A confused figment of my imagination writes, “Hey, Restaurant Reality Check, how am I supposed to tell fact from fiction in the age of The Onion, the Borowitz Report and KFC’s publicity department? Some of their made-up restaurant stories sound more believable than the real thing. How can a non-cynic know when he’s being fed a whopper?” (signed, Believing It—Or Not?)
I was discussing the very thing yesterday with Henry Kissinger and the Fonz. You just can’t tell these days who’s pulling your leg and who’s merely covering the Republican presidential candidates.
Fortunately for you and your confused peers, Restaurant Reality Check can recount how a few persistent myths were disproved, decidedly, by recent industry developments.
Wall Street firms have a hammerlock on executive compensation outrages. A Friendly source—note the capital “F”—blew that one away. In case you missed reports in mainstream media like The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, the restaurant industry has its own instance of a CEO enjoying big-dollar privileges while the corporate rank-and-file burn their pink slips for warmth.
According to the reports, Friendly’s CEO Harsha Agadi billed the company for $234,000 in day-to-day expenses in the year preceding the restaurant franchisor’s recent bankruptcy filing. The charges didn’t include the $190,000 Agadi submitted for relocation.
The contrast with the plight of Friendly’s workers is what made the story a hot one. More than 600 lost their jobs when some 60 stores closed.
We can also refute at this time that the Fribble lobby has secured a federal bailout for the family chain.
E-mail is killing letter writing. Not in the restaurant business. Hundreds of stationers could pop for a second home this year because of the business they’re reaping from disgruntled shareholders and the chains they’ve targeted for takeover.
This morning, for instance, Cracker Barrel shareholders were sent a letter from CEO Sandy Cochran, spelling out why they should rebuff Sardar Biglari in his attempts to wrest control of the family chain from current management. She countered Biglari’s assertions by explaining the chain’s business-building strategies, point by point.
The communication was in response to an 11-page letter that Biglari sent last week to the same recipients. Taken together, the two missives might have made Cracker Barrel’s shareholders the most informed in the business.
But that’s not the only volley of letters helping the Postal Service. Cosi and Brad Blum, the Olive Garden alumnus who wants to run the fast-casual chain, have stamp dispensers churning as well.
Ditto for the CEO-turned-advisor of Wendy’s, Roland Smith. Recent SEC filings include Smith’s resignation letter, which in turn referenced other missives during the summer. The communications indicate that Smith stepped down because he didn’t want to leave Atlanta, where the chain is currently headquartered. It’s moving back to the suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where it was founded.
Smith has been succeeded as CEO by Emil Brolick, who’s collecting $1.1 million in salary, with the opportunity to earn another $1.6 as a bonus. Smith was in the same ballpark.
Survival has supplanted concept development. According to the conventional wisdom, restaurant companies are too preoccupied with survival to consider the development of new concepts.
Not any more.
The last two weeks brought announcements of new concepts from such celebrated operators as Starbucks (Evolution Fresh Juices), P.F. Chang’s (Pei Wei Asian Market, which of course has nothing to do with Chipotle’s launch of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Market), IHOP (IHOP Express) and Jamba Juice (JambaGo, the juice chain’s riff on an express format).
Okay, enough myth busting for now. In our next installment, we’ll take on Yeti and the promises of restaurant unions.