After rough 2020, Long John Silver’s names new CEO, unveils revitalization plan

Published on
January 19, 2021

After being forced to close some locations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Long John Silver’s plans to come back strong this year, starting with the naming of a new CEO and its unveiling of a revitalization plan.

Blain Shortreed, who joined the Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A.-based restaurant chain in 2019 as chief operating officer, was recently named as the company’s new chief executive officer. Prior to joining Long John Silver’s, Shortreed spent 28 years at YUM! Brands in various leadership roles, including managing director of Pizza Hut's Middle East/North Africa Division, as well as vice president of operations for Pizza Hut USA.

Shortreed is taking the reins just as Long John Silver’s is starting the second phase of its plan to recover from the COVID-19-related setbacks it faced in 2020

In early 2020, Long John Silver’s had its best start in nearly five years, according to a company press release. However, it was forced to close in-person dining at the start of the pandemic, leading to an immediate sales decline of between 30 and 40 percent during the peak Lenten season, which usually brings in the highest volumes of the year, the company said.

After taking stock of the company's locations, “it became clear it was time to right-size the fleet,” Long John Silver’s said. “Franchised and corporate restaurants no longer financially or operationally viable were allowed to close, enabling investments to be made in areas with more potential and promise for growth.”

At the same time, its drive-through business grew from 40 percent of the restaurant chain’s overall sales to 95 percent of sales at the start of the pandemic.

The first phase of the the company’s turnaround plan, which focused on stabilization, began in 2019 and lasted throughout 2020. The second phase, which entails shifting the focus of the brand to revitalization and growth, is set to begin in earnest in 2021, the company said.

"We're moving the brand from surviving to thriving," Shortreed said. "We're restructuring the business for growth; reinvesting in assets; strengthening training, development, marketing and technology; and focusing on giving our core consumer – and new customers – a better experience only Long John Silver's can provide." 

The company said it also made strides toward a renewed relationship with its franchisees.

“Leadership amplified its focus on the importance of the franchisee system, investing in programs to support their growth and success,” it said.

It has reshaped its leadership team and corporate structure and hired executives with a “wealth of quick-service restaurant experience” as well. Stephanie Mattingly was promoted to chief marketing officer, Tom Burress was hired as vice president of franchise operations, and Christopher Caudill advanced to vice president of marketing.

"We're excited to have Blain on board to lead our fleet of restaurants into the future," Long John Silver’s Board Chair Rick Duffy said. "Since our launch in 1969, Long John Silver's mission has been to make the unique seafood experience from the coasts accessible to everyone. While our core offerings still enjoy popularity with people across the country, we knew it was time for new investments and leadership to ensure we're serving treasured moments to every guest, while becoming 'America's Favorite Seafood Restaurant.'”

While it experienced significant losses at the start of the pandemic, Long John Silver’s said the brand experienced a recovery in same-store sales during the year.

"Our ability to adjust course and enhance our drive-thru and delivery capabilities was the game changer," Shortreed said. "Both saw a dramatic increase, allowing us to maintain restaurant, team, and food safety as a top priority and deliver the flavors and convenience our customers are familiar with."

The company will make additional investments in operations and add a new mobile ordering service in 2021. It also has a plan to remodel restaurants.

Menu innovation will also continue to be a focus, the company said.

“New menu items in 2019 and 2020 became instant classics –especially the launch of a grilled menu lineup featuring Grilled Shrimp and Salmon Meals, Tacos, and Rice Bowls,” it said.

It added that in 2021, Long John Silver’s menu innovations will involve shrimp, sauces and sides.

Another initiative the company is taking is adding new options for pick-up and delivery via its on online platform, in addition to its pre-existing third-party delivery partners.

“This launch will drive higher profitability for restaurants, reduce complexity for the crew, and make ordering easier and more affordable for the guests,” the company said.

Photo courtesy of Long John Silver’s  

Contributing Editor

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