Ray Blanchette jumped at the opportunity to land his “dream job.” The industry veteran, who was named chief executive at recently sold Ruby Tuesday in January, is taking the same role at TGI Fridays.
Blanchette started at Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, then parent company of TGI Fridays, as a manager-in-training in the late 1980s. He held roles as vice president of USA Franchise Operations, vice president of operations for the company’s East Division, and executive director of its International Division serving Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
His resume also includes an eight-year run as CEO of Joe’s Crab Shack, where he helped revitalize the brand and took parent company Ignite Restaurant Group public in 2012. He was replaced as CEO of Ignite by Bob Merritt in 2015.
Tilman Fertitta, head of Landry’s Inc., won the bankruptcy court action to take ownership of Ignite’s assets in July 2017 for $57 million after the company filed for bankruptcy. Ignite was created to bring other brands into its portfolio, but struggled to gain traction after its deal with Romano’s Macaroni Grill turned sour. The company sold the then-150-unit Italian chain to Redrock Partners LLC in 2015 for $8 million in cash after buying it for $55 million two years prior.
During Blanchette’s tenure, he developed the Brick House Tap & Tavern concept, and oversaw the rebranding of the company from Joe’s Crab Shack to Ignite.
Other stops include president and chief operating officer of Pick Up Stix, Inc. and a run as CEO of Au Bon Pain starting in June 2016. He was there through Au Bon Pain’s sale to Panera Bread owner JAB Holding Co. in November 2017. Blanchette was named Ruby Tuesday CEO shortly after. Ruby Tuesday was taken private December 21 in a deal with NRD Capital valued at $2.40 per share. The acquisition was first announced October 16 after a lengthy “strategic review” process. The $146 million purchase ($335 million if you include debt) was NRD Capital’s largest to date and resulted in founder Aziz Hashim taking the CEO reins from Jim Hyatt. He then handed them to Blanchette in early January.
“I am privileged to become the CEO of TGI Fridays,” Blanchette said in a statement of the full-circle return. “I have great passion for this brand, and it is my dream job. As we move forward and continue our focus on being the best bar and grill in the world, I see great things ahead for our guests, team members and this company.”
Blanchette steps in for Aslam Khan, who took the CEO job at TGI Fridays in April 2017. He will now shift into a role as vice chairman of the board for the company. Khan previously founded and served as chairman of franchise company Falcon Holdings LLC. He founded the multi-unit company in 1999 in partnership with Sentinel Capital Partners, the majority shareholder of TGI Fridays. Khan is also a franchisee of TGI Fridays.
“My time as CEO has been incredibly rewarding, but this is both the next logical step for me, and the right time to take it. Our foundation is strong, our processes and protocols are sound, and our team is the best in the business,” he said in a statement per the Dallas Business Journal. “I am genuinely proud and pleased to turn over my officer responsibilities to Ray, an outstanding leader whose business acumen, drive and operational knowledge will help lead Fridays in the years to come.”