Bennigan’s Franchising Company announced the continued momentum of its legendary brand refresh with the appointments of three key industry leaders.
Mike Understein will lead a new corporate initiative as the vice president of catering operations. Mike Gabriel, Bennigan’s new director of construction and design, will apply his 20-plus years of experience as the company’s footprint expands nationally and internationally. And lastly, Scott Foster assumes the role as chef of record, using his experience to further Bennigan’s commitment to chef-driven food.
"The addition of these three top industry pros to our Green Dream Team is just more proof that Bennigan’s is back, and we’re committed to building an infrastructure to support the remarkable resurgence we began last year,” says Paul Mangiamele, Bennigan’s president and CEO. "It’s not a coincidence that we’ve attracted the best from a variety of disciplines: Mike Understein is top notch in operations, Mike Gabriel is known for creative design, and you don’t get more innovative than Scott Foster with culinary offerings.”
Mike Understein joins Bennigan’s most recently from Panera Bread where he owned, operated, and launched restaurants in new markets and accomplished remarkable catering sales and customer satisfaction wins. Over the course of nearly 15 years, he has held key operations positions at Hard Rock Café and Applebee’s. He will be responsible for launching Bennigan’s aggressive Catering initiative and will work closely with international and training operations teams to achieve success.
With an architecture degree from University of Texas at Arlington, Mike Gabriel started his career at a design firm but is a veteran of the restaurant industry. A pro at team building, Gabriel’s strengths include design, construction oversight and development, and cost and brand management.
Known for his staff training and development expertise, he will be a huge asset as Bennigan’s expands in new markets and acquires new franchisees. He was most recently Development Director for Fogo de Chao, but has also held positions with Rare Hospitality and Ruby Tuesday’s.
Scott Foster brings a rich and varied background to Bennigan’s. With 35 years in the industry, he has held nearly every position from dishwasher to kitchen manager to executive chef, and is now a partner in five of his own restaurants.
Some of his more notable career high points were serving a private six-course meal to the Rolling Stones at his first executive chef position (1989 at Benvenuti in Indianapolis) and being the executive chef of the Eccentric, a Richard Melman and partners (L.E.Y.E.) concept in partnership with Oprah Winfrey.
Foster spent six years with Lettuce Entertain You, was on the chef team that opened the original Maggiano’s Little Italy, and was the first executive chef of Big Bowl, an Asian restaurant that began in Chicago. Foster was also the co-creator and executive chef of Redstone American Grill that now has five locations from Minnesota to Pennsylvania. His deep culinary experience and clear creativity will bring new vitality to Bennigan’s focus on a chef-driven menu.
As part of the company’s aggressive growth plans, Bennigan's has returned to its roots established 36 years ago, “bleeding green” with a determination to provide a legendary experience to every guest, every meal, every day. This resurgence began in 2011 with a brand refresh at the company's two corporate locations and a plan to bring the same menu optimization and service enhancements to future and current franchises including its 33 domestic and 47 international locations.
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