Damola Adamolekun, CEO of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, wants the Asian-inspired casual brand to be anywhere customers want it to be.
Adamolekun took the helm of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based concept in July 2020 after helping lead the early 2019 deal in which Paulson & Co. and TriArtisan Capital Advisors LLC acquired the company from Centerbridge Partners L.P.
In the past two years as CEO, Adamolekun and the P.F. Chang’s team have ramped up the off-premises push with P.F. Chang’s To Go, improved the brand’s technology, honed the retail offerings and polished the in-restaurant dining experience.
When Paulson was looking at investing in the brand, Adamolekun said he was noticing “the way that people were interacting with restaurants was changing and expanding.”
“It's not just coming to the restaurant for a meal,” he recalled. “Some people wanted to order delivery. Some people wanted to use their favorite restaurant as a way to eat at home. And so we bought this with the thought that we could be great at all of the different channels — we didn't have to choose one.”
That so-called omnichannel approach was even more important when the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020 and became the brand’s driving philosophy.
“Our big idea is to be the best in class across all channels and to be agnostic [about] where the consumer chooses to interact with us,” Adamolekun said. That strategy required additional investment.
For example, P.F. Chang’s invested in the dine-in guest experience. “The food was always very good,” he said, but the P.F. Chang’s team simplified the menu, amped up the ambience, improved the décor and added “an element of theater” at the table with such items as sizzling dumplings and smoking sushi.
“In regard to off-premises,” Adamolekun added, “the investment needed to be in technology, developing an app [and] a website for e-commerce. We needed to invest in digital marketing and then physical infrastructure as well,” to accommodate areas for take-out and delivery drivers.
The company also created and opened an expanding number of P.F. Chang’s To Go units, and the company expects as many as 50 open by the end of this year. The company has more than 200 bistros domestically and internationally.
While Adamolekun sees opportunities for the traditional 7,000-square-foot casual-dining bistro, the 1,300-1,400-square-foot To Go concept has a lot more options in real estate, he said.
“You can run that second part of the business — that delivery part of the business — out of that unit, so it's an extension of the off-premises business, which we also do in restaurants,” he said. “It lets us take that and reach more guests with that channel across the country.”
P.F. Chang’s in the past two years has also refreshed its grocery offerings, working with partner ConAgra Brands Inc. to improve the quality of those retail items.
The multi-channel approach began before coronavirus restrictions, Adamolekun said, which allowed the brand to “manage through the pandemic.”
The CEO added that he worked as a restaurant server in high school, so he knows the challenges of the workforce as well as the benefits. As a server, he recalled, “you learn how to deal with people” — be they on good days or bad days or celebrations or other occasions.
“It breeds a sort of adaptability, a sort of empathetic nature [and an] ability to read people and … put yourself in their shoes and help them improve their day,” he said. “At the same time, you learn to be efficient. … You learn to manage time, react quickly [and] deal with things that happen.”
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