Becky Johnson has left her position as senior vice president of marketing and culinary for Applebee’s, the company confirmed Monday.
Dan Smith, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Mo.-based casual-dining chain, said he could not offer details on the timing or reason for Johnson’s departure, saying it was a private personnel matter. He also said the company has launched a global search for a replacement.
“Becky has been leading our marketing team for five years and we thank her for her contribution,” he said.
Johnson reported directly to Applebee’s president Mike Archer.
In May, Applebee’s named Peter Czizek vice president of culinary and menu strategy. Czizek, who was to report to Johnson, served previously as vice president of food and beverage research and development for Dave & Buster’s.
Applebee’s is the nation’s largest casual-dining chain, with 2,031 units as of the end of the first quarter, almost all of which are franchise operated. The chain reported $4.5 billion in U.S. systemwide sales in fiscal 2012, according to NRN’s annual chain census.
For its March-ended first quarter, however, parent DineEquity Inc. reported a 1.3-percent decline in domestic systemwide same-store sales, reflecting a drop in traffic that was partially offset by a higher average check.
Julia Stewart, chair and chief executive of Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity, blamed the challenging macroeconomic environment, though she said Applebee’s and sister chain IHOP have held their own in terms of market share.
Since being acquired in 2007, Applebee’s has almost completely overhauled its menu, changing or enhancing about 90 percent of its offerings with a focus on freshness, flavor and more seasonal dishes while keeping up its emphasis on value.
Johnson was hired the same week the chain launched its industry-leading “Two for $20” program in 2008, a value-positioned offering credited with driving traffic through the recession.
First introduced as a limited-time offer, Two for $20 became a signature “every day value” cornerstone that Johnson recently compared to Subway’s $5 Footlong sub.
“Having a signature every-day value product, like Two for $20 in our case or the Footlong sandwich for Subway, is essential in this economic climate,” Johnson told Forbes magazine last week. “It’s critical that you are recognized for something in particular, and it helps define your image.”
Last summer, the chain launched a humorous ad campaign featuring the voice of actor/comedian Jason Sudeikis — who once played an Applebee’s fan in the movie “Hall Pass.” The campaign’s tagline, “See You Tomorrow,” attempted to communicate Applebee’s “culinary credibility,” Johnson said at the time.
Johnson most recently launched the new “Take Two” promotion in June, allowing guests to sample two dishes on a select menu for the price of one.
Before joining Applebee’s, Johnson was chief marketing officer for Blockbuster Inc. She also served as a marketing executive for Chili’s parent Brinker International.
Update: July 9, 2013In an earlier version of this story, company officials said they could not comment on plans to fill the senior vice president of marketing and culinary position. On Tuesday, however, company officials said they have initiated a search for a replacement.