The Long John Silver’s Board of Directors announced Blain Shortreed will take the helm as chief executive officer of the country’s largest quick-service seafood restaurant chain. Shortreed joined Long John Silver’s in January 2019 as chief operating officer, responsible for franchise and company operations. In June 2019, he was promoted to president, adding the responsibilities of marketing, human resources and development.
Before joining Long John Silver’s, Shortreed spent 28 years at YUM! Brands in various leadership roles, including managing director of Pizza Hut’s Middle East/North Africa Division, as well as vice president of operations for Pizza Hut USA. In this capacity, Shortreed led operations for more than 6,000 restaurants and spearheaded the brand's World Class Operations initiative.
“We’re excited to have Blain on board to lead our fleet of restaurants into the future,” says Rick Duffy, chairman, Board of Directors, Long John Silver’s. “Since our launch in 1969, Long John Silver’s mission has been to make the unique seafood experience from the coasts accessible to everyone. While our core offerings still enjoy popularity with people across the country, we knew it was time for new investments and leadership to ensure we’re serving treasured moments to every guest, while becoming ‘America’s Favorite Seafood Restaurant.’ Based on the progress we’ve made since Blain came aboard, we’re confident he is the right person to lead this charge of change.”
Shortreed and the Long John Silver’s leadership team have been charting a new course for the brand. The first phase of the plan, which focused on stabilization, began in 2019 and lasted throughout 2020. The second phase, which entails shifting the focus of the brand to revitalization and growth, is set to begin in 2021.
The leadership team and corporate structure were reshaped, and new faces brought a wealth of quick-service restaurant experience, decades of strategic development and plan execution, and expertise from a variety of disciplines. In addition to Shortreed’s rise to CEO, Stephanie Mattingly was promoted to chief marketing officer. Tom Burress entered as vice president of franchise operations, and Christopher Caudill advanced to vice president, marketing. Additionally, with an eye on changes in the consumer journey and experience, supplementary resources were added to support digital innovation and asset development.
With a new team in place, fresh eyes took a hard look at the brand’s position within the greater marketplace. After taking stock of the company’s locations, it became clear it was time to right-size the fleet. Franchised and corporate restaurants no longer financially or operationally viable were allowed to close, enabling investments to be made in areas with more potential and promise for growth.
“We’re moving the brand from surviving to thriving,” says Shortreed. “We’re restructuring the business for growth; reinvesting in assets; strengthening training, development, marketing and technology; and focusing on giving our core consumer—and new customers—a better experience only Long John Silver’s can provide.”
The brand also made strides toward a renewed relationship with its franchisees. Leadership amplified its focus on the importance of the franchisee system, investing in programs to support their growth and success.
“We are confident we will continue to build our relationship with Long John Silver’s as we have in the past year and a half,” adds Chris Walsh, franchisee and franchise association board chairman. “During the pandemic, the leadership team dutifully helped our franchise community navigate some challenging times with regular updates and guidance on crew safety, PPP loans, adjustments in ordering and more. We believe the leadership team’s measured approach to growth is moving the brand in the right direction. The energy and strategic focus they are creating is what we needed, and we are looking forward to our shared success.”
In early 2020, Long John Silver’s was riding the waves of change to its best start in nearly five years. Then COVID-19 entered the United States, and like many restaurants across the country, Long John Silver’s was forced to close in-person dining, causing its drive-thru business to grow from 40 percent to 95 percent of sales. Almost overnight, sales dropped by 30 to 40 percent during the peak Lenten season (which usually brings in the highest sales volumes of the year). Immediately, resources were re-directed to help restaurant teams adapt, with a primary focus of safely serving guests and keeping crew members and managers protected. Instead of letting the headwinds from COVID stifle momentum, Long John Silver’s approached this as an opportunity to push forward at an even faster pace.
Since the moments of being “below sea level” in the early months of the pandemic’s onset, the brand began to experience a recovery in same-store sales. This is largely credited to a swift change of course to focus on the drive-thru business, increasing contactless delivery options, and an expanded emphasis on Family Meal promotions and offerings.
“Our ability to adjust course and enhance our drive-thru and delivery capabilities was the game changer,” says Shortreed. “Both saw a dramatic increase, allowing us to maintain restaurant, team and food safety as a top priority and deliver the flavors and convenience our customers are familiar with.”
Moreover, the brand identified opportunities to provide added support to its communities and crew throughout the course of the pandemic. Long John Silver’s created programs to help franchisees with royalty and advertising relief, provided discounts and contributions to frontline workers, and partnered with No Kids Hungry to help feed kids in need.
While the coronavirus accelerated the company’s transformation, the organization continues to invest in its future. Looking ahead, 2021 has promising plans with additional investments in operations, more culinary options, new mobile ordering, guest rewards programs, restaurant remodels, locations in new communities, and more.
The journey to create "treasured" moments for guests in 2021 begins with the finetuning of operations. Investments include a speed initiative developed to provide Long John Silver’s team members with tools, technology and training to increase the accuracy and swiftness of service.
Menu innovation will also continue to be a focus. While Long John Silver’s is known for craveable fish and fries, guests are also seeking more variety and flavor options. New menu items in 2019 and 2020 became instant classics—especially the launch of a grilled menu lineup featuring Grilled Shrimp and Salmon Meals, Tacos and Rice Bowls. Looking ahead into 2021, plans are underway for additional new offerings, specifically around shrimp, sauces and sides.
In 2020, Long John Silver’s continued to find new ways to make seafood convenient and accessible to all by rolling out delivery with third-party delivery partners. Building off the success of that initiative, Long John Silver’s is set to offer ordering for pick-up and delivery from its own online platform. This launch will drive higher profitability for restaurants, reduce complexity for the crew, and make ordering easier and more affordable for the guests. The company plans to launch the new platform in early 2021.
As the company—and the country—looks forward to eating together again, Long John Silver’s is also upgrading the dining experience for its customers. With new store prototypes and remodels of existing locations, the investments being made into both the interior and exterior of locations across the system are sure to result in an elevated environment for its guests’ seafood experience.
“We are excited about the future for Long John Silver’s. Our focus remains on delivering treasured moments for our customers, creating a positive experience for our crews across the country, and cultivating success for our franchisees and investors,” says Shortreed. “Our destination is ‘America’s Favorite Seafood Restaurant,’ and we are well on our way.”