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Having words with Lane Cardwell, chief executive, Boston Market Corp.

Having words with Lane Cardwell, chief executive, Boston Market Corp.

Home-meal replacement is not dead, says Lane Cardwell, the new chief executive of Boston Market Corp., the Golden, Colo.-based chain that led the HMR wave of the ’90s only to stumble into bankruptcy at the end of the decade. McDonald’s Corp. bought the chain in 2000, but sold it seven years later to private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners. Sun Capital shuttered about 100 underperforming stores, and last month put Cardwell in charge of revitalizing the now 530-unit brand. Twenty of Cardwell’s 30 years in the industry were spent in Dallas with S&A Restaurant Corp. and Brinker International, where his last executive assignment was as chief executive of Eatzi’s Market and Bakery, an HMR concept. Cardwell retired in 1999 and has spent the past 10 years serving as a director on several restaurant company boards.

Why did you come out of retirement to take this job?

I didn’t come because of what [Boston Market] is, I came because of what I know it can be. It was only financial difficulties that kept it from happening. One thing this company has never done is break its covenant between the managers in the stores and the customer experience. There have been a lot of broken promises to shareholders and owners and all that stuff. But the guest has never suffered.

What can Boston Market become?

I’m still a new employee here, so I’ll answer that as a customer. What I would like to be able to do is walk into the same place I’ve been walking into for 17 years, two to three times a month and now have other options. Maybe not different food, but other options.


BIRTHPLACE: MiamiAGE: 56EDUCATION: Southern Methodist University; master’s degree from the University of North Texas,EXPERIENCE: executive with S&A Restaurants Corp. and Brinker International; former CEO of Eatzi’s Market and Bakery; former board member at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Famous Dave’s of America, Taco BuenoPERSONAL: married, two children, one granddaughterHOBBIES: boating, scuba diving, eating out

What kind of options?

One of the things we learned at Eatzi’s was that hot food is bought by people who want to eat it right away. If you bought it chilled, like what you might do at a Whole Foods, you can take it home, put it in the refrigerator and eat it later. We learned there are two different customers—sometimes it was the same customer but with two different needs. So we had multiple reasons for you to buy the same food.

There seems to be more competition today from casual-dining restaurants offering takeout to grocery stores.

For casual dining, it’s still expensive and it’s still slow. It’s a one-hour solution to a 15- or 20-minute problem. As for grocery stores, the fact that they are not convenient is our biggest advantage. You can pull in the parking lot of a Boston Market and be out in five minutes. You can pull into the parking lot of a Whole Foods and, if you’re lucky, be in the store in five minutes. Then you have to walk back into the store pretty far and then navigate through the cash register.

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