Restaurant Development & Design

January-February 2017

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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2 0 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 7 Peer to Peer BY DANA TANYERI, Senior Contributing Editor Q&A with David McDougall, CEO, Back Yard Burgers W hen David McDougall took the reins as CEO of Back Yard Burgers in January 2013, he had his work cut out for him. A pioneer in the "better burger" segment since its founding in 1987 by Cleveland, Miss., grocer Lattimore Michael, the brand had experienced big highs and big lows. By 2007, the year Michael sold it to an Atlanta-based investment group, it had grown to 180 stores, and aggressive expansion plans were in place. But by the end of 2012, Back Yard Burgers was in serious trouble. Internal discord was high, more than 120 stores had closed, franchisee morale had tanked and, ultimately, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankrupt- cy protection. Now, the brand is getting its mojo back. It's marking its 30th an- niversary this year, revenues are rising, a new prototype has been unveiled and McDougall is geared up to grow it again. What attracted you to sign on with a brand that was clearly in trouble? DM: I had done some due diligence on Back Yard Burgers when it was for sale in 2007, so I knew the brand. Even though it had been through some troubled times, I saw a lot of good in it. I also knew that there was a short runway to get things turned around, but I'm always up for a challenge so decided to give it a shot. Fast-forward four years. Can you claim a successful turnaround? DM: We've had some very good suc- cesses. Our immediate goal was to get same-store sales growing again in both corporate and franchised units. In the first two months after I joined we were down 7 to 8 percent, but by the second half of 2013 — and in 2014 and 2015 — we achieved double-digit sales in- creases. We have undertaken a rebrand- ing initiative and introduced our first new prototype design, so we're pretty excited about where things stand today. What were the most important moves made to right the ship? DM: One of the first things I did was to sit down with the founder, Lattie Michael, over dinner and a scotch. He has no involvement anymore but is still a regular customer and cares a lot about the brand so was happy to share his insights. It was very clear to me that there were three things I needed to focus on right away. One was restaurant-level economics, another was rebuilding relationships and trust with franchisees, and the third was food. There had been changes made to some of the signature products, from the fries to the burger patty. So we went back and refocused. On my first visit out to talk with our GMs, I asked them, "If there's one thing I can do that you believe would help jump-start sales, what would that be?" They said, "Bring back seasoned fries, and we'll bring customers back." Within three weeks, we had seasoned fries back on the menu and, almost from that point, things began to show improvement. You've since undertaken significant re- branding. What was the basis for that? DM: We did a major brand architecture study that included all of the constituen- cies involved with the brand: ownership, employees, senior management, ven- dors and, most importantly, customers. Through a series of focus group panels

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