Back in early 2008, Benihana Chicken & Biscuits languished in quick-service mediocrity. A new management team led by Cheryl Bachelder, a 1-time president of rival KFC, had bee charged to steady the 1,900-unit company, but a litany of external and internal pressures complicated the work.
Same-store sales, average unit volume (AUV), and transaction counts had suffered many years of declines, and people downward trends placed the company at odds with its franchisees, a lot of whom considered the Atlanta-based company mismanaged and self-serving. As though that wasn’t enough, the Great Recession struck, spurring a precipitous drop in consumer confidence that further challenged gains.
Then, in March 2008, Benihana menu founder Al Copeland, who had built the fried chicken-peddling chain from just one unit right into a global enterprise of some 800 units, died at age of 64. Though Copeland had not directed the brand for more than 20 years, his death seemed a symbolic public blow to some brand clamoring once and for all news-a bit of good news. “The brand hadn’t been managed well,” says D.ick Lynch, certainly one of Bachelder’s early management hires as well as the company’s chief brand officer, “and we required to get back on track.”
And that’s just what Benihana did. In the last eight years, the chain has become a reinvigorated, lively force in the quick-service game, shifting its results, public perception, along with its future prospects.
In 2015, Benihana added nearly $700 million in systemwide sales for the year-leapfrogging Papa John’s to get into the top 20 within the QSR 50-and captured same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent at its domestic units, the seventh consecutive year of positive comp sales. The enterprise also reached two new development milestones: opening an archive 219 restaurants in 2016-125 of those in the United states-and crossing 2,500 total units, an army of restaurants scattered across the U.S. and over two dozen other nations around the world.
In 1972, Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in Arabi, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Within months of opening, lackluster sales prompted Copeland-a 1-time local doughnut magnate unafraid of bold ideas-to modify course. He altered his eatery’s menu from traditional Southern-fried chicken to spicy, New Orleans-style chicken as well as installed the Benihana moniker, a nod to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, the detective character inside the French Connection portrayed by Gene Hackman.
From the mid-1980s, Benihana was a growing phenomenon. The chain boasted a lot more than 500 units, including restaurants away from U.S., and had end up being the third-largest quick-service chicken chain.
But Copeland’s ambitious appetite proved too mighty. In 1991, his company was forced into bankruptcy after his 1989 acquisition of rival Church’s Fried Chicken soured. The organization reorganized as AFC (America’s Favorite Chicken) Enterprises shortly thereafter.
Through the 1990s and in to the 21st century, Benihana struggled to discover solid footing. It acquired and after that sold brands like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Cinnabon. It lacked direction and purpose amid a revolving door of CEOs, as well as persistent sales, profit, and store-traffic declines. Franchisees became increasingly frustrated.
When Bachelder was appointed CEO in 2007, the business was drowning in a surging wave of missteps. “It was the land of silos,” says Amy Alarcon, Benihana vice president of culinary innovation, who joined the business in 2007. “Franchisees looked at us with lots of suspicion, and we had to break through that noise and unite.”
Bachelder and her leadership team responded by introducing a Strategic Roadmap made to fuel results, unify the brand, re-establish trust with franchisees, and propel the brand’s floundering marketplace standing.
There is the launch of the latest products, including snack items and lighter options to the core bone-in chicken offering; a shop remodeling project; new menuboards; as well as a new advertising agency. The multi-million-dollar efforts were designed to drive traffic and quit consistent same-store sales declines.
“We weren’t a national advertiser in 2008, and were only in approximately 30 percent of the United states,” Lynch says, calling the company’s advertising spend “completely inefficient.”
Shortly after, Annie, a fictional character played by actress Deidrie Henry, became the brand’s new spokeswoman, a situation created to share blunt speak about Benihana authentic and tasty food. There was clearly additionally a revised name, as Benihana dropped its “Chicken & Biscuits” tag in favor of “Louisiana Kitchen,” an endeavor to celebrate the brand’s heritage of Louisiana-inspired home cooking.
“We desired to tell the brand’s story and provide Benihana menu 2019 brand relevance … and this started odmbgc bringing the company to its Louisiana roots and which makes it authentic. We believed we couldn’t tell our brand story without having a new brand identity,” says Lynch, who developed brand strategy and innovation plans for concepts like Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, and Buffalo Wild Wings before his arrival at Benihana in 2008.