My first foodservice job was at Wendy’s when I turned 14. I worked at store No. 2 with a number of founder Dave Thomas’ kids. It was really exciting because Wendy’s was a small chain that was growing rapidly. My dad became a franchisee and opened his first unit when I was in college. After four years in public accounting, I came to work for him. We grew it from 13 stores, and today we have 215 Wendy’s.
When Trian Partners acquired Wendy’s, CEO Nelson Peltz asked if I would run the brand, and I did that from 2008 to 2011. We got the business back on track and grew our market share; we actually overtook Burger King. I left at the end of 2011 and was going to focus on fast casual, which I really believe is an emerging segment. But then some investors reached out and asked if I would help them with Sbarro.
I assumed the role of CEO in 2013 and realized the business was very heavily overleveraged. While it had gone through a restructuring a few years earlier, Sbarro had left a lot of debt on the books. We developed a plan for a second restructuring. Sbarro had a broad menu offering, and I felt there was a big opportunity to tighten the positioning around pizza. We eliminated probably 30 or 40 percent of the menu items. I also relocated the company to Columbus, Ohio, which is where I live and where [Karam’s holdings group] Cedar Enterprises is based. We closed about 170 restaurants, shed almost all of our debt, and put the business on very sound financial footing.
At the same time as the restructuring, we were also developing our fast-casual pizza concept called Cucinova. We ended up with two brands in the pizza space: One is what I would call our mainstream quick serve, and the other is our fast casual, which is more premium.
It’s been a very hectic three years, and I feel very proud of the work that our team has accomplished with the Sbarro and Cucinova brands. We’ve attracted a lot of new franchisees and have the brand growing again. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’ve got a very bright future.
A slice of pepperoni pizza; it’s delicious.
I love hamburgers.
My family is at the center. The other two for me are my Catholic faith, and I enjoy golf.
Former Wendy’s CEO Gordon Teter and Pope John Paul II.
Fortitude, patience, and discipline are qualities that are really needed to succeed in this industry. It’s a crowded, competitive industry, and it just takes a lot of fortitude.