Former Panera Bread Co. chief operating officer John Maguire was named chief executive of Friendly’s Ice Cream LLC just months after the family-dining chain emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After spending 19 years at the bakery-cafe chain, Maguire said he was ready to take the reins at an established restaurant brand. Now, after five months as CEO of the 77-year-old Friendly’s, Maguire said he has been “moving at lightning speed” to shape a plan that will help move the chain beyond its troubled past.
HOMETOWN: Weymouth, Mass.
EDUCATION: bakery science and management degree, Kansas State University; advanced management program, Harvard Business School
PERSONAL: married; one son, one daughter
EXPERIENCE: worked for Wonder Bread in Natick, Mass.; Bread & Circus supermarkets in Boston; and Au Bon Pan in Boston. ABP acquired St. Louis Bread Co., and Maguire moved there when it was spun off as Panera Bread Co.
What prompted your move to Friendly’s?
I learned so much at Panera. I learned from two great CEOs, Ron Shaich and Bill Moreton. They have different styles, but both have been successful.
Still, I wanted my own opportunity to shape an organization and create something great. I didn’t want to just go anywhere. It had to be a brand I believed in and was passionate about. I’m from Massachusetts and grew up with Friendly’s. I believe Friendly’s still has a place in the community — it just lost its direction.
What learnings have you taken from Panera?
In the restaurant business, at end of day, all that really matters is the quality of the food, the experience and the environment. I don’t care how good the marketing is or how much money you spend on remodels. The next time the customer comes in, if it’s not a great experience, none of it matters over time.
You’ve been at Friendly’s since June. What have you observed so far?
What happens to many restaurant concepts over the years? Sales start to fall and people panic. They try new things, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Then they get a new team [to run it]. That’s been the history of Friendly’s over the past 10 to 20 years. I think we lost focus on what makes us different, what products we can deliver well, and what is the best way to reach guests.
The business came through bankruptcy in January. We still have about 400 locations, franchised and company. We are cash-flow positive; we will make money in 2012. We have a retail ice cream business [that sells to] over 7,500 grocery stores. It’s a very successful piece of the business.
Where do you envision Friendly’s going?
We have momentum coming out of bankruptcy and can start to invest in the business and reposition the brand. In that repositioning, we will move much closer to Friendly’s roots, which begin and end with great ice cream. We’ll also focus on our core products that we have credibility with — burgers, melts, fried fish, French fries and shakes.
What will the repositioning entail?
We’ll simplify the menu and improve food quality, invest in training programs [and] focus on the physical plant. We’ll make sure the restaurants are clean, well-kept and inviting. All of that will evolve around our “Restrategy.”
What is “Restrategy”?
“Restrategy” has a number of parts:
It’s “Reconnaissance” — we need to understand what the issues are in our markets. “Rehiring” — everyone working for us will go through an interview process to make sure we have the right quality of people.
“Recertifying” — all the people who work [for Friendly’s] will be recertified. We haven’t invested in the quality of the guest experience for some time.
“Renewed menu” — we’ll pare off some products, like meals under 550 calories and some entrées that don’t sell and bring in products that were iconic to us.
“Remodel” — we’ll invest in all restaurants that yield an appropriate return.
“Revite” — there’s a tremendous amount of latent brand loyalty. When we’re ready, we’ll ask our customers to come back. We know we can get them to come back, but we have to deliver on the experience [to keep them].
PREVIOUSLY: Having Words With: Dick Lynch