There’s been a whole lot of turmoil at Burger King over the last several years, and that’s been reflected in the chain’s up-and-down status as the world’s second-most ubiquitous burger chain after McDonald’s.
Patrick Doyle wants to put a stop to that and plant the flagship Restaurant Brands International property firmly back in its place for the long term. The executive chairman of RBI has got $30 million of his own money invested in the effort and a five-year contractual commitment to see it succeed.
And Doyle’s got a track record. Over a decade, at the helm of Domino’s, Doyle leveraged an obsessive concern with franchisee health, a warm company culture, honest marketing, product and menu acumen, attention to international operations, and a pioneering mastery of ordering and delivery technology to catapult Domino’s to the No. 1 spot in the pizza industry worldwide.
Also crucially, Doyle believes he’s got an ideal partner and mentee for the challenge in Josh Kobza, the incoming CEO of RBI, who already has served as the chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer in his 11 years with the Toronto-based fast-food operator.
“As an admittedly young CEO, I’m thankful to have this setup,” Kobza told QSR in an exclusive interview. Doyle “is one of the most successful folks who’ve ever operated in this industry.”
Doyle told QSR he’s excited for his allegiance to Burger King’s renaissance. After retiring from Domino’s in 2018, leaving the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based chain at the apex of the pizza industry, he spent a few years with the giant Carlyle private-equity firm but didn’t engage in any major gambits there. Now with RBI, Doyle says, he’s drilling into “some big opportunities to create value here.”
And while RBI also owns Tim Hortons, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, and Firehouse Subs, for Doyle as well as Kobza, Burger King presents the biggest need and focus. The chain recently began clawing back toward greater glory by reimaging its restaurants, placing more of an emphasis on franchisee profitability, and finally jettisoning “the King” mascot in favor of a new advertising campaign, “You Rule,” that brings to mind Burger King’s iconic “Have It Your Way” from the 1970s.
Under an initiative internally called, “Reclaim the Flame,” a reference to the chain’s “flame-broiling” modus operandi, Burger King in the U.S. recently dedicated $400 million to strategic turnaround efforts that include $150 million for advertising and digital investments, restaurant remodelings, operational overhauls, and financial incentives for franchisees that successfully leverage what the company is doing for the brand.
Already overseeing “Reclaim the Flame” is Tom Curtis, who joined RBI in 2021 as head of Burger King’s North American business. As a former long-time executive of Domino’s, Curtis provided an early flavor of what Doyle would bring.
Yet only Doyle has led a quick-service success story of the kind of magnitude that Burger King could offer. When he took over as CEO in 2010, Domino’s was mired in a post-recession rut and needed rebuilding from the ground up. Doyle started with the food quality, himself starring in TV ads in which he admitted Domino’s pizza didn’t taste good.
By contrast, at Burger King, Doyle says, “The food is great, and it starts with the Whopper. It’s a terrific hamburger. And when you get people to try it, or try it again, and it’s well-executed in the restaurants, you’re going to have a customer that will stick with you.” Burger King’s new ad campaign emphasizes the Whopper.
Doyle said that the chain needs better execution in its restaurants and getting buy-in from franchisees is key—the same imperative he used at Domino’s to create momentum that led to sustained success. “We’re putting additional dollars in, and assuming we get franchisees to certain levels of profitability, they’ll pick it up and invest more into the brand in 2025 and 2026,” he says.
Franchisees “felt they needed more operations support and field support,” Kobza says. “We’ve put that in place to drive sales in the right direction. We have a new field-deployment agreement, and now we’re making a lot of investments in advertising.”
“[Sales] have started to move in the right direction,” Kobza adds, “and operator profitability is up by about 40 percent in the fourth quarter [over a year ago]. It’s early, but it’s starting to work.”