Potbelly announced Monday that Robert D. Wright will be its new president and CEO, replacing Alan Johnson.
The brand did not indicate why Johnson—who was hired in December 2017—left the company. In an SEC filing, Potbelly said Johnson was “separated from his officer and director positions with the Company” as of Monday.
Wright has more than three decades of experience in the industry, including most recently as EVP and COO of Wendy’s, where he oversaw operations for more than 6,000 units in the U.S. and Canada. While at Wendy’s, the industry vet created the burger chain’s operations strategy, Delight Every Customer, established the first Customer Experience Department, and led comp sales and unit growth in the Canada and international divisions.
He’s also worked at Charley’s Philly Steaks, Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, and Domino’s. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Letourneau University.
"Potbelly is a great brand, with a rich history and tradition of high-quality food made fresh for every customer in a unique and warm sandwich shop environment,” Wright said in a statement. “Despite the challenges the current environment brings, I am confident that the core strengths of the Potbelly brand are exactly the qualities that make a successful, growing brand and company. I am excited to apply my experience and skills working shoulder to shoulder with the Potbelly team and the board of directors to return the brand to growth.”
The restaurant said Wright’s main focus will be accelerating its turnaround efforts, including the guest experience, brand positioning, and cost structure and asset base.
The pandemic placed a significant burden on Potbelly, which said in May that it’s considering the closure of up to 100 stores.
However, the chain has seen consistent recovery in sales. In June, Potbelly said that its same-store sales were declining in the mid-20 percent range after a nearly 70 percent drop in March. Potbelly is currently undergoing a turnaround strategy called Project Aurora, which includes a consolidated menu and a move from discount-based promotions to product-based promotions.
"We are thrilled to welcome a new leader with extensive restaurant operating experience," said Joe Boehm, Potbelly’s lead director, in a statement. "Bob’s ability to quickly identify and leverage brand strengths, as well as his substantial operations expertise, make him uniquely equipped to lead Potbelly during this critical time for our Company. He drove dramatic improvement in guest satisfaction at Wendy’s, and Potbelly will greatly benefit from his vision, leadership, and drive to successfully transform our business. Bob also completed a transition of 1,100 company restaurants to franchise ownership during his time at Wendy’s, and we expect to leverage this experience as we return to system growth.”
In a filing, Potbelly shared it would pay Wright a base salary of $1 for the period commencing on his hire date through June 30, 2021 and an annual base salary of $650,000 for the remainder of the term. Wright will receive a cash sign-on bonus of $400,000 payable on July 1, 2021 subject to his continued employment and earlier vesting in the event of his termination for certain reasons after December 31.
Wright’s Executive Employment Agreement also provides, among other things, that: he is eligible to receive a discretionary bonus for each calendar year beginning with calendar year 2021, based on satisfaction of performance conditions as determined in the sole discretion of the company’s Board of 60 percent of his Annual Base Salary at the threshold level of performance, 115 percent of his annual base salary at the target level of performance, and 200 percent of his annual base salary at the maximum level of performance.