Saturday, December 27, 2008

And he could collect unemployment, too

Russ Owens may have lost one of the most coveted jobs in the business, but he probably had a nice holiday nonetheless. After announcing in late November that he would step down as president of the Pei Wei Asian Diner fast-casual chain, Owens and concept parent P.F. Chang’s agreed 10 days ago the longtime industry veteran would collect $800,000 in severance for his “resignation.”

The money is being paid in one lump sum. In addition, all stock options or other equity awards were vested immediately, according to the agreement, which was detailed in an SEC document filed on Christmas Eve.

In exchange, Owens agreed not to sue Chang’s, reveal its trade secrets or take a position that puts him in competition with Pei Wei. That could be a breeze, given that the concept’s direct competition is usually characterized as local Chinese restaurants.

Pei Wei is widely regarded as one of the more promising concepts to come out of the fast-casual boom in the first half of the decade. More recently it’s been battered by the same sales slowdown that has stymied chains at the higher end of their respective segments' price range.

Because Pei Wei is more of an everyday kind of place than a special-occasion option, some of us have viewed its sales problems as a reflection of the public’s shift back to cooking at home.

But at least Owens will have a fair amount of change to spend on dining out.

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