A diverse group of restaurant executives who lead such chains as Domino’s and Firehouse Subs, and who are noticed as industry innovators, have been selected as winners of the Nation’s Restaurant News 2011 Golden Chain Award and Pioneer Award.
The restaurant industry leaders have built and executed winning strategies that have kept their companies strong in recent years, despite heavy economic pressure.
“In tough times, more than ever, strong leaders rise to the challenge, and that’s what these Golden Chain winners have done,” NRN publisher Randall Friedman says. “We will be honoring these executives at MUFSO not only for their outstanding recent accomplishments but also for career achievements that have benefited our industry and consumers worldwide.”
The Pioneer Award winner, Ronald M. Shaich, executive chairman at Panera Bread Co., also embodies the best of the industry.
“A remarkable innovator, Ron was a leader in creating the bakery café segment, first with Au Bon Pain, one of the earliest entrants in that segment, and then with Panera Bread, a high-performing segment leader,” Friedman says. “Congratulations to Ron for his vision and for his steadfast adherence to a philosophy that focuses on building the customer’s trust and always offering quality products.”
The award winners will be honored during the 52th Annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators (MUFSO) Conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas September 25-27. Winners are chosen by the editors of NRN.
After meeting the Golden Chain winners below, NRN readers are encouraged to vote for the Operator of the Year, an annual honor that will be announced live at the MUFSO on the evening of September 26. Operator of the Year is selected among the Golden Chain winners and voted on by industry peers.
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Meet the 2011 Golden Chain honorees:
J. Patrick Doyle, president and chief executive, Domino’s Pizza Inc
Doyle joined the Ann Arbor, Mich. pizza giant in 1997, and since then has held a number of top-level management titles. He assumed his current position in March 2010, as the more than 9,000-unit chain sought to increase traffic by reworking its pizza recipe, adding new products and expanding growth overseas. The result was an excellent second quarter with revenue, net income and global sales all up over the same time last year. Says Doyle, “The sales momentum in our business continues, resulting in a strong first half for 2011. Domino’s is in over 70 markets around the world - a diversified global presence that has driven steady, positive results.”
Don Fox, chief executive, Firehouse of America, operator of Firehouse Subs
Founded n 1994 and based in Jacksonville, Fla., Firehouse Subs is one of the fastest-growing chains in the industry, going from 65 restaurants to 432 locations in eight years. Fox has been crucial in these expansion efforts. He joined the company in 2003 after more than 35 years of franchising and restaurant management experience, including 23 years with Burger King. A franchising expert, he was named chief executive of Firehouse Subs in January 2010. Today, the chain ranks second within the sandwich segment in growth of U.S. systemwide sales and number of units, according to NRN’s Second 100 Report. Looking ahead, Firehouse Subs has ambitious plans to expand to 2,000 stores by 2020.
Steele Platt, founder and chairman, Yard House
A visionary executive, Platt went from operating a mini-restaurant empire in the early 1990s to selling cars and tending bar to make ends meet. Spotting an abandoned waterfront restaurant in Long Beach, Calif., he turned it into Yard House, which opened in 1996. Platt and his team have grown the chain to 30 units in 10 states, all featuring a wide selection of draft beers and a diverse menu of American fare, accompanied by classic rock music. Going forward, Yard House plans to add between six and eight stores a year. Helping the casual-dining chain weather the recession were menu introductions like street tacos, low calorie cocktails and a new line of snacks. These innovations have helped generate outstanding average unit sales volumes of $8.2 million.
Steve Romaniello, chairman, Focus Brands and managing director, Roark Capital Group
In 2002, Romaniello, an innovative executive and brand builder, helped turn around the Carvel System. In 2003, Carvel was renamed Focus Brands. Under Romaniello’s direction and with support of the company’s owner, Roark Capital Group, Focus Brands has acquired Cinnabon, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Auntie Anne’s. Today, it is the franchisor and operator of more than 3,3000 ice cream stores, bakeries, restaurants and cafes. Behind Focus Brands is Roark Capital Group, the Atlanta-based private-equity firm. “We know the restaurant space; we understand it,” says Romaniello.
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Pioneer Award winner: Ron Shaich
A leader in creating the restaurant industry’s popular bakery café segment, Shaich has been named the Nation’s Restaurant News 2011 Pioneer Award winner. One of the most prestigious honors in foodservice, the Pioneer Award, now in its 30th year, recognizes dedication and contributions to foodservice, including creativity and innovation that have advanced the industry.
Shaich began his career in the bakery-café industry in 1981 when he opened a small cookie store in downtown Boston. Shortly thereafter, he combined his store operations with a local bakery to co-found Au Bon Pain Co. In 1993, Shaich led Au Bon Pain’s purchase of a 19-location bakery-cafe concept called Saint Louis Bread Company, which would become Panera Bread. Today, Panera Bread operates or franchises over 1,493 locations in 40 states and Ontario, Canada. Systemwide sales in 2010 exceeded $3 billion.
Under Shaich’s leadership, Panera has been one of the most successful restaurant stocks over the last decade. The company’s strong performance has continued this year when it reported a 3.9-percent increase in systemwide same-store sales that helped it post income growth of 34 percent, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report.
The recipient of numerous industry awards, Shaich was honored by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2004 with a Golden Chain award. He currently serves as President of the Panera Bread Foundation and recently spearheaded the Panera Cares initiative, which created nonprofit community cafes aimed at addressing issues related to food insecurity. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation and on the Board of the Rashi School.
In 1976 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Clark University, and two years later received a Master Degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School. He lives in Brookline, Mass. with his wife, Nancy, and children, Michael and Emma.