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Sbarro CEO Jim Greco resigns

Sbarro CEO Jim Greco resigns

Chairman J. David Karam has taken over the duties of chief executive

After spending a little more than a year as president and chief executive of Sbarro Inc., Jim Greco has resigned from the Italian quick-service company.

Sbarro said Greco, who joined the Melville, N.Y.-based company Feb. 1, 2012, left to pursue other business interests.

Sbarro chairman J. David Karam has taken over the duties of chief executive. Karam joined the board in January 2012. Prior to that, he had served as president of Wendy’s International from 2008 through 2011.

Greco told Nation’s Restaurant News that he had been hired for a limited time by Sbarro, which had sought the benefit of his experience in turnarounds.

Just a few months earlier, Sbarro Inc. had exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with reduced debt and a $35 million capital infusion from its lenders. The ailing company had filed for Chapter 11 in April 2011, blaming reduced customer traffic, increased competition and higher food costs for its financial performance.

During his time at Sbarro, Greco said the company accomplished many of things it had originally set out to do. “We assembled a team and put a vision and strategy in place to set the company on the right path,” he said. “We have a great team…and have the foundation in place to achieve success.

“Now it was time to go,” he said.

Shortly after making the move to Sbarro, Greco discussed his plans for piloting the brand into the fast-casual sector. Among other things, he talked about revamping the chain’s pizza and pasta offerings, and “making tweaks” to recipes and procedures for both. As part of the recipe reformulation, the chain also made some changes to its pizza dough to improve the taste and texture. While the revamped pizza proved to be popular with guests, the new pasta dishes did not gain as much traction, he said.

Greco also said the 1,025-unit chain would be upgrading some of its ingredients, like tomatoes and cheeses. Plans also called for studying the entire guest experience, as well as kitchen and dining area design.

“I think that by working on the fundamentals and food, the hospitality and guest service, and the appearance of the restaurants, we can create an experience that will enable us to achieve that vision,” he said soon after taking over at Sbarro.

Greco joined the Italian quick-service company after he had navigated a successful transition at Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery in Burlington, Vt. In 2003 Greco teamed up with private equity firm Sun Capital to acquire the fast-casual bakery-café chain. As chief executive, Greco helped to turn around the struggling company, generating more than 20 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales. During that time, Bruegger’s also acquired Timothy’s World Coffee’s retail brands.

Greco left Bruegger’s after the company was purchased by Groupe Le Duff SA, a French bakery-café operator, earlier in 2011. Sun Capital said it earned a return of 36 percent per year for a total return of 13 times the investment.

Sbarro also hired Karam to help turn the 57-year-old brand around. After multiple years of traffic declines and market share loss at Wendy’s, Karam oversaw improvements in product quality, operational execution and brand profitability. Before that he served as president of Cedar Enterprises, a Wendy’s franchisee with about 150 locations in Indianapolis; Las Vegas; San Antonio; Seattle; and Hartford, Conn.

"Now is an exciting time for Sbarro, and we've just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible for our company. Our core priorities of guest service, menu innovation, food quality and operational excellence will continue to guide our efforts as we further unlock the significant potential for this brand," said Karam. "We are very appreciative of the contributions that Jim made during his tenure with the company and we wish him the absolute best in his new pursuits."

According to NRN’s Top 100 Census of chains and companies in the foodservice industry, Sbarro generated U.S. systemwide sales of $424.0 million for the year ended Dec. 2011, falling from $450.0 million in the preceding year.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 29, 2013 An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the return on investment at Bruegger’s. The return was 36 percent per year for a total return of 13 times the investment.

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @NRNPaul

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