At first glance, the departure of Tim Pulido from the CEO post at Shakey's USA — after less than two years on the job — seemed to be another sad chapter in the tale of a company whose best days were long past.
Pulido, who left Shakey's at the beginning of December to take over as president of Mimi's Café, was the 14th person to hold the top Shakey's position in the past 17 years. However, the company is still on a path to revitalization, said Joe Remsa, who was appointed Shakey's interim president and CEO following Pulido's departure.
Remsa had been serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the company since Shakey's franchisee Jacmar Cos. bought the company from Singapore-based Inno-Pacific Holdings in 2004.
"Tim came in and we focused a lot on defining who we were as a brand and understanding that brand as our customers saw us," Remsa said. "We are executing on the strategy we developed."
Shakey's currently has four restaurants under construction: franchise locations in Auburn, Ala., and Fontana Calif., along with corporate restaurants in Palmdale Calif., and Oceanside, Calif.
The company plans to finish remodeling its 15 corporate stores and 10 franchise stores by the end of the year, Remsa said, and will break ground on another corporate store in Temecula, Calif., in the first quarter of 2008.
The Shakey's board is currently undergoing a search for Pulido's replacement and Remsa also is a candidate for the spot.
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Despite Pulido's sudden departure, there aren't any hard feelings, Remsa said.
"We all love Tim, but this was a good move for him," Remsa said. "We have assembled a group of real veterans here, so it's business as usual."
Defining the brand
At its peak, Shakey's operated close to 400 restaurants around the United States. Numerous ownership changes took its toll on the brand, however, and by the time the 19-unit franchisee Jacmar Cos. bought the company in 2004 there were fewer than 70 Shakey's in operation, mainly in California.
When Pulido, a 14-year Pizza Hut veteran, was appointed CEO of Shakey's in February 2006, one of his first tasks was to identify the strengths of the Shakey's brand. The company's main strength, he concluded, was the brand's near-universal awareness.
"There is an enormous amount of warmth and nostalgia, and fond memories, about the brand that people tap into," Pulido told Pizza Marketplace earlier this year. "It is amazing. Everyone has got a Shakey's story."
Pulido discussed the future of the Shakey's brand at the 2007 Fast Casual Executive Summit. As the Summit's keynote speaker, he defined the new Shakey's as "family fast-casual," with an emphasis on food first and entertainment second.
Some of the changes instituted during Pulido's tenure included an updated logo and color scheme. And game rooms in new locations that are separated from the dining room by a glass wall. Other changes were a revamped menu that included the addition of gourmet salads, sandwiches and pizzas, while retaining old favorites such as Mojo potatoes and the "Bunch of Lunch" buffet.
Earlier this year, the company unveiled four remodeled restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Sales at the upgraded restaurants increased about 20 percent, Pulido told Pizza Marketplace.
Those changes will continue to be part of the company's strategy.
"We are going to re-evaluate as we open new corporate and franchise restaurants," Remsa said. "When you open a new restaurant you tend to get a new look at how the customer uses you. We are gong to get some interesting feedback by looking at how the customer reacts as we open those new stores."