Restaurant Development & Design

MAY-JUN 2018

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 2 • 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 • M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 8 Peer to Peer By Rebecca Kilbreath Senior Director, Development & Real Estate for Long John Silver's Q&A with Leigh Ann VanDam How did you get your start in restaurant development, and how long have you been with Long John Silver's? LAV: I started my career in restaurant development back in 2003 with the Yum! Brands, now parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Of my 13 years at Yum!, the last 9 years I worked exclusively at Taco Bell as a brand architect, where I worked on a team that ushered new Taco Bell projects through the development process from site selection to restaurant opening. Back when I started with Yum! in 2003, the company owned Long John Silver's and A&W. So I had prior history with Long John Silver's in architecture and design before joining Long John Silver's in 2016 when I came on board as a senior director of development and real estate. Was it interesting to come on board and see how the brand had changed? LAV: You know, it hadn't changed that much. However, when I was last working with Long John Silver's, the big push then was to multibrand. Since then, they have backpedaled a bit and don't see that as a thriving development concept these days. That was the heyday of our multibranding efforts, and while the units are still out there, we don't consider it a driver of new restaurant growth anymore. You will still see cobranded units, but Long John Silver's was sold about seven years ago and is its own company now. A&W was also sold and is also its own company. Let's talk about what's happening at Long John Silver's. This is a long-standing brand, but it hadn't had any recent updates to its prototype — is that right? LAV: Correct. Long John Silver's was founded in 1969, so almost 50 years ago. And in that time, this new image, called True North, is only our third image in 49 years. In 2015, Long John Silver's started hiring a new executive team to turn the brand around. And the executives, who all had strong restaurant backgrounds and experience, knew creating a new image was one of the major ingredients in turning around a restaurant company. They knew that that's what they needed to do. They just didn't have anyone in development to lead that charge, so they hired me. And I started working with other internal teams — the food innovation team and the IT department — because I knew they had their own initiatives they'd been working on such as the grilled menu, base menu upgrades and changes as well as new technology we wanted to incorporate. And we wanted to do this all at once at our new flagship restaurant in Louisville as well as in the remodels we've done up to now. We not only give it an image update, but we also incorpo- rate new menu items, customer service practices, operations processes, and new technology such as the new digital menu boards, which are the first of their kind in the industry. They are digital LED exterior menu boards. The content can be changed out very easily. We haven't used it yet to its full capabilities, but we're able to change out menu items very easily, and LTO [limited-time offer] menu items can be brought on and into the forefront, depending on the store and the demographics of that area. It was especially important for us because we knew it was our one big stab

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