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Paul Mangiamele, President & Chief Executive Officer, Bennigan’s Franchising Company

Since taking the helm at Bennigan’s in2011, Paul Mangiamele has championed several game-changing initiatives aimed atrevolutionizing the casual dining category and bringing the iconic brand backto its Legendary status. As chronicled in his 2013 book, Bennigan’s Return to Relevance: Bleeding Green 25/8, Paul hashelped transform the organization through a focus on chef-driven food,innovative drinks and a commitment to delivering memorable dining experiencesto every guest, every meal, every day. As of mid-2014, Bennigan’s has signedfranchise agreements in place that will more than double the chain’s sizeworldwide over the next few years.

During his30-year career, Mangiamele has served as President & CEO of Salsarita’sFresh Cantina; President & CEO of Dalts Classic American Grill; VicePresident of Business Development for Carlson Companies; and Executive Vice Presidentand COO at Sport Clips. Mangiamele is a frequent guest on local and nationaltelevision programs, and is in high demand as a business speaker and turnaroundexpert.

Please answerthe following questions:

1.Tell us about the Bennigan’s concept. 

Bennigan’sis a high-energy neighborhood restaurant and tavern that is redefining casualdining. We focus on chef-driven food, innovative drinks and warm, friendlyIrish Hospitality, and our commitment is to deliver memorable diningexperiences to every guest, every meal, every day. There’s no restaurant that’sever captured the essence of Legendary Irish hospitality like Bennigan’s, and that’swhy I think people are so happy when they hear that we’re back.

2.How and when did you become involved with Bennigan’s?

Iwas hired as CEO in the spring of 2011 with the charge to lead the brand backout of bankruptcy and to make Bennigan’s relevant again. Since then, myoutstanding team and I – working with dozens of exceptional franchise partnersaround the world – have built our chain back up to nearly 100 restaurants, withmany more in the pipeline both domestically and overseas.

3.What are some of the advantages in being a Bennigan’sfranchisee?

Firstoff, we provide an intensive, eight-week training course for all newfranchisees and their managers.  Everyoneis immersed in our operational processes, culture, food preparation and otherproprietary practices. Once this is complete, our franchisees are ready to hitthe ground running.  From that point on,our outstanding corporate team provides on-going support from marketing tooperations to employee training, and more.Ask any of our franchisees and they’ll tell you…we do it right.

4.Who is your ideal franchisee?

Welook for franchisees that buy into our vision of providing memorable diningexperiences to every guest, every meal, every day.  We expect them to “bleed green 25/8,” whichmeans they must truly live Bennigan’s.I’m not talking about the same old tired 24-hours-a-day,seven-days-a-week metaphor.  It’s biggerthan that – it’s all day, every day, and then some, so that you do whatever ittakes to make the brand succeed. That, above all else, is what we look for inprospective franchisees.

5.Tell us a little about the Casual Dining Industry?

Conventionalwisdom among today’s restaurant industry pundits is that casual dining chainsare destined for the history books, squeezed out of themarketplace by polished casual brands from above and upstart fast casualconcepts from below.

Bennigan’s begsto differ.

Weintroduced consumers to casual dining nearly 40 years ago, and we’ve recentlyreturned to our roots to redefine the segment. With our dedication toinnovative, chef-driven food, signature cocktails and Legendary guestexperiences, Bennigan’s has differentiated itself from our competitors andcarved out a successful niche in today’s restaurant landscape.

We arethe antithesis of today’s casual dining brands that are resorting togimmickry to drive traffic. Rather than cutting back on quality and raisingprices, we take pride in continuing to serve up ourmade-from-scratch Irish Tower O’Rings, World Famous Monte Cristos,Turkey O'Tooles and other signature items that our guests have always loved.We’ve held the line on prices and never compromised on our guest service.

6.What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing thisfranchise?

Firstoff, when you serve freshly made food and drinks in ample portions,there’s no need to sacrifice your integrity with all-you-can-eat stunts orexcessive couponing, as some of our competitors are doing. Customers willremain loyal if you stay true to your brand and give them amemorable dining experience every meal, every day. That includes thedelivery of excellent service, something that has slipped in most full servicebrands. Our value proposition is arguably the best in casual dining because ourfocus is on the experience, not the transaction.

It’salso imperative that you treat your franchisees as partners, because thecompany’s success is contingent on their success. Go over-and-above ontraining, corporate guidance, marketing support and anything else they need.It’s rough on the front lines, and every local market is different. Recognizethat, be responsive to that, and you’ll form a mutually rewarding partnership.

Finally,be constantly reinventing – whether that be refreshing your menu, remodellingolder locations, or challenging your staff and franchisees to think outside thebox. The restaurant industry is as cut-throat as they come.

Our franchisees are galvanized byour positive and open communication, world-class support, collective andparticipative leadership and a keen focus on continuously improving ourmarketing, operations, supply chain, menu, unit economics and profitability.

7.Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use forinspiration?

That wouldhave to be Norman Brinker, who founded Bennigan’s in 1976. He was a seasonedrestaurateur who had a vision to take advantage of what he perceived to be anopportunity between fine dining and fast food. At the time, there was a hugeseparation between the fast food, low-cost players, such as McDonald’s, Burger Kingand Wendy’s, and the full service, fine-dining players like Morton’s, Spago andthe French Laundry. There were a few independents in this space, but not manychain players. Norman’s idea was to bring families into the dining equationrather than just focus on the bar traffic. He’d keep the moneymaking aspects ofthe full bar but within the atmosphere of a full-service restaurant with a fullmenu that offered something for every member of the family. From this vision,Bennigan’s was born.  Norman also went onto lead Chili’s, On The Border and several other successful concepts.

I havealways admired Norman’s vision, his willingness to move into unchartedterritory, his tenacity and his focus on providing great service to his guestsand great support to his franchisees. Under his stewardship, Bennigan’s grew tobecome a 400-restaurant chain. I would love to take our Legendary brand to thatlevel again.

8.What advice do you have for someone looking to acquirea Franchise?

Do yourhomework, speak directly to the CEO and his or her executive team and ask lotsof questions. Make certain that the franchisor takes the investment of yourhard-earned money very seriously and will work hard to deliver compellingreturns on that investment.  

In addition, try to determine if senior management, including the CEO,was ever a franchisee and has had the experience of investing his or her ownmoney. Nothing speaks louder than having one's own money at risk to indicatethe level of respect the stewards of the brand have for their franchisees.

9.In your opinion, why do you think that Bennigan’s would be a greatopportunity for someone?

How much space do wehave?

Firstof all, there’s an intense passion and nostalgia for our brand. Virtuallyeveryone I meet has fond memories of Bennigan’s, and most of them neverunderstood why we went away in the first place. Now that we’re steadily comingback, and “returning to relevance,” the public response has been terrific.

Wehave so many exciting things going on, it’s hard to pinpoint one. For example,we’re very excited about our growth plans both here in the U.S. and around theworld. Also, we just beefed up our corporate team with several world-class prosboasting more than 70 years of collective experience. We hired them to help usnavigate this new period of growth without missing a beat.  We’ve added to our already-extensiveexpertise in training, customer service, operations and supply chain/logistics.We hired an outstanding new executive chef, and aligned with a cutting-edgearchitectural firm that will assist our franchisees as they open the nextgeneration of Bennigan’s restaurants featuring our revolutionary new prototypedesign.

We’renot kidding around when we say Bennigan’s is in the business of redefiningcasual dining, and we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to ourgrowth potential.  With every grandopening, more and more exceptional restaurant operators contact us aboutfranchising opportunities.  It’s avirtuous cycle; and the best part is, all those people who loved Bennigan’syears ago are getting a chance to come back and experience our great food and friendlyIrish hospitality again.