Charlotte-based Bojangles’ Inc. doesn’t need major changes, incoming CEO Clifton Rutledge said Friday, because the core menu of chicken, biscuits and sweet tea is powering the company to steady growth.
Rutledge told the Observer that Bojangles’ is on track to reach the $1 billion mark in sales for the first time this year. Rutledge said he plans to continue the company’s strategy of growing in its core Southeastern markets, rather than expanding more rapidly to far-flung locales.
“When you get national, you try to be all things to all people. That’s difficult,” said Rutledge, a native of Mountain Home, Ark. The 30-year restaurant industry veteran has held posts at KFC and TCBY. His most recent job was chief operations officer of the 740-unit Whataburger chain, a regional restaurant group based in San Antonio.
“The culture you’ve got more in regional chains is something that hits me, something I’m excited about with Bojangles’,” Rutledge said. He recounted a recent Whataburger opening that drew a crowd of 100 waiting in line. “You just don’t get that necessarily with more national chains.”
Rutledge said he believes “not getting out of your footprint” is an important concept for a regional company.
Bojangles’ was founded in Charlotte in 1977 and has passed through a number of different ownership groups. Boston-based private equity firm Advent International bought a controlling stake in Bojangles’ in 2011.
The company expanded rapidly in the 1980s, with locations in New York and other states outside its home base. Eventually Bojangles’ ran into trouble and shrank, falling to fewer than 200 locations.
Bojangles’ still has three restaurants in Honduras, a vestige of the earlier expansion push.
Since then, Bojangles’ has rebounded. The company now has about 575 stores in 10 states and plans to open 55 more this year, Rutledge said. The stores will be a mix of franchised and corporate locations.
“We want to grow smart, and grow in the right communities,” he said.
Bojangles’ had sales totaling $870 million in 2012, up from $575 million in 2007. The majority of its restaurants are in the Carolinas.
Rutledge takes the helm Jan. 27. Current CEO Randy Kibler will become chairman of the company’s board of directors.
Rutledge said he doesn’t anticipate any major menu overhauls. While other fast-food companies have added menu items and diversified – think McDonald’s smoothies and frappes – Bojangles’ has largely relied on its core items.
“I think that’s important: Do what you do and do it well,” Rutledge said.
Over the past few months, fast-food workers and labor organizers have staged protests across the nation, asking for higher pay. Many restaurant workers receive minimum wage, and President Barack Obama has said the federal minimum wage should be raised.
Rutledge said he doesn’t know the average pay for people working at Bojangles’, but he’s keeping an eye on the issue.
“It’s an important job, especially the front counter, as well as the kitchen,” he said. “We’ll wait to see what the government mandates, for lack of a better word.”
Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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