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Monday, April 15, 2013

'Bleeding Green' Will Be Key To Bennigan's Turnaround

There may be no more difficult task in business than bringing a company back from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Liquidation usually relegates not only an enterprise, but also its brands, to the dustbin of corporate history because consumers, as well as executives and employees, simply move on.

But those who counted out the Bennigan's restaurant chain once it failed in 2011 didn't reckon with the skills of an accomplished and motivated executive who wanted to resuscitate the brand, and -- perhaps most important -- they underestimated the potential of employee engagement.

"There are no boundaries that can be set on a team that is so passionate and committed to a brand that nothing becomes an obstacle," Paul Mangiamele told us.

These days, he's out justifiably touting the story of the iconic restaurant brand that was given up for dead but since reinvented, reopened with 85 restaurants and aiming for a total of 200 outlets of the new Bennigan's within five years. Mangiamele also just wrote a book about the experience so far, Bennigan's Return to Relevance ... Bleeding Green 25/8.

Mangiamele said the previous owners were "poor custodians of the brand" because they didn't continually reinvent Bennigan's, which actually was one of America's first casual-dining chains when Norm Brinker launched it in 1976. He has led a process of refreshment, renewal and reinvention of Bennigan's over the last two years.

And while important components of the rebirth have included a new, simple, one-page menu; competitive pricing; completely new restaurant design; and pioneering initiatives such as small Bennigan's On the Fly locations in non-traditional locations such as cruise ships, Mangiamele insisted that a commitment to engage employees in the new Bennigan's has been "the most important thing."

That's what he means by "bleeding green," which Mangiamele has fostered as part of a new culture at Bennigan's. He defines it as the passion, work ethic and commitment to deliver unparalleled service not just 24/7 but "25/8."

"The most important thing we've done is galvanize the franchisee and their teams and even our supplier partners," Mangiamele told us. "We need to have a mission and a purpose and have it be succinctly stated. It's not only our formula but that which we live by: Our mission is the creation of a legendary brand experience, not just some of the time, and not just by one shift or manager or franchisee, but for every guest and every meal."

That's a great goal, and one which will engender the enthusiasm of Bennigan's new employees and managers quite easily at the beginning. But the key to creating the brand anew will be if Mangiamele and his cohorts and franchisees can continue to harness the enthusiasm of their staffs over the long term.

In other words, it might be easy to "bleed green" for a while. But you've got to keep the flow going indefinitely, and that requires a fundamental devotion to harnessing employee engagement.

We'll see if Bennigan's can do it.

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