Amazon Rocks Grocery Industry with $13.7B bid to buy Whole Foods’s agreement to buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion, announced recently, is a seismic deal that likely signals major changes in the grocery business. For shoppers, such a deal could ultimately mean lower prices at Whole Foods and more online delivery and pickup options throughout the grocery industry. The combination of Seattle-based Amazon’s technological savvy and Whole Foods’ network of 460-plus stores and distribution centers likely would force other retailers like Walmart, Jewel-Osco parent Albertsons and Mariano’s parent Kroger to accelerate their own shift toward digital and could spur more consolidation of stores. Once the darling of the grocery world, Whole Foods has struggled with falling sales in recent years as competitors of all shapes and sizes have caught up, enticing shoppers with natural and organic food offerings, often at lower prices. Last month, the upscale Austin, Texas-based grocer announced a shake-up of its board and cost-cutting measures. It’s not yet known what the deal will mean for the 26 Chicago-area Whole Foods stores, 12 of which are in the city. Midwest Region President Michael Bashaw declined an interview request Friday. But many grocery industry experts were bullish on the combination. “For the entire industry, this was a big wow,” said Phil Lempert, grocery store analyst who runs the Supermarket Guru website. “This is really a game-changer for the entire industry.” The deal would enable Whole Foods to implement Amazon’s pickup and delivery technology, likely spelling trouble for Instacart, which currently handles online delivery for Whole Foods, Lempert said. And Amazon now has a partner in delivering perishable groceries, which has been a weakness for the online delivery giant, he said. Shoppers may also see lower prices at Whole Foods, which has been dubbed “Whole Paycheck” over the years for its higher-than-average prices. As one example of price difference, a 12-pack of lemon-flavored LaCroix sells on Amazon for $4.00, compared with $5.69 in the Gold Coast Whole Foods. “We’re going to see lower prices and more efficiency. … It’s going to up the game for all grocery retailers,” Lempert said. John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, will remain CEO and the company will remain headquartered in Austin, the companies said Friday.Earlier this week, Mackey complained about “greedy” activist investors pressuring the company to sell in an interview with Texas Monthly. He struck a different tone in his prepared statement. “This partnership presents an opportunity to maximize value for Whole Foods Market’s shareholders, while at the same time extending our mission and bringing the highest quality, experience, convenience and innovation to our customers,” Mackey said in the news release. Zachary Fadem, senior analyst for Wells Fargo Securities, called the planned acquisition “a warning shot for the food retail industry” in an already fiercely competitive environment. It could prompt more consolidation in the industry, he said. “Whole Foods has long been considered a premium-priced retailer. Prices could go down as a result of this deal and products could be more readily available in an online format. … Applying Amazon’s technological expertise to Whole Foods’ brick-and-mortar stores would be a key synergy here,” Fadem said. Announcement of the deal comes amid other high drama in the grocery business. Earlier this week, Aldi, a fast-growing discounter that’s offering more organic and natural food these days, announced a major expansion in the U.S. as another discounter, Lidl, a highly anticipated German newcomer to the U.S. grocery industry, opened its first stores on the East Coast. And Mariano’s parent company Kroger saw its stock plummet Thursday after disappointing quarterly earnings. “The grocery industry’s more competitive than ever before. There’s really no room to rest anymore. Things are changing so quickly now,” said Jim Dudlicek, editorial director for Progressive Grocer, an industry trade publication. With its $13.7 billion bet, Amazon has claimed the boldest headline yet, though, and given its competitors something new to chew on. “It will certainly dramatically improve the types of grocery products Amazon offers, especially with Whole Foods’ extensive (365-branded) private label. It immediately gives Amazon a brick-and-mortar presence in big and medium-sized markets across the U.S. overnight,” said Jon Hauptman, senior director of retail for grocery consulting firm Willard Bishop. From 2011 to 2016, Whole Foods’ sales in the U.S. grew $6.2 billion at a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent, putting it among the fastest growing retailers in the U.S., according to data from Euromonitor International. But the company’s sales at established stores — a primary measure of economic health in retail — have declined for seven consecutive quarters. The deal would give Whole Foods the needed capital to continue growing while appeasing shareholders. Shoppers outside the Whole Foods store in the Streeterville neighborhood had mixed reactions Friday. Divya Sharma, 41, lives a block away from the store, and buys food for her family as often as four times a week. Sharma said she hopes Whole Foods will benefit from Amazon’s business savvy without losing the local feel and high quality that makes it her go-to grocery destination. “My only concern is if a big company like Amazon takes over, will it still have that neighborhood feel? I don’t want it to be all based on the bottom line rather than what we need as consumers,” Sharma said. “Amazon runs on convenience, but we would rather walk a block farther if the quality is better.” Asko Ahokas, 50, a design consultant in Streeterville and longtime Whole Foods shopper, said he’s on the fence about whether Amazon’s purchase will be good news for Whole Foods. But he saw some potential benefit. “In urban areas, where service is so valued, I think Amazon can add more resources and deliver that instant gratification,” Ahokas said. Amazon will pay $42 for each share of Whole Foods, an 18 percent premium on the grocer’s closing price on Thursday. The deal, pending shareholder and regulatory approval, is expected to close in the second half of 2017. – Source: The Chicago Tribune.

Trivest Announces the Recapitalization of B&J Food Service Equipment and Beltram Foodservice Group

Trivest Partners announces it has recapitalized B&J Food Service Equipment and Beltram Foodservice Group to create BJ Beltram, Inc. The BJ Beltram transaction represents the 13th platform investment in Trivest Fund V, a $415 million fund dedicated to investing in founder/family-owned businesses. BJ Beltram is the combination of two leading foodservice equipment (FSE) distributors: B&J Food Service Equipment, based in Kansas City, KS and Beltram Foodservice Group, based in Tampa, FL. BJ Beltram offers new and pre-owned commercial restaurant equipment, kitchen supplies, smallwares, furniture and design/project management services. The Company serves a diversified customer base primarily in the restaurant, lodging, education and healthcare industries. Both Companies have built exceptional reputations for customer service and satisfaction in their respective markets and the combination of the two will provide additional scale, allow for the cross-selling of value-added capabilities and enhance service efficiency. “The partnership with Trivest will allow B&J and Beltram to realize our growth plans,” said Robert Pickering, the Company’s CEO. “When Dan [Beltram] and I decided to join forces, Trivest’s culture and unique programs for founders made them the clear choice as a capital partner.  Additionally, their 35 years of experience in investing in founder and family-owned businesses will be very useful as we target add-on acquisitions. We are excited about the partnership and this new chapter of growth for our company.” Jorge Gross, Partner at Trivest, commented, “We are very excited to be partnering with B&J and Beltram. This opportunity fits squarely within Trivest’s core strategy of investing in growing, founder-owned businesses.  The combination of B&J and Beltram presents a unique opportunity for growth, both organically and through acquisition and we are looking forward to supporting the Company in achieving its goals while maintaining the extraordinary service levels our customers have come to expect.” – Source: Trivest Partners.

Former Joe’s Crab Shack executive will work alongside CEO on turnaround

Logan’s Roadhouse has named David Catalano (left) chief operating officer, a newly created position, the company said. Catalano will oversee the Nashville, Tenn.-based chain’s operating team, and will work alongside CEO Hazem Ouf to turn around the company, which recently emerged from bankruptcy. Logan’s Roadhouse is working to improve the menu and service to bring back customers. “David’s broad and diverse restaurant background and his demonstrated leadership qualities make him an ideal leader for the Logan’s operation team now and into the future,” Ouf said in a statement. Catalano is an experienced industry executive, having held positions with TGI Fridays, Al Copeland Restaurant Group, Rave Cinemas LLC and Applebee’s franchisee Apple Gold. He was chief operating officer of Joe’s Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern + Tap until July 2016. He joins a 221-unit casual-dining chain that emerged from bankruptcy late last year, which hired Oeu as CEO in January. The chain has closed locations and trimmed debt, and Ouf suggested more locations could close this year. – Source: NRN.

Hard Rock Names Stephen K. Judge President of Cafe Operations

Hard Rock International—owner of one of the world’s most-recognizable and iconic brands—announced the appointment of Stephen K. Judge as President of Cafe Operations. In this new role, Judge will use his more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry to oversee daily operations for 176 corporate and franchise locations around the world, drive Hard Rock’s world-famous branded retail merchandise business while growing and strengthening the Hard Rock Cafe portfolio. Judge will report directly to Chief Executive Officer of Hard Rock International Jim Allen. “Stephen has an impressive record of exceptional leadership and in-depth experience in leading innovation and driving growth in the restaurant industry,” says Jim Allen, chief executive officer for Hard Rock International. “We look forward to seeing Stephen lead the business and work to grow the Hard Rock Cafe brand.” Before joining Hard Rock, Judge was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Romacorp, overseeing 150 restaurants in 32 countries. Throughout his career, he has played key leadership roles in a number of academy/premier hospitality companies, including Bloomin’ Brands, Darden Restaurants, MGM Mirage, Rosewood Hotels, in addition to working for several years in the cruise industry. For more than 30 years, Judge has overseen the inception of new restaurant and bar concepts, directed multi-year food and beverage menu evolution and led food preparation and guest service efforts with uncompromising attention to detail. Internationally recognized as a world-class restaurant and hospitality brand, Hard Rock operates cafes across the world that are visited by more than 79 million guests each year. Its first cafe opened in London, England, and from there the brand has expanded to major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo, and exotic settings such as Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Malta. Hard Rock Cafe offers a one-of-a-kind dining experience with a commitment to serving fresh, high-quality ingredients. To satisfy the consumer’s ever-changing palate, Hard Rock continually updates its menu with limited-time offerings including burger pairings, innovative cocktails and more. – Source:

Giant Acquisition will Further the Industry’s Rush into Technology

Last week, Amazon agreed to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion, in a deal that will almost certainly change the landscape of the grocery business for good.  Its impact on restaurants will be far less obvious. The deal appears likely to push the industry towards areas where it’s already moving, such as delivery and online ordering, while strengthening a competitor that has already been a major factor in the prepared foods business. There’s no question that the deal is monumental. Amazon is the country’s biggest online retailer, and has disrupted numerous industries in its more than 20 years in business. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods gives the grocer more than 450 customer-facing distribution centers in some of the best markets in the world, from where it can deliver groceries. Anybody thinking that Amazon’s entrance won’t have a serious impact on the supermarket industry does not know their recent business history. None of Whole Foods’ competitors will be able to match Amazon’s technological firepower. Whole Foods has already taken potential share from the restaurant business. Its stores look more like food halls than grocery stores, something not lost as restaurants’ same-store traffic falls. Amazon’s ownership can only strengthen that competitor, adding technology in and out of the store to make it easier for consumers to get food. Pair the acquisition with a rumored delivery company deal, and Amazon could force some serious changes in the food business. Yet the restaurant industry is large and diverse. Because people eat at least three times a day, the frequency of potential visits makes it difficult for a single company to have much impact on the industry as a whole. Whole Foods generated $15.7 billion in total revenue in its most recent fiscal year. By comparison, the 100 largest restaurant chains generated $257 billion in system sales last year. But the deal could well push restaurants even further into making their businesses more technologically relevant. Indeed, the Amazon-Whole Foods deal, along with the Blue Apron IPO, demonstrates that the food world will increasingly be transacted over the Internet. While there are potential issues with Blue Apron’s business model, there’s little question that the prospect of online ordered, home-delivered meals represents a potential threat to a restaurant industry that relies on convenience-oriented consumers. Online restaurant sales were $12 billion in 2016, according to a Euromonitor study that Blue Apron commissioned for its IPO filing. That’s just 2.2 percent of overall restaurant sales. Yet that number is expected to grow by 22.6 percent per year between 2017 and 2020, while the broader restaurant market is expected to grow by 1.6 percent per year over that time. In other words, a lot more restaurant sales are going to come through apps — either third-party providers or from the companies themselves. But that move has already been happening, as chains like Panera Bread Co., Starbucks Corp., McDonald’s Corp., and Domino’s Pizza Inc., among others, have worked to integrate more technology into their operations. And delivery is growing by leaps and bounds. An Amazon-owned Whole Foods, or an Amazon armed with Whole Foods brick-and-mortar locations, will only make it more important for restaurants to do more business online. – Source: NRN.


On World Refugee Day, Starbucks said it will hire 2,500 refugees by over five years to work in eight European markets: Great Britain, France, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands.

Starbucks plans to hire 2,500 refugees to work at its coffee shops in Europe, part of the coffee chain’s commitment to hiring 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. The company said Tuesday — World Refugee Day — it would hire 2,500 refugees by 2022 to work in eight European markets: Great Britain, France, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands. It will partner with International Rescue and other local non-governmental organizations to match refugees with jobs. The company had earlier said it would hire at least 1,000 refugees over the next five years in Canada. The hiring plans are part of a commitment then-CEO Howard Schultz made in January, after President Donald Trump had signed an executive order suspending U.S. entry of all refugees for 120 days and barring Syrian refugees indefinitely. (Schultz stepped down from the CEO position in April. He remains executive chairman of the company.) Schultz’s announcement drew support as well as backlash. Some blasted the company for focusing on hiring refugees rather than U.S. veterans — though Starbucks has had in place since 2013 a commitment to hiring 10,000 U. S. veterans and military spouses. The company said in March that it has met that goal, and set a new goal of hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025. In the U.S., meanwhile, Starbucks is focusing its hiring of refugees on those who have worked as translators or support people for U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s partnering with No One Left Behind, a resettlement organization founded by a veteran and his translator, to help match refugees to jobs, the company said. – Source: Seattle Times.

Cole Claims COO Spot at Focus Brands

Kat Cole has been named chief operating officer and president, North America, for Focus Brands, franchisor and operator of more than 5,000 locations under brands including Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, McAlister’s Deli, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Carvel. In her new role, she will lead the company’s domestic franchise brands in addition to its licensing division. Ms. Cole joined Focus Brands seven years ago as president of Cinnabon and for the past three years has been president of Focus Brands Global Channels group. Prior to Focus Brands, Ms. Cole was vice-president of Hooters of America for five years. “Leveraging her deep industry experience and track record of achieving step-change in previous assignments at Focus Brands, Kat’s thought leadership, broad executive experience and exceptional communication skills position her well to enable our brand leaders to drive our business with accelerated energy,” said Steve DeSutter, chief executive officer of Focus Brands. “Those who have ever met Kat know that she is a uniquely skilled leader. She’s purpose-driven and has the demonstrated ability to bridge the worlds of franchising, large global brands, innovation and entrepreneurship with her collaborative management style.” Ms. Cole succeeds Paul Damico, who is leaving his position as president, North America, for Focus Brands to take on the role of c.e.o. of Naf Naf Grill, a Middle Eastern restaurant chain based in Chicago. “Over the past nine years, in his role as president of Moe’s Southwest Grill and most recently as the leader for all of our brands domestically, Paul had made a big impact on our business and helped us achieve impressive results,” Mr. DeSutter said. “It has been a pleasure to work with him, and we truly wish him the best as he takes on this next new role.” – Source:

New strategy launched after activists got seats on restaurant firm’s board 

Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. identified 83 company-owned restaurants it aims to sell to franchisees this year, formally launching a sale executives first discussed in January after an activist shareholder’s pressure. The company said the Denver-based consulting firm Cypress Group would market and broker the sales. The company and the activist shareholder had each used Cypress in recent months. The number of restaurants is at the high end of a range identified by executives as they test out a strategy, known as refranchising, or shedding company-owned restaurants to lower capital spending and operational costs. ­Investor Mick McGuire of Marcato Capital Management last spring bought a stake in the restaurant chain and started prodding executives to make the real estate moves to boost shareholder value. The Golden Valley company currently owns about half of its 1,250 locations, with the other half owned by franchisees. McGuire launched a proxy battle for seats on the company’s board and won three, including one for himself, at its shareholder meeting earlier this month. The company’s longtime chief executive, Sally Smith, announced her retirement at the June 2 meeting. Buffalo Wild Wings shares are down about 13 percent since the meeting and closed at $137.60, near a 52-week low. In Monday’s announcement, Buffalo Wild Wings said the 83 restaurants it will sell are in Canada, central and eastern Pennsylvania, the northeast U.S., south Texas and Washington, D.C. The company said nothing about McGuire’s new presence on the board and offered no further elaboration. During the proxy fight, McGuire argued that Buffalo Wild Wings should trim its roster of company-owned restaurants by 90 percent to just 60 or so. The result, he forecast, would be that the company’s share value would more than double over the three or four years it took to make the sales. Company executives argued his forecast was too optimistic and a rapid sell-off of properties would likely not yield their proper value. Fast-food restaurants are nearly all run by franchisees. But most of Wings’ peers in the fast-casual dining industry own about two-thirds of their locations and franchise the other one-third. Only DineEquity Inc.’s Applebee’s chain has shifted so aggressively to franchise ownership in a short period of time and the company has endured operational difficulties in the process. Its stock has lost half its value since November. Analysts say the operations of a fast-casual restaurant are harder to standardize and the lack of control over franchisees can make it more difficult for a company to implement new products and projects. – Source: StarTribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.

Jamba, Inc.’s franchisee, SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC, has acquired 13 Company-owned stores and signed a 10-unit development agreement
Jamba, Inc. announced current franchisee, SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC, has acquired 13 Company-owned stores and signed a 10-unit development agreement, to nearly double Jamba’s footprint in the Chicago market.  “Jamba accelerated its shift to an asset-light, franchise focused business model in 2014 to create shareholder value,” said Dave Pace, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jamba, Inc. “When I started as CEO last year, we identified the Chicago market as the final step necessary to complete that journey. With the announcement, I am pleased to share the asset light transition is substantially complete.” Pace continued, “It was important to find the right partner to continue our growth in Chicago. SuSu Hospitality Group shares our mission to inspire and simplify healthy living and has a proven track record of operating excellence, making them an ideal partner.” SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC is an incubator, investor and operator of extraordinary food concepts. With the acquisition of 13 stores complete, SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC now franchises 15 Jamba Juice locations across Illinois and Ohio. “We are delighted to expand our market presence and strengthen our relationship with the Jamba brand,” said Sunil Bedi, Chief Executive Officer of SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC. “Jamba’s fresh, hand-crafted blends offer guests convenient, great tasting and nutritious options that complement the active lifestyle in Chicago. We look forward to the long-term growth of Jamba in this market,” added Suchita Bedi, President of SuSu Hospitality Group, LLC. – Source: Jamba, Inc.

Carrols Restaurant Group, Inc. announced that it has priced a private offering of 8.00% Senior Secured Second Lien Notes due 2022

Carrols Restaurant Group, Inc. announced that it has priced a private offering of 8.00% Senior Secured Second Lien Notes due 2022 in the aggregate amount of $75 million (the “new notes”), which is an increase of $25 million to the previously announced offering of an aggregate principal amount of $50 million. The new notes will be issued as additional notes under the indenture, dated April 29, 2015, pursuant to which Carrols Restaurant Group previously issued $200 million aggregate principal amount of 8.00% Senior Secured Second Lien Notes due 2022 (the “existing notes” and, together with the new notes, the “senior secured second lien notes”). The new notes will be issued at 106.5% of the principal amount plus accrued interest from May 1, 2017. The offering is expected to close on June 23, 2017, subject to customary closing conditions. After giving effect to the closing of the offering, Carrols Restaurant Group will have $275 million aggregate principal amount of senior secured second lien notes outstanding. The new notes are expected to be treated as a single series with the existing notes and will have the same terms as the existing notes (other than the issue date and issue price) except that the new notes (i) will be subject to a separate registration rights agreement, (ii) will accrue additional interest in certain circumstances if we do not consummate an exchange offer required under such registration rights agreement, (iii) will be subject to restrictions on transfer and (iv) will be issued initially under CUSIP numbers different from the existing notes. The new notes and the existing notes will vote as one class under the indenture. Holders who exchange their new notes in a registered exchange offer required pursuant to the registration rights agreement will receive registered notes that are expected to share a single CUSIP number with the existing notes, and it is expected that such registered notes and the existing notes will thereafter be fungible. Prior to that, the new notes will trade separately from the existing notes. Carrols Restaurant Group intends to use the net proceeds of the private placement of the new notes (i) to repay outstanding revolving credit borrowings under its senior credit facility, (ii) to pay related fees and expenses and (iii) for working capital and general corporate purposes, including for possible future acquisitions. The new notes will not be registered under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”) or applicable state securities laws, and may not be offered or sold in the U.S. or to U.S. persons absent registration or an applicable exemption from such registration requirements. The new notes may be resold by the initial purchaser pursuant to Rule 144A and Regulation S under the Securities Act. This press release is being issued pursuant to and in accordance with Rule 135(c) under the Securities Act. This press release is for informational purposes only and is not an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to purchase the senior secured second lien notes of Carrols Restaurant Group. – Source: Carrols Restaurant Group.

Jack in the Box National Franchise Association Elects New Slate of Officers . . . . (click here for more details)

Commissions NFA Steering Committee to Work Together with Jack in the Box Corporate to Ensure a Harmonious and Successful Relationship

The Jack in the Box National Franchise Association announced its new slate of elected officials to serve 2 years. The new team is headed by Reza Khajavi as Chairman; Rabi Viswanath, President; Mike Flores, Vice President; Kevin Townsend, Secretary; and Chris Aslam will continue as Treasurer for 2017-2018.  “It is important that we continue to develop and work closely with our corporate partners providing them with feedback in all areas of mutual interest which include, but are not limited to, Marketing, IT, OPS, Development, and Supply Chain Management,” said Reza Khajavi. “Our partnership works best when there is an environment where we can communicate with each other, always with an eye towards improving performance. We believe that together, we can drive profitability to new levels for both JIB corporate and the franchise owners,” he said. The appointment of an NFA Steering Committee will further facilitate a level of cooperation and alignment that will be unprecedented in the industry. The NFA Steering Committee will include franchise owners Reza Khajavi, Anil Yadav, David Beshay, Clyde Rucker, Rabi Viswanath and Mike Norwich. “The steering committee concept will allow us to represent our franchise owners proactively and efficiently and should enable quick resolution to issues that could be divisive if left unresolved,” said David Beshay. “This committee will be able to engage with corporate management at the highest level and will facilitate a team atmosphere and working relationship between the two organizations,” said Michael Norwich. The JIB-NFA is very enthusiastic and comfortable that this new NFA Steering Committee will empower the brand to reach new levels of excellence. “As far as we know, this organizational structure will be unique in the fast food industry,” said Reza Khajavi. “We at the JIB-NFA are confident that working together we will achieve new heights in our quest for industry impact, leadership and success.” – Source: The Jack in the Box National Franchise Association.

Company veteran appointed top marketer, joined by external talent for key marketing roles


Sonic Corp. announced the appointment of Lori Abou Habib as chief marketing officer. As CMO, she holds responsibility for leading brand strategy, product innovation, national marketing, brand management, media, digital strategy and marketing technology. Abou Habib is a 10-year veteran of SONIC, joining the company in 2007 as a product pipeline manager. Over the past decade, she has led local marketing, brand management, product pipeline and creative for the brand. Most recently serving as vice president of national marketing, her responsibilities included marketing strategy, brand management, marketing calendar and creative. Prior to joining SONIC, she served as regional marketing manager for CKE Restaurants, Inc. and as senior marketing manager for Eateries, Inc. With Abou Habib’s promotion to chief marketing officer, Darin Dugan will join SONIC as vice president of national marketing. Reporting directly to Dugan will be the brand management and creative teams. Dugan’s 20 years of experience in food and beverage marketing brings strength to this pivotal marketing role. Dugan held a series of progressive positions at Kraft for 16 years including leadership positions for key product categories and brands including Kraft Salad Dressings, Miracle Whip, and Oscar Mayer Foods. He most recently served as senior vice president of marketing and culinary for Applebee’s and was responsible for brand positioning, marketing campaigns and a culinary overhaul. Rounding out the marketing leadership is newly appointed vice president of digital strategies, Kim Lewis. With a 15-year career in digital and e-commerce, Lewis leads SONIC’s digital strategy, integrated marketing communications and customer relationship management (CRM). Lewis most recently served as consultant to a variety of brands on digital strategy and was previously head of marketing and e-commerce for Golfsmith International. “I am delighted to elevate Lori to chief marketing officer; she is a talented, strong leader who enjoys the respect of our franchisees and won the position through a highly competitive national search,” said Cliff Hudson, Sonic Corp. CEO. “We were very pleased with the caliber of candidates discovered during the search and are pleased for Darin and Kim to join the team. The decades of experience these three leaders share will propel the business and the brand forward for many years to come.” In addition to the marketing positions announced today, SONIC is currently recruiting for a chief brand officer. In the future, the marketing team will report to this new function as will SONIC’s ICE – Integrated Customer Engagement – strategy and the evolution of the brand concept. Designed to deliver the most personalized restaurant experience in the quick service industry, ICE utilizes the brand’s proprietary Point-Of-Personalized-Service (POPS) digital menu boards as well as mobile, social and other digital technology. – Source: SONIC, America’s Drive-In.

SafeHouse Restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago announced that it has appointed Agent Irish Hammer, a.k.a. Sean Burke, as new corporate director of operations

Control, the clandestine organization tasked with establishing and maintaining SafeHouse Restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago announced that it has appointed Agent Irish Hammer, a.k.a. Sean Burke, as new corporate director of operations. In his new role as a top operative for the organization, Agent Irish Hammer will oversee operations for both secret SafeHouse locations. Agent Hammer (for short) has been working in the hospitality field as an undercover operative for more than 20 years. In 2001, Water Street Brewery Group recruited him to serve as general manager of Louise’s Trattoria. After many successful missions, he was appointed director of operations for the entire company, overseeing all locations and helping to concept and open new restaurants for the group. Following his time with Water Street Brewery Group, Agent Hammer went “rogue” and opened his own restaurant – Burke’s Lakeside – in Oconomowoc, Wis. He later sold Burke’s Lakeside, and a second restaurant, Burke’s Irish Castle, and joined La Fuente Group as Vice President of Operations before joining the clandestine SafeHouse Restaurants. “Agent Irish Hammer believes in creating a positive workplace for all operatives, whether it’s their first time seeking refuge or their hundredth,” Agent Blonde, a.k.a. Peggy Williams-Smith, senior vice president of the SafeHouse Restaurants, mentioned in a secret note. “His repertoire of spy knowledge and experience is a tremendous asset to our organization, and we are thrilled to have him join our team. Without a doubt, he will help ensure that our agents and havens create the best experience for every visiting spy, every time.” Since first opening as a secret spy haven in 1966, SafeHouse Restaurant and Bar has covertly operated in Milwaukee under the alias, International Exports Ltd., and become the premier refuge for the world’s undercover elite visiting Milwaukee. This February, SafeHouse Restaurants expanded to a second covert location in Chicago. – Source: Marcus Restaurant Group.

Tom Meyer has been named vice-president of marketing for Taco John’s

Tom Meyer has been named vice-president of marketing for Taco John’s, a quick-service restaurant chain featuring Mexican-inspired fast food. In his new role, Mr. Meyer will be responsible for brand strategy, pricing, advertising and social media. Mr. Meyer began his career as a field marketing manager at CKE Restaurants, Inc., parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He later became director of marketing at Del Taco before shifting to the advertising agency side, where he was the account director for KFC’s largest co-op in the Los Angeles DMA, the company said. Mr. Meyer also ran Papa John’s largest co-op and previously headed up the Mimi’s Café and TGI Fridays accounts. “We’re thrilled to welcome Tom to the Taco John’s team,” said Jim Creel, chief executive of Taco John’s International. “His experience in building franchisee relationships and implementing successful marketing and media campaigns is exactly what we were looking for to help us continue our nationwide growth and industry leadership.” Founded in 1969, Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Taco John’s operates and franchises nearly 400 quick-service restaurants in 23 states. – Source:

The Big Fish Restaurant Group acquires a chain of seafood eateries in Delaware and Pennsylvania

The Big Fish Restaurant Group, which owns a chain of seafood eateries in Delaware and Pennsylvania, has purchased the Wilmington restaurants, the Washington Street Ale House and Mikimotos Asian Grill and Sushi Bar as well as Stingray Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach.  Eric Sugrue, a co-founder and co-creator of the Big Fish Group which runs the Big Fish Grill restaurants, has been finalizing plans for the past few weeks. On Thursday, he confirmed the purchase of the eateries which had been owned by the late Wilmington resident Darius Mansoory. Sugrue said he settled with Mansoory’s estate last week. He said the names of the eateries will stay the same, but he plans on updating the three concepts and doing some general renovations at the sites. The restaurants will remain open during the work. The Big Fish Restaurant Group already runs three Wilmington restaurants, Bella Coast Italian Kitchen & Market on Concord Pike, Trolley Square Oyster House on Delaware Avenue and the Big Fish Grill on the Wilmington Riverfront. The Group also is involved with plans for a seven-story, 122-room hotel and banquet hall attached to the existing 275-seat Big Fish Grill on the Riverfront. The joint project involves the Pennsylvania-based property developer Onix Group and is expected to cost $23 million. Sugrue said he hoped to begin construction by late summer and open next year. The Big Fish Restaurant Group started with the flagship Big Fish Grill in Rehoboth, and later expanded with other eateries in the resort town including the Big Fish Seafood Market, the Summerhouse Saloon, Salt Air and the Crab House. There are Big Fish Grills in Ocean View as well in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Mansoory had operated restaurants for two decades. The 52-year-old died suddenly of cardiac arrest on Dec. 31, 2016, in a hospital while on vacation in Cuba with his girlfriend. Mansoory, who grew up in Centreville, fell ill while at a hotel he was staying shortly before the couple was scheduled to leave and catch a plane home. At the time of his death, it was unknown who would run the restaurants operating under the Cherry Tree Hospitality Group that Mansoory founded. His closest surviving relatives included his mother Janet Mansoory and father Dr. Amir Mansoory. The Washington Street House marked its 20th year in business this month. Shortly before his death, Mansoory told The News Journal he had big plans for the popular restaurant and his other operations. “I’m just now getting back into work full time and have my plate full fine-tuning Mikimotos and the Ale House,” he wrote in a text message sent in October 216. Mansoory said he planned to reopen Presto!, a cafe next door to the Ale House, which he shuttered in 2014. “June 4, 2017, will be the 20-year anniversary of the Ale House, and I definitely will have Presto! open and everything else running razor sharp as we celebrate that milestone,” he told The News Journal. Mansoory began his career in the hospitality industry in 1997 when he bought the former Knuckleheads bar on Washington Street and transformed it, through several renovations, into the Washington Street Ale House. Later, he opened Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi, named after the Japanese pearls, in 2000 just as U.S. diners began developing a surging interest in Japanese cuisine. The eatery, next door to the Ale House, became one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Latino Grill on Lake Avenue in Rehoboth followed in 2008. David Dietz, owner of the BBC Tavern in Greenville and a close friend of Mansoory, told The News Journal in January he was confident Mansoory’s restaurants will continue to operate and thrive. “His family wants to see his legacy continue. I think Darius has a lot of excellent people at his establishments already in place and I feel they are highly competent and they will ensure his legacy lives on through the opening of the restaurants,” Dietz said. – Source: The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware.

Industry veteran brings more than 30 years of experience to frozen-treat chain

Rita’s Franchise Co. has named Phyllis Savar Levy CMO, replacing Robin Seward, the company said. Levy (left) is an industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience. During her career, she has led product launches and other growth initiatives at multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Co., and Aramark. “Phyllis has had a remarkable impact on every brand she has touched, developing new products that strengthen and develop the company’s portfolio and brand following,” said Kirk Griswold, chairman of Rita’s board of directors, in a statement. “We’re excited that Phyllis has joined the Rita’s team, and we look forward to tapping her proven skillset as we continue to expand our guest offerings and further differentiate Rita’s from its competitors.” Before joining Rita’s, Levy was CMO and partner at Chief Outsiders, where she captained the development of SOLA, a natural alternative sweetener. Trevose, Penn.-based Rita’s has more than 600 U.S. locations. – Source: NRN.

Wendy’s Dethroned by Burger King in Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey

For the first time in 20 years, Dublin-based Wendy’s Co. lost its top ranking in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index. Burger King bested its rival in the 2017 survey released Tuesday with a score of 77, topping Wendy’s by a point. The chains were tied at 76 last year in the annual industry evaluation, and Wendy’s stayed at that mark this year. Wendy’s likely isn’t sweating the loss. The brand continues to ride a wave of sales increases and has said it feels good about how it is resonating with customers. McDonald’s Corp.ranked the lowest of the four burger brands and at the bottom of the 17 limited-service chains in the index with a score of 69, also flat to last year. Satisfaction with limited-service brands (quick service, fast casual and pizza) was flat overall at 79. Chick-fil-A continues to hold the top overall spot with a score of 87, which was flat to 2016. The Atlanta-based chicken chain has topped the survey every year since it was added in 2015. Panera Bread Co. and Papa John’s International Inc. rounded out the top three. According to the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based survey, customer service, order accuracy, restaurant cleanliness and food quality all have improved in the eyes of consumers. Food and beverage variety and website satisfaction both are down. That second point is interesting since it comes at a time when many brands are trying to generate more sales from web and mobile ordering. The news isn’t better on the full-service side. As casual and family dining establishments face declines in customer visits and sales, its satisfaction score posted a 3.7 percent drop as well. For the first time in the survey’s history, limited service surpassed full service, which scored a 78. The full-service segment includes 12 chains, a mix of classic casual dining like Applebee’s and Red Lobster and family-segment names like Cracker Barrel and Denny’s. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. topped the full-service list, up 1 point form 2016 to 84. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. dropped 9 to 73 and the bottom spot on that list. The ACSI report was based on 5,557 customer surveys. – Source: Columbus Business First.

Shoney’s all-American restaurant brand reopened its restaurant in Nashville on Donelson Pike after it underwent an extensive interior and exterior remodeled

Shoney’s, the iconic, all-American restaurant brand, reopened its restaurant in Nashville on Donelson Pike after it underwent an extensive interior and exterior remodel. The new restaurant design will serve as the prototype for all newly constructed and remodeled Shoney’s locations nationwide. The debut of this Shoney’s prototype reflects CEO and Chairman David Davoudpour’s commitment to reinvigorate and revitalize the 70-year-old brand to remain relevant to today’s evolving American dining landscape. Shoney’s new look begins with a transformative exterior that pays homage to the brand’s rich heritage with classic Shoney’s elements. The exterior design features natural wood and stone siding, elongated black awnings and a prominent, red backlit Shoney’s logo. Inside, guests are welcomed by natural wood flooring, community tables lit by modern light fixtures and a full-service beverage bar highlighted by red subway tile. The design culminates into a fresh, modern feel that will excite new and loyal guests alike. “We are so proud to unveil Shoney’s new look to the community,” says Davoudpour. “We’ve worked extremely hard to find the right balance between preserving Shoney’s history, while incorporating a design that appeals to the modern-day diner. Now that our hometown of Nashville has seen the new look, we’re excited to implement the design in our other restaurants around the country.” Instead of a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening, Davoudpour hosted a unique community event on May 25. Shoney’s invited 80 boys from Backfield in Motion, a Nashville nonprofit organization that combines academics and athletics to inspire inner city boys to reach their maximum potential, and the Nashville Police Department to share a free meal together. “The grand opening event at Shoney’s was a fantastic way for our police department to have a fun night with the young gentlemen of Nashville where we were able to get to know one another on a more personal level,” says Steve Anderson, chief of police for The Nashville Metro Police Department. “These type of activities are important steps in bridging the gap between the police and the community, and helps us all realize we are more alike than we are different.” Davoudpour is a strong supporter of police enforcement and community revitalization. He co-founded the Shoney’s Family 5K Fun Run, which raised over $15,000 for the Nashville Police Support Fund during this year’s run in May, and initiated a similar program benefitting the Metro Atlanta Police Fund. His vision for Shoney’s grand opening event was to provide a safe and fun environment for the Nashville police and the city’s youth to forge better relationships. In addition to the Donelson remodel, Shoney’s forecasts additional remodels by the end of the year. The company also recently signed three franchise deals set to bring a newly remodeled restaurant to Hopkinsville, Ky. and new restaurants to Henryetta, Okla. and Fultondale, Ala. by the end of the year. Shoney’s is in the midst of franchise expansion with single and multi-unit franchise opportunities available in its core Southeast region, throughout the U.S. and in select international markets, under the new restaurant design. – Source:

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