FIC Restaurants, the operator of Friendly’s, named industry veteran George Michel its interim chief executive officer, the company announced Thursday. Michel replaces former Panera Bread executive John Maguire, who is leaving the chain after six years to accept another job in the restaurant industry. He told MassLive he would reveal where at a later date.
Maguire served as executive vice president and chief operating officer at Panera before joining Friendly’s in April 2012. He arrived just four months after Friendly’s emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The brand filed for bankruptcy the previous October and had closed a total of 100 underperforming stores, including 40 in its homebase of Massachusetts, in an effort to improve business operations. The bankruptcy cleared $297 million in debt.
Friendly’s had 254 restaurants at the time (121 company run), and is currently down to 230 stores evenly split between corporate and franchised. The brand hopes to add five to 10 new locations by 2019. There are 7,000 employees.
Friendly’s, Johnny Rockets, and Boston Market are owned by investment firm Sun Capital Partners. Founded in 1935 in Springfield, Massachusetts, by Brothers S. Prestley and Curtis Blake as Friendly (the apostrophe-s was added later), the company was sold to Hershey Foods in 1979 and changed hands a few times before becoming an independent corporation. Sun Capital purchased Friendly’s in 2007 for $337.2 million.
The chain has made several key changes since, including updating its design, launching drive thrus in many stores, bringing in the Friendlier Prices menu, and improving brand positioning in the marketplace.
“It has been an incredible thrill to lead such an iconic New England brand,” Maguire said in a statement. “Friendly’s is a big part of who I am. The spirit of the organization, the people who I have had the pleasure of working with, and the great customers who keep coming back—those are all reasons why Friendly’s is so special.”
Maguire is also leaving his job as CEO of Johnny Rockets Group. Mike Nolan, who was serving as its president for more than a year, is taking over.
Michel previously worked as CEO of Boston Market Corporation, a job he held since October 2010. He led the implementation of the “America’s Kitchen Table” initiative—a nationwide update that included refreshing units and improving service. Before, Michel led Timothy’s Coffees of the World, Inc., as CEO. He was also the chief executive at A&W Restaurants. Prior roles include overseeing international operations at Burger King Corporation in the Middle East, Asia, and Canada, and also as chief operating officer, global markets at Brinker International.
Friendly’s, which has locations across 14 states and has a strong CPG presence with ice cream products in grocery stores nationwide, said Michel has been working closely with Maguire and the Friendly’s executive team as an adviser since May. He will oversee all business operations for the company until a permanent CEO is chosen.