NEW YORK Last month Nation’s Restaurant News selected 10 executives to watch in the year ahead, from newcomer Liz Smith of OSI Restaurant Partners to longtime restaurant-industry fixture Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee.
In the NRN list of “10 restaurant executives to watch in 2010,” some of the executives were facing brand turnarounds this year and others were building new operations, like David Kim at Growth Concepts or Sardar Biglari, head of Steak n Shake and Western Sizzlin.
NRN asked readers to name which restaurant executives they are watching this year and why. Here is a selection of their responses:
Patrick Doyle — The newly named chief executive at Domino’s Pizza Inc. is set to take charge when longtime chairman and chief executive David Brandon steps down in March. Doyle is currently the chain’s U.S. president and has been with the pizza delivery giant since 1997. He will be leading Domino’s at a time when the chain is battling slowed traffic, which it has tried to reverse with new product introductions like oven-baked sandwiches and bread bowl pastas. Most dramatically, Domino’s reworked its pizza recipe from top to bottom, introducing a new pie and marketing campaign late last year.
Cliff Hudson — As chairman and chief executive of Sonic Corp., the operator or franchisor to 3,544 drive-in restaurants, Hudson has an uphill battle to climb in 2010, as the chain faces steep same-store sales declines. While quick-service chains were many of the strongest brands in foodservice through the doldrums of 2009, Sonic and others saw sales begin to deteriorate as unemployment rose and consumers cut even further back on spending. While Hudson acknowledged that the company’s August-ended fiscal year was difficult, Sonic also made headway on such initiatives as its refranchising program, a strategic pricing program that included an ongoing value menu and a renewed focus on customer service. So far, the chain still is having trouble on the sales front, as same-store sales fell 6.5 percent systemwide for its first quarter ended in November.
Linda Lang — Another quick-service chief executive whom many are watching to see whether new menu initiatives, refranchising efforts and pricing adjustments can pay off is Linda Lang at Jack in the Box Inc. Like Sonic and others, Jack in the Box has suffered of late against sales declines. Same-store sales fell 6 percent for Jack in the Box’s September-ended fourth quarter, and at least one franchisee, a larger operator in Northern California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Lang also is working with some new executives, after longtime president and chief executive Paul Schultz retired last month after 36 years with the brand.
Azam Malik — The chief operating officer at Frandeli Group LLC, Malik has vast experience in the restaurant industry through positions at Piccadilly Restaurants, El Torito, Family Restaurants Inc., W.R. Grace Restaurants and the Marriott Corp. Now at Frandeli, which is a hybrid private-equity and management firm, he oversees restaurant operations at recent Frandeli acquisitions including four Papa John’s franchisees and the Spaghetti Warehouse chain. Frandeli, which was established in 2005 by a venture capital firm affiliated with a $60 billion company, began late last year to roll out a new Spaghetti Warehouse prototype and brand reimaging.
Bill Moreton — Stepping into Ron Shaich’s shoes at Panera Bread Co. can’t be easy, an NRN reader said. Moreton is set to take the helm of the 1,362-unit bakery-cafe chain in May, during the upswing of a brand that has so far been able to stave off the recession. The pending transition plan at one of the industry’s most-watched companies was met with a generally positive response from members of the financial community. Moreton, who also will assume the roles of president and board member, has spent more than 10 years with Panera. Between 1998 and 2003, he served as chief financial and administrative officer and then left to become chief executive of Baja Fresh Mexican Grill. After a stint as president and chief financial officer of Potbelly Sandwich Works, Moreton rejoined Panera in 2008 as co-chief operating officer.
Kevin Reddy — As head of Noodles & Company, Reddy heads a 210-unit chain set in a segment that many sources say is operating head and shoulders above others in the industry, and is poised for additional growth as consumers gravitate toward fast-casual brands. Reddy was a panelist at NRN’s Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators Conference, or MUFSO, and said that Noodles, like other chains, has been finding ways to tackle tough times with innovation. Most recently, Noodles developed of a line of take-and-bake pastas that were designed to attract new convenience-foods seekers, as well as give regulars a reason to spend more money with the fast-casual chain.
Don Thompson — When Ralph Alvarez said in early December that he would step down as McDonald’s Corp. president and chief operating officer, many were surprised. When Don Thompson was named Alvarez’s successor, many were not. The former president of McDonald’s USA, Thompson has worked at the No. 1 burger brand since 1990 in increasingly elevated roles, and was immediately on the short list of replacements for Alvarez. Officially named to the post in January, Thompson now is responsible for keeping a system that hit its stride prior to the economic downturn running. With recent misses on same-store sales results, McDonald’s has said it is poised to continue attracting consumers with efforts around its Dollar Menus and premium products like McCafe beverages and Angus burgers.