5] Inc., where he had spent the past year as chief executive working to revive the 55-year-old pizza-and-entertainment concept. At Mimi’s, a Tustin, Calif.-based chain owned by Columbus, Ohio-based Bob Evans Farms Inc. [6], Pulido has begun looking at ways to reposition the brand, revitalize legacy stores and expand.

But first, he says, he is taking some time to get to know what Mimi’s is all about.

What do you mean when you talk about repositioning the brand?

clearly who your consumer target is, your frame of reference, and your unique position in the market.

What you stand for on all those levels is what I call positioning. Mimi’s is in a good position, I think, but we have an opportunity to be far more precise in defining what we want to be.

One aspect of that positioning will deal with the issue of freshness. It’s interesting how many things we do fresh: our breads, our soups, our gravies. One reason people love the flavors and the tastes of Mimi’s is that everything is so freshly made. We’re already there. But, on our menus today, you wouldn’t know it. We’re not communicating that.

So we’re looking at how to make “freshness” come to life at Mimi’s and become an even bigger part of the brand.

What is Mimi’s target audience?

We know that about two out of three customers are female. We are one of the few casual-dining brands, I think, that offers three dayparts. We skew a little older at breakfast. We have families and kids. But we have to recognize that, inherently, there are a lot of women that come in, and groups that really enjoy the Mimi’s experience. How can I make that even more relevant to them? We’re just starting the process of looking at that.

How do you plan to address the macroeconomic pressures the segment faces?

Our sales have been down from about midyear last year. Consumers are price-cautious, and they’re reining in disposable income and increasingly stressed and time-pressed. This has hit casual dining because we’re at a higher price point, and we’ve done it to ourselves because we’re not differentiated enough. Those that will win will be able to say to consumers, “Come to me because I offer something really different.” That’s what we’re struggling with.

FAST FACTS

AGE: 52EDUCATION: MBA in marketing and finance from UCLA Graduate School of Management and bachelor’s degree in food science and technology from the University of California-DavisEXPERIENCE: Shakey’s USA; former chief operating officer of Pick Up Stix [7]

How are you looking to build on legacy stores?

We want to get the brand positioning right. Then we’ll get the right menu design. We’re looking at a possible remodel program for legacy stores. Many of our stores, particularly in California, are 20 to 25 years old. We have to look at a cost-effective way to bring them into this century.

What are your growth plans?

In fiscal 2008, Mimi’s will open 17 stores off the base of 110 at the beginning of the fiscal year. That’s a hefty growth rate. In the past we’ve been opening in lifestyle centers that fit our criteria, but now we have to determine our priority markets and fill in concentrated clusters instead of trying to go everywhere.