How do you engage employees?
Last fall I toured the country visiting our stores' general managers. Throughout my sessions I always found people who had it figured out.
For example, the idea for our Market Bowls [launched earlier this year] came from one of my visits in New Jersey.
The employees were prepared with the idea, which they felt had wide consumer appeal. It's been a very successful launch for us. It's heartwarming to me that it was our restaurant people that came up with that idea, and we didn't have to hire a marketing company. That's why we're having great success, because our staff believe in the product.
When you engage employees, they get excited about a product. My message to our GMs is: you're it. Each one of you is the CEO of your own little company. You hold the key to our success.
How important is PR?
We believe PR is very important for an iconic brand like ours. We do not have a heavy media spend. When we talk about positive changes and highlight them, we can reach consumers who start to think of our brand as being relevant.
I've always worked for smaller brands and found that PR and word of mouth is the best way to get the brand out there. At the end of the day, we share great stories with our friends when we have a great interaction with the brand.
The fact that we've been on programs such as CNBC and ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer has all stemmed from our PR efforts. It has helped us become relevant again.
What is on the horizon for product offerings?
We're looking at incorporating local products in some markets and we want to offer new side orders that are ethnic or can fit local areas of the US.
We're continuing to look at healthier options, such as quinoa as a side order, and reintroducing bread for all our sandwiches that is ciabatta-style and has less sodium, more vitamin D, and more calcium.