Boston Market chief executive Lane Cardwell will step down Monday and be replaced by George Michel, a veteran of the Timothy’s World Coffee and A&W chains, the company said Friday.
The leadership change comes as Golden Colo.-based Boston Market embarks on a major revitalization effort at 400 of its nearly 500 locations over the next four months. The revamp is modeled on a 10-store test of upgrades in West Palm Beach, Fla., that has yielded increases of 25 percent in transactions and 20 percent in sales over the past five months, Cardwell said.
Called "America's Kitchen Table," the concept update includes the addition of dining-room service in which food is delivered to guests at their tables on real plateware and with stainless silverware. Food runners also will bus tables for guests. All employees will wear new uniforms, with culinary staff in chef’s whites and servers in Oxford button-down shirts with aprons.
More than 2,100 new dining room jobs have been added to Boston Market’s system over the past five months, with 3,000 more positions yet to be filled, Cardwell said.
“This isn’t a rollout for us; it’s a new way of life,” he said. “This represents how we’ll do business for the next 25 years.”
Food presentation also will be augmented, with a “Chef’s Hot Case” for holding food in smaller, colorful pots instead of steam table pans. Rotisserie meats will be carved to order, and salads will be tossed fresh to order at individual stations.
Several new menu items will debut in refurbished stores, including gourmet sides like Loaded Mashed Potatoes, Garlicky Lemon Savoy Spinach and Mediterranean Green Beans; as well as the hand-carved sandwiches, hand-tossed salads, and new soups and sauces that the chain has rolled out over the past year to improve sales from existing guests. Cardwell said same-store sales have gone from negative double-digit figures to flat during the course of his nearly two-year tenure at Boston Market.
“The last time I talked to Nation’s Restaurant News, it was about our new sandwiches and our ‘flavor bar,’ and those are the types of things an organization does to keep it fresh for guests and fill in the gaps, but it doesn’t lead you into the next 25 years,” Cardwell said. “The pots and plates look great, and the food tastes great, but what we heard in West Palm Beach from guests is that the biggest difference is in our people.”
He added that Boston Market's parent company, private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners, is investing more than $15 million over the next year for increased labor in the stores and more than $1 million in training for employees and managers. Physical upgrades will cost about $10 million over the next year for the 400 stores. Much of the training expense is for the more than 8,000 hourly employees who will be flown to general-manager meetings for the America’s Kitchen Table rollout, he said.
Cardwell has been telling general managers of the 400 units to be refurbished in the next four months that they’ll be “paying it forward” to the other 100 or so restaurants in the system by funding the remaining upgrades with their profits. Managers’ response has been positive, he said.
“They’re unbelievably motivated to do it,” Cardwell said. “Our GMs have a long tenure with the company, and they’ve been through attempts to make the concept work that failed. It’s been a tough several years, but this rollout is for operators, by operators. They’re seeing the difference.”
He added that his departure as chief executive marks the transition from a phase in which Boston Market was exploring ways to be relevant to a future in which experienced operators would capitalize on the rigorous testing conducted in West Palm Beach.
“We owe our future to 10 stores that put a lot on their backs,” Cardwell said. “As for me, I came here to be a change agent and offer hope to people who’d dealt with tough times for several years.”
Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]