Four units permanently closed during the pandemic.
Just a week after Punch Bowl Social founder and CEO Robert Thompson announced his departure, the eatertainment brand said former Garden Fresh Restaurants CEO John Haywood has become its new leader.
Haywood made the move three months after his previous company, the parent of buffet-style concepts Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May. The COVID pandemic forced the chain to permanently close all 97 units and surrender its assets.
He served as CEO of Garden Fresh for nearly three years. Prior to that, he worked as an independent restaurant industry acquisition and restructuring specialist for 12 years.
“We are fortunate that our management team, lender, vendors, and landlords are all working together to reopen Punch Bowl Social locations and ensure a strong future for our concept," Haywood said in a statement. “There are both challenges to be solved and significant opportunities to be realized in the next phase of Punch Bowl Social’s journey.”
Haywood will be expected to revitalize Punch Bowl, which closed its 20 locations and laid off most of its staff at the beginning of the pandemic. Launched in 2012, the eatertainment chain blends activities, including shuffleboard, ping-pong, bowling, pinball, and Skee-Ball with food specialties like pan-fried pork chops and chicken and waffles.
In July 2019, Cracker Barrel purchased a majority interest in Punch Bowl Social. However, in March, Cracker Barrel decided to take a $133 million hit and cut ties with the chain. The company explained that it wanted to concentrate on its core business and cited uncertainty around Punch Bowl’s viability after the COVID-19 pandemic. Several weeks later, Sardar Biglari, who owns 2.1 million shares, or 8.6 percent of Cracker Barrel, criticized the move and called for an investigation in a letter addressed to Cracker Barrel CEO Sandy Cochran.
Four units have permanently closed amid the crisis due to disagreements with landlords. Three stores in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Denver have reopened and the 13 remaining stores are on track to reopen by the end of September. The Denver Business Journal reported that after six months, Haywood will work on growth options and finding investors because CrowdOut, a non-bank lender for middle-market companies, doesn’t plan to maintain ownership forever. However, the lender is committed to putting more funds into the chain and helping stabilize the business.