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CEO Damola Adamolekun on P.F. Chang’s ‘Channel Agnostic’ Path Forward

Nation’s Restaurant News

The casual-dining chain is planning growth with a smaller To-Go format and refreshed bistros

Damola Adamolekun became CEO of P.F. Chang’s in June 2020 at the height of the pandemic shutdown, after serving on the board as a partner with Paulsen & Co., which acquired the casual-dining chain in February 2019 with TriArtisan Capital Advisors. He believes a “channel agnostic” strategy will be the best path forward for the brand, which is planning growth with a smaller To-Go format and refreshed bistros.

Join us in Denver Oct. 4-6 for CREATE: The Future of Foodservice, where Adamolekun will share more on P.F. Chang’s success as a full-service brand and channel agnostic strategy.

Q. You come from the investment world, so this is your first really hands-on restaurant job, is that right?

DA: I was a server in high school, but, yeah, that's right. I'm an investor and I did this deal because I thought it was a great investment. I thought P.F. Chang's is an awesome brand and I thought it had a ton of potential. It was under managed, under invested. The restaurants hadn’t been remodeled in a while. The food was great, but the experience was lacking. And they hadn’t done enough with off premises, on takeout, delivery and catering.

And obviously that was part of our thesis, there was an opportunity that that could be tapped. So the transition really was from building the strategy as an ownership group, to now implementing it. Which is a meaningful transition, but one that is made easier by the fact that we have an awesome team. I've been involved for a year before taking over the CEO role. I know all the people. I know what we’re trying to achieve. There’s no daylight between ownership and management, because, in this case, I represent both and so that alignment, that focus, has allowed us to execute a lot more effectively.

So you were looking at off-premises opportunities even before the pandemic?

Yeah. Harvard published a case on this, and they published my thesis from 2018. In big bold letters is: “Is the opportunity in off-premises?” So, without getting too much into the investment details, we looked at it and we saw that the industry for Chinese food is like 50/50 on-premises and off-premises. And P.F. Chang’s at the time was like 15%, so it was super underweight in off-premises. We wanted to grow dine-in, and we still thought there was an opportunity to do that. But it was very clear that there wasn’t enough being done on the off-premises side.

Making these investments doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do dine-in well. It just means however the customer chooses to engage — if they want to come to our restaurants and have a birthday party, or if they want to order delivery — they can do either and they’ll have a great experience either way. I want to be channel agnostic. I want to be great at everything, and the consumer can choose how they want to interact with the brand.

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