Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar has named Stephen Bulgarelli vice president and chief culinary officer, the operator told Nation’s Restaurant News on Monday.
Bulgarelli replaces Cammie Spillyards-Schaefer, who left Applebee’s earlier this year to join Cracker Barrel.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Bulgarelli has spent the past seven years at Chili’s Grill & Bar, with the last five years as vice president of food and beverage. Prior to that, he was vice president of culinary innovation at O’Charley’s. He has also worked for TGI Fridays and LSG Sky Chefs.
“Chef Stephen possesses a unique balance of strategy, creativity and team orientation that will elevate our menu and strengthen our culinary culture,” Applebee’s president John Cywinski said. “All of this, coupled with his passionate focus on our guests, makes Stephen the ideal partner for our franchisees.”
Bulgarelli has won two Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters awards: one in 2008, for best menu revamp at O’Charley’s, and one in 2014, for best new menu item, for the flatbreads he developed at Chili’s.
“As the biggest casual-dining brand in the country, Applebee’s is America’s neighborhood kitchen, and I am honored to create original and downright good food that millions of people will be able to enjoy each week,” Bulgarelli said in a statement. “In collaboration with an already stellar culinary team, we’ll be focusing heavily on listening to our guests to help drive the changes that will further set Applebee’s apart.”
As of the end of last year, Applebee’s had more than 1,858 restaurants in the U.S. Parent company DineEquity Inc., based in Glendale, Calif., plans to close as many as 135 locations due to weak same-store sales.
Earlier this year, Cywinski vowed to return Applebee’s to its Middle American roots, following the rollout last year of more premium wood-fired grill items that failed to meet expectations.
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