Dine Brands announced Wednesday that Applebee’s president John Cywinski is stepping down to become CEO of another restaurant.
The casual-dining chain didn’t indicate which brand Cywinski is leaving for. He will be replaced by Tony Moralejo, who serves as Dine’s president of international and global development.
“It’s been an absolute honor and privilege to serve as President of this very special brand,” Cywinski said in a statement. “I’ve truly enjoyed every moment leading this remarkable group of franchise partners and this equally remarkable team over the past six years. I’ll look on with great pride, knowing the brand is stronger than it’s ever been and poised to continue its extraordinary success moving forward.”
Cywinski served as Applebee’s chief marketing officer in the early 2000s before coming back in 2017 to lead the chain’s turnaround effort. Under his watch, the company spent five years shuttering about 300 low-performing stores across the country. The footprint was slimmed to fewer than 1,600 U.S. restaurants and 31 well-capitalized franchisees who’ve been with the brand for years. Now, coming out of COVID, Cywinski said Applebee’s is in its “glory years” and experiencing the best stretch in its history.
Same-store sales increased 3.8 percent in the third quarter year-over-year and lifted 16.9 percent against 2019—the best three-year sales performance in the history of Dine, which formed in 2007. Average weekly sales per store were $53,000, which equates to a $2.76 million annualized AUV. When Cywinski returned in 2017, AUV was closer to $2.2 million. In terms of growth, Applebee’s estimated that it would close 15 restaurants in 2022, the fewest number of closures in a decade. The company is expected to return to net unit growth in either 2023 or 2024.
“John and I share a love and respect for the DNA of Applebee’s, and we are all grateful for his contributions to this great brand over many years,” John Peyton, Dine’s CEO, said in a statement. “Under John’s leadership, Applebee’s has become the vibrant category-leading brand that it is today. John has built a terrific team, delivered unprecedented sales, revitalized marketing and menus, and has strengthened franchisee relationships. I’m confident that Tony and the exceptional franchisees and leadership team at Applebee’s will continue to drive industry-leading growth.”
Moralejo joined Dine in 2020. Beforehand, he worked as an executive for Church’s Chicken, and its international concept, Texas Chicken. He also spent more than 18 years working for Burger King in multiple roles, including vice president and general manager of Latin America and vice president of franchising and development for Latin America.
“Applebee’s is an iconic brand. I’m proud to take on the president role and eager to build on the brand’s great legacy,” Moralejo said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to leading Applebee’s through its next chapter and providing guests even more reasons for Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.”
Scott Gladstone, Dine’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation, will replace Moralejo as president of international and corporate development. He entered the company in 2016.