For Michel, helming Johnny Rockets is a nostalgic turn. The former Boston Market CEO, who also leads Friendly’s (a Sun Capital-owned chain as well), started his career at A&W Restaurants as a cook when he was 17. He rose to chief executive and also held roles at Burger King, overseeing operations in the Middle East, Asia, and Canada, and Brinker International as chief operating officer, global markets. Michel directed Boston Market for eight years before retiring in May 2018. It’s a career that stretches nearly 50 years.
“I’m really excited to be back in the burger business,” he says. “They have been my foundation, and I’m really excited to be with Johnny Rockets because I believe it’s a very unique experience and a great product as well.”
Much of Johnny Rockets’ growth in 2019 occurred internationally. It opened 16 locations outside the U.S. to up its total to 178 in 26 countries. The chain debuted new-market stores in Spain and Oman.
Stateside, Johnny Rockets opened net 10 restaurants in 2016 before retracting by 17 and eight locations, respectively, in the ensuing years.
Michel says reigniting domestic expansion boils down to the nontraditional angle. Of Johnny Rockets’ 341 restaurants, about half are counter service. It’s built a model over the years agile enough to fit into a variety of real-estate opportunities. Yet Johnny Rockets succeeds most, to Michel’s point, when customers are already chasing experiences.
“The experience is very important and the fact that you’re in a casino,” Michel says, “you don’t just want to go into a restaurant that serves food. You want to add to the experience. That’s where Johnny Rockets comes in and completes the experience.”