Former Applebee's Leader John Cywinski Named CEO of QDOBA

    The industry veteran said the 740-unit Mexican fast casual has attractive margins and is capable of doubling in size. 

    Fast Casual | January 12, 2023 | Ben Coley
    QDOBA Quesadillas.
    QDOBA
    QDOBA has experienced positive same-store sales for 11 of the past 13 years.

    QDOBA parent Butterfly Equity announced on Thursday former Applebee's president John Cywinski as its new CEO. 

    The appointment is effective immediately. Cywinski will lead Modern Restaurant Concepts, which oversees Modern Market Eatery and Lemonade, in addition to 740-unit QDOBA, which was bought last year

    “The Butterfly team has a compelling and ambitious vision within the restaurant industry that holds great appeal for me,” Cywinski said in a statement. “QDOBA is exceptionally well-positioned, as the number two brand in the Mexican fast casual category, with positive comp sales for 11 of the past 13 years, very attractive restaurant-level margins, broad consumer appeal, and the capacity to double in size over the next decade.”  

    “Modern Market and Lemonade represent contemporary growth engines uniquely positioned in the made-from-scratch, better-for-you, fast-casual space," he added. "They offer truly elite sales volumes and margins, with a remarkably passionate and loyal guest following in their initial geographies of Colorado, Texas, Arizona, and California. All three brands provide best-in-class opportunities for distinguished, proven, and culture-driven franchise partners to expand their portfolios.”

    Adam Waglay, cofounder and co-CEO of Butterfly, described Cywinski as an "exceptional operator and executive with a track record of success in the restaurant space."

    Before this role, Cywinski led Applebee's for six years, implementing a significant turnaround effort. For perspective, same-store sales increased 3.8 percent in the third quarter year-over-year and lifted 16.9 percent against 2019—the best three-year sales performance in the history of parent company Dine Brands, which formed in 2007. Average weekly sales per store were $53,000, which equates to a $2.76 million annualized AUV. When Cywinski returned in 2017, AUV was closer to $2.2 million. Additionally, after closing about 300 under-performing stores in five years, the chain is ready to return to net unit growth in either 2023 or 2024. 

    Cywinski also served as president of KFC for four years, spent time as a franchisee of Dunkin' and Sonic restaurants, and worked as chief marketing officer for Applebee's in the early 2000s. The industry veteran serves on the board of directors for the National Restaurant Association and received IFMA's Silver Plate Award. 

    Keith Guilbault, the former co-CEO of Modern Restaurant Concepts, said he is leaving to pursue other opportunities. Rob McColgan, prior co-CEO, will remain with the company as president of Modern Market and Lemonade.

    “We would like to thank Keith Guilbault for the seven years he spent at the helm of QDOBA stewarding the company through two transactions as well as the COVID crisis,” Butterfly principal Francesco D’Arcangelo said in a statement. “We believe that the business is well-positioned for success, in large part due to Keith’s leadership. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”