Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'Attention, Central Casting'

We’ve decided to recount the week’s restaurant-related developments in cinematic form. So heads up, Casting. Here’re the players we’ll need to play the central characters.

Grab a guy in whites and put him in a serious suit. Yesterday’s announcement of a new president for the La Madeleine bakery-café chain probably took no one by surprise. Phil Costner, as COO, was the heir apparent. Still, his appointment is remarkable, especially for industry professionals who make their living in a kitchen. As far as we know, he’s the only chain president to reach that perch through menu R&D, and he’s one of the few chefs to head a system of significant size (Steve Ells of Chipotle and Kerry Kramp of Sizzler being the others).

Put Sigourney Weaver in a Cracker Barrel cap… As tough as she was in “Alien,” the veteran actress will have to show more fortitude in her depiction of Sandra Cochran, the new CEO of the family restaurant chain. On Day Two of the job, Cochran had to contend with a demand by shareholder and takeover artist Sardar Biglari that he be ceded a seat on Cracker Barrel’s board. The demand was put forth on a website created by Biglari to blast the chain’s direction and management. And then, just to add the icing on the cake, Cracker Barrel reported a 36% decline in quarterly net income. You have to wonder if prior CEO Michael Woodhouse called to provide moral support—the Bishop to Weaver’s Ridley.

…And get me one of The Borg guys from “Star Trek” to play Biglari. “You shall be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The thirtysomething activist shareholder followed the same plan he’s pursuing at Cracker Barrel to wrest control of Steak ‘n Shake and Western Sizzlin’. Clearly he intends to prevail similarly at Cracker Barrel, his most mainstream target to date.

Who’s today’s Jimmy Stewart? Whoever he is, get him to play Craig Meier, the CEO of the Frisch’s family restaurant chain, which also operates a number of Golden Corral franchisees. The company’s sales dropped 4.6%, so Meier took a 26% pay cut. Clearly this guy couldn’t work on Wall Street without being some suit’s bitch. The cut brought his pay down to about $700,000—for overseeing a company that brought in $303 million. Take that, Gordon Gekko.

Okay, who’d be a good Lazarus? See if you can make him look like Craig Nickoloff, the founder of the Claim Jumper chain. Nickoloff sold the chain, second only to Cheesecake Factory in average unit volumes, to private-equity concerns that watched sales drop and drop and drop. Eventually, Claim Jumper went bankrupt and was bought at a bargain rate by Landry Restaurants’ Tillman Fertitta. Nickoloff had it made. But of instead of working up a sweat on a golf course, he just teamed up with the celebrated chef Michael Cimaruti to buy Silver Spoon, a wheezing landmark of the Los Angeles dining scene. They’ve indicated that the West Hollywood outlet will be converted into a restaurant called Connie and Ted’s, but haven’t yet revealed what the new concept will be like.

Okay, time to sketch out the storyboards….

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