Home / News / Strategy / Arby’s CEO done a $2.9 billion gamble on Buffalo Wild Wings — here’s his devise to save the struggling chain

Arby’s CEO done a $2.9 billion gamble on Buffalo Wild Wings — here’s his devise to save the struggling chain

Paul Brown Arby's CEO
As conduct of the newly
finished Inspire Brands, Paul Brown is tasked with holding lessons
from his turnaround of Arby’s to other struggling dining

Hollis Johnson/Business

  • We spoke with the former Arby’s CEO Paul Brown the day
    after he was announced as the CEO of Inspire Brands, a holding
    company for Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and R Taco.
  • Brown has stepped back from Arby’s, which is doing
    well, to concentration essentially on branch around Buffalo Wild
  • Over the prolonged term, Inspire will concentration on restaurant
    brands in need of repositioning.
  • There will not be menu crossover among brands, but best
    practices will be shared.
  • Brown pronounced Inspire would sojourn private, to its
  • He has plans to grow Buffalo Wild Wings without
    implementing a call of closings.

Paul Brown so effectively revitalized Arby’s given holding over as
CEO in 2013 that the fast-food brand’s primogenitor company has placed
him at the helm of a new holding company dedicated to replicating
that success.

On Feb 5, Roark Capital named Brown CEO of the newly created
and secretly held Inspire Brands, which includes Arby’s, Buffalo
Wild Wings, and the informal sequence R Taco.

Roark concluded a understanding to squeeze Buffalo Wild Wings last November
for $2.9 billion. Brown and his group are tasked with applying
their learnings from branch around Arby’s and to repeat the
routine over the prolonged term with future brands.

We sat down with Brown a day after the proclamation and had an
in-depth review about his new role and how the news would
impact business opposite the US.

The following was edited for length and clarity.

The devise to spin around Buffalo Wild Wings

buffalo furious wings
are no plans for national food crossovers between Arby’s and
Buffalo Wild Wings.


Kate Taylor: Are you going to make Buffalo Wild
Wings some-more like Arby’s, or are you going to double down on the
things that make them different?

Brown: We wish to double down on what creates them
different, but we wish to share some learnings between them.

QSR [quick service restaurants] is a lot some-more product-development
intensive, and a lot some-more of what we’ve finished for Arby’s has been
on product development. There’s been lost product expansion at
Buffalo Wild Wings over time, partially since infrequent dining to
date has not finished as much of it, but what we were means to do is
take the processes — not the products — we went through. We have
a very systematic proceed for product expansion in Arby’s. We
do artistic briefs, do patron research, work with suppliers,
test, and learn operationally. All that.

We can bring that methodology to Buffalo Wild Wings, but they’re
serve along in takeout, delivery, mobile ordering, and other
technologies, which creates clarity in infrequent dining. So we were able
to precedence that.

Taylor: There are some Buffalo Wild Wings
business who are wondering, “OK, what does this meant for me
right now?”

Brown: Nothing.

We’re doing something fun this week, a little bit of a mash-up
between Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, but in New York only. This
just came about by a ubiquitous manager who, during a QA in
Denver, pronounced he was vehement about the partnership because, he said,
“I’ve combined this new salsa — it is a mash-up of Horsey Sauce
and Asian Zing sauce.”

But as many requests as we’ve already gotten for curly fries in
Buffalo Wild Wings, and we’ve gotten a lot of them, and a little
reduction ask for duck wings in Arby’s, we’re not going to do

Though there were a few products we tried for Arby’s that just
weren’t right for several reasons, and maybe they would be right
for Buffalo Wild Wings.

Taylor: Beer at Arby’s — is it going to happen?

Brown: It’s not easy to do in a QSR environment,
but I’m looking at it — in places like Manhattan, for example,
where it’s all walk-ins. we would like to find a way of learning
and seeing if it can be done.

But others do it, Buffalo Wild Wings does it, so we’re looking
brazen to it. And they actually have a fast-casual judgment that
they’re contrast right now, and that will be engaging to see
how that works too.

Replicating Arby’s success

Paul Brown  arbys
After apropos the CEO of
Arby’s in 2013, Brown went on a six-month “listening tour” with
franchisees opposite the US.


Richard Feloni:
When you took over Arby’s, you got really hands-on, touring
the country speaking to franchisees. Are you going to be means to
do that with Buffalo Wild Wings?

Brown: we am. we did some tours of markets with
ubiquitous managers and teams. I’ve already met in person the big 12
franchisees of Buffalo Wild Wings, spent a day and a half with
them. we will be spending another day with the pivotal franchisees. We
get all of the franchisees and the operations teams together in
DC in March, so that will be a good event to get in front
of a lot of people.

I’m going to take the same proceed as much as we can. I’m a very
visible and experiential person, and when I’m meditative about where
the code can be and what it can do, it’s just getting out there
and asking a lot of questions: What about this? What’s worked
here? What happens when the restaurant’s full? What happens when
you get a lot of delivery orders? Is this table in the right
place? All that kind of things that you can’t really get your
hands around when looking at reports.

Feloni: Are you already training things from
these talks on where you need to be headed?

Brown: Yeah, I’ve actually finished some of my
hypotheses around the building pattern when it comes to
delivery and takeout, food and sequence flows, and positioning in
the bar.

These are not my ideas — these are operators saying, “You know,
this is where we actually have an event to drive up our
business if you suspicion about it this way,” or, “We have some
hurdles in this pattern seating families during the

These kinds of things just don’t come out when you’re looking at
reports. You need to walk around and ask a lot of questions, so
it’s already helped me as we’re meditative about it, and we’re just
starting to work on the code positioning with some of the work
we creatively did with Arby’s.

I’m a little some-more stretched than we was 4 years ago at Arby’s,
but this is where I’ve been spending a little some-more of my time.

Taylor: What does your role demeanour like as the
conduct of Inspire? When you supplement some-more brands, can you continue being

Brown: If the brands are in opposite stages,

With Arby’s, it’s taken us years to build a good group and find a
good conduct of Arby’s brand, who is the arch selling officer
[Rob Lynch]. And now it’s vouchsafing him and the group govern the
vision, then lobbing in a few questions to make certain we’re
handing things off. It’s the right theatre for that.

With Buffalo Wild Wings, we’ll be much some-more hands-on as we define
the positioning, lay the groundwork, and set clarity on where
we’re going.

What’s opposite this time, too, is that we’re structuring a
primogenitor company and meditative about how to classify that for future

Feloni: It’s environment up the processes for how
this is going to continue in the future? Then when Buffalo Wild
Wings reaches a certain point, you can step back.

Brown: Yeah, so then it depends on the kinds of
brands we buy. Most of them will substantially be in some theatre of
being in need of a repositioning. We like brands that are great
brands, that have left by a duration of good success, and may
be in a proxy duration with a little bit of a challenge, where
there’s an event to come in and get it back on a path.

we wouldn’t call it essentially “turning around.” we would call
it repositioning. So you can see a intonation of those over time.

Fixing Buffalo Wild Wings in the prolonged term

buffalo furious wings
Brown pronounced Buffalo Wild
Wings unsuccessful to innovate after enjoying success in the early


Taylor: What do you consider is the many crucial
thing that needs to be repositioned for Buffalo Wild Wings?

Brown: Well, we’re still early stages. we think
that if you demeanour back when Buffalo Wild Wings was really
successful, it was the only one out there doing what it was
doing. We had a nationalized internal sports bar, and then more
foe has come in, and we consider that some of that
foe has been a little bit some-more innovative. There’s an
event to figure out the 21st-century incarnation of what
finished it so successful during the early 2000s.

It’s a identical kind of story with Arby’s. It went by this
duration of furious success for many decades and hit some bumps in the
road. Part of it was that the universe started moving divided from it
and it didn’t indispensably locate up. It doesn’t meant branch your
back on its birthright and what finished it good — it just means
anticipating the complicated incarnation of that essence.

So it’s a identical thing, but not scarcely as big of an issue with
Buffalo Wild Wings as it was with Arby’s. And then what comes
from that? There will apparently be some changes to the menu,
experience, and marketing. we consider the routine and the mind-set
of how we went about it is accurately how we’re going about it with
Buffalo Wild Wings, too.

And it’s bringing the franchisees along with us.

Taylor: Do you consider being a private company,
generally as a company that’s in need of a comeback, gives you a
certain freedom?

Brown: It helps. What I’m about to contend could be
finished by a open company, but if you’re a smaller company with a
singular brand, there’s a lot some-more inspection on every move. What
this requires is a bit of a calm with the process.

If you go too quick in this process, utterly up front, and
you don’t bring the employees and the franchisees along, you lose
them. Then you start doing things really quickly, and you start
doing things and you don’t know where it comes from.

We’re not rushed. I’m not worried about next quarter’s numbers.

Obviously we wish the business to perform. But we’re not in this
for the next couple of quarters, or even the next couple of
years. We’re in this for a very prolonged duration of time; therefore,
we’re not rushing.

Most of this will substantially will need some form of investment,
possibly it be a earthy plant, buildings, or certain technology
around things like grouping and faithfulness programs, and the time
support on the payback can be two, three, or 4 years.

So if I’m actually having to mount up there and say, “I just
spent X on this,” and responding questions on a payback, it’s
harder to do. But we don’t wish to contend that being open is a bad

Feloni: Do you consider shareholder activism is
rather damaging in this respect?

Brown: we don’t wish to be anti-activist on this.
we consider it just depends.

There are also open companies that have finished it very transparent that
they’re going to take a long-term proceed and their investors
are OK with that too. If you have a comparatively tiny or thin
PL, and you’re having to make a comparatively vast investment
on that, it’s just going to get some-more screwed, and then you throw
on top of that an financier bottom that has a comparatively brief time
horizon, it’s just hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder.

You take a incomparable PL, a incomparable change sheet, and you
mix that with shareholders that take a longer perspective on time
horizon, possibly that be open or private, we consider it’s just an
advantage. I’ll be the first to contend that as a CEO of a company
with the shareholder bottom that we have, we have a lot of
advantages that we wouldn’t have if we were just in a different
conditions with a opposite shareholder base.

Feloni: You told The Wall Street Journal that
you are going to be
seeing fewer vast open companies in this space. Can you

Brown: Where it’s going is, you have seen a
series of open companies go private or be purchased by larger
conglomerates, and we consider that trend will continue. Three of
note in 2017 are Buffalo Wild Wings,
Popeye’s, and
Panera. So we consider we’ll see that continue.

And that substantially means some-more single, smaller-brand, up-and-coming
companies, eventually heading to — possibly in the private or
open zone — some-more multibrand companies. But 2017 would be a
good information indicate on that. You’re not seeing a lot of individual
brands go public. In fact, several of them canceled.

Feloni: And it’s easier to create value for the
company when you’re private at this point?

Brown: Right now, yes. As I’m sitting thinking
about what we wish to do with Buffalo Wild Wings, it’s having the
right shareholder base. Like we said, there are open companies
that have a very studious shareholder base, and we consider if we ever
did go public, it’s environment the expectation.

Transforming Buffalo Wild Wings is only the beginning

inspire brands
Inspire Brands now comprises the international
bondage Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, and informal American chain
R Taco.


Taylor: You pronounced you would be looking for brands
that are in need of some kind of repositioning. What other kind
of one facilities will there be when looking for other brands?

Brown: Well, we like brands that possibly are
graphic in their marketplace or have intensity to be
distinctive. There’s no other code like Arby’s or Buffalo Wild
Wings on an general scale. That apparently is the ideal

And also brands that are scaled, but also have expansion opportunity
in front of them. Buying really tiny brands and trying to really
grow them is not partial of the settled strategy. We like R Taco,
which came along with Buffalo Wild Wings, and that has some
event to do some fun and engaging things with it. We
like to breed a code or two along the way, but that’s not our
settled strategy.

Up and down the spectrum, even in QSR, we would wish the brands
to be as interrelated as possible. You don’t wish brands that
are right on top of any other. It’s harder from an internal
standpoint. You wish to keep lines between the brands. If they
get too close together, it gets harder to manage.

Feloni: Was the Inspire Brands strategy tailored
around your ability set, in terms of being means to spin around a

Brown: we don’t know if its my ability set, but
given the fact that we was partial of the routine and operative with
Neal [Aronson], we positively came at this with a certain
credentials and bias. And coming from the hotel industry, what
we’re articulate about looks like how the hotel courtesy is
structured, and I’m very informed with that. So we consider that did
play a role.

we hatred to contend that I did play a role since that would
be overstating it — utterly a bit, actually. But really my
credentials and Neal’s background. Neal spent a lot of time in the
hotel industry, as well, so we pronounce the same denunciation and see it
the same way.

Taylor: You’ve pronounced that there is a lot of
intensity for expansion for Buffalo Wild Wings. Do you consider you’ll
have to close locations to serve expansion in the prolonged term?

Brown: we don’t consider so. Not with Buffalo Wild
Wings. Their shutting rate’s been using reduction than 1%, which is
phenomenal. In this industry, with QSR, you should expect
anything between 1 and 1.5% a year, utterly for an
determined brand. So that shows you that they’ve finished a good job
picking the right kind of genuine estate.

There are maybe some opportunities for us to try different
formats, some smaller formats, or others that they’ve already
been looking at. we consider there’s event to try urban
concepts, as we’ve been with Arby’s.

Taylor: How do you proceed the casual-dining
industry, given that, as a whole,
it’s been struggling in new years? How do you go in and
retreat that track?

Brown: Part of it is
not actually trying to follow the industry. we don’t see the
rival set of Buffalo Wild Wings being a traditional
casual-dining place. When it was flourishing gangbusters, it didn’t
position itself against its normal expel of casual-dining
players. we consider with the past couple of years, it substantially has
started to see itself as its own category, which is a little bit
what we did with Arby’s.

If you do it right, you should be means to play in both the
categories of “I’m going to go out” and “I’m going to have it
delivered home,” and so that’s a expansion opportunity. Going out is
formed on the experience, the whole social aspect of it, and the
food wise with that. And then having the food isn’t that, but
we wish it to be that. And we consider there’s a genuine event to
do that.

And the bottom and the substructure that Buffalo Wild Wings has,
review that to any infrequent dining code and consider about how
opposite they are, to start with. Then you can suppose what
Buffalo Wild Wings can even be or what it can precedence to make
that a some-more constrained knowledge than any other infrequent dining
places. That’s how we’re meditative about it.

If you demeanour at how Buffalo Wild Wings has achieved historically,
until the past few years, it was a finish dermatitis with no
association between what it was doing and what infrequent dining
places were doing. None.

we don’t caring what infrequent dining is, since what we do should be
a finish mangle from it.

Taylor: How much event is there for Arby’s
and Buffalo Wild Wings in terms of delivery?

Brown: If you demeanour at Arby’s, we have
drive-thrus outward of markets like New York, and so delivery has
not grown significantly as a apportionment of their business.

We are using Seamless for Arby’s here in New York, and
delivery is actually flourishing utterly a bit since you can’t do a
drive-thru here. So it’s an opportunity, but it’s a significant
event with Buffalo Wild Wings.

In fact, wings delivery is a outrageous shred of the delivery
business. Pizza and wings, in that order, are the two big
delivery components. It’s big. Delivery and takeout is 18% of
Buffalo Wild Wings’ business today. That is up from 10-ish
percent a few years ago, and we consider that there’s a real
event to enhance that even more. The pretence is to do that in
a very interrelated conform and positively not cannibalize your
core eat-in business, which gets back to the experience.

You need to make it where there’s a reason to be in the
grill over just eating the food, since if all we wish to
do is just eat the food, we can get that delivered to me. You need
to make them work together.

What does that meant for the menu and the space itself? That’s
going be the fun things to work on in the next few years. But you
have to consider about it as associated but opposite businesses.

Arby’s serves as the plans for crafting a comeback

In 2014, the Arby’s
Twitter comment went viral courtesy when it joked with the
musician Pharrell Williams about his shawl choice, which resembled
the Arby’s logo.


Taylor: Is there anything else some-more specific
than you wish to draw from Arby’s that you wish to request here, or
other concepts that you wish to request down the road?

Brown: we consider a lot of it comes down to,
wherever you position the brand, eventually if you’re in the
grill business it comes down to food and innovation, and the
whole judgment we try to consider of with Arby’s is that one of two
things needs to be loyal with the food.

One is, you possibly have constrained products you can’t get
anywhere else, and the other is if you can get it somewhere else,
it’s the best product you can get for the money. And that’s the
lens we like to demeanour through.

If you can chuck a good knowledge on top of that, then you have
something really interesting.

we consider once a grill company loses steer of that, then
eventually it will be severe for them. So when you figure
out what it should demeanour like and how to broach the food in an
operationally effective way, that’s a very repeatable process.

Feloni: Keep fan favorites and then go premium
on the other finish of that, like with Arby’s?

Brown: Potentially. And demeanour for equipment that make
clarity for the brand.

Taylor: Arby’s has had lots of success with
limited-time offers [LTO]. Are you going to request that strategy
to Buffalo Wild Wings?

Brown: The whole intonation of LTO is opposite in
QSR than it is in infrequent dining. It doesn’t meant that we won’t
have a good intonation in innovation, but it is opposite in QSR,
and it’s easier to govern the changeover in food in QSR. I
wouldn’t contend we’re going to do 23 new products a year like we’ve
finished on the Arby’s menu, but we consider some-more of a intonation under a
thesis is substantially there.

The other thing we try to do is have a little some-more creativity in
how we get the summary out. Create the personality, the brand,
and use all forms of warranted media to create a persona around it
as good as an recognition around it. If you consider about it, the
Buffalo Wild Wings code is finished for that. It’s like if there was
a code designed for that kind of approach, it’s Buffalo Wild
Wings. I’m really excited. The way that we’ve finished that Arby’s,
it started out as some-more of an random thing, but we have turned
it into a way of doing business.

You need to take some risks, you have to do some things you’re
not accurately gentle with. There will be ideas that that you
don’t know since you competence not be the aim patron —
like with the successful e-gaming ads; I’m not the aim for
that — but as the CEO you have to trust your group and say, “Fine,
I’ll get out of the way so you can do it.”

Feloni: Like
when you played round with Nihilist Arby’s.

Brown: Not all you see you love! These
days you act too corporate, you try to close it down or come out
on top, people see right by that.

Taylor: Do you consider that Buffalo Wild Wings
will sound like Arby’s or have its own persona?

Brown: If we do it right, that will be a great
litmus test: If we lay here a year from now observant that Buffalo
Wild Wings is sounding a lot like Arby’s, then we failed.

we consider that is going to be the key, how we actually take the
learnings and the capabilities from what we done, and leverage
those learnings, precedence the infrastructure, and do it in a way
that the brands demeanour totally opposite from any other.

Taylor: What are some Buffalo Wild Wings
franchisee concerns you wish to address?

Brown: Like any franchisee, they wish clarity on
where we’re going, what’s the trail to success, and what’s the
time frame. They wish to make certain that we have skin in the game
and they adore the fact that we contend that we’re in it for the long

The pivotal thing about franchisees is that they are by clarification in
it for the prolonged term. They are signing leases that are 15 to 20
years. Many times they are multigenerational family businesses.

Feloni: They don’t wish CEO after CEO.

Brown: Where they get endangered is: “Is this
just another government team? Are they just in it for the next
two to 3 years and then out?”

we consider Buffalo Wild Wings has certainty and they’ve been seeing
the way that we’ve approached Arby’s. We’ve finished it transparent that we
demeanour at this like a long-term investment — we’re not in and out,
and we also conclude the fact that it’s a trust thing.

Taylor: When do you think, in terms of timeline,
you would wish to bring other brands into Inspire?

Brown: We wish to make certain we have the platform

The thing is, nonetheless we can lay here and contend ideally when we would
like it to be, if the right thing comes along, the right thing
comes along and we’re not going to spin the back on it. But we’re
also not gonna force it. It needs to make sense, and that comes
back to being patient. we don’t have a timeline that says if we
don’t do X by this time, then we fail.

Taylor: Right now are you especially focused on
Buffalo Wild Wings?

Brown: This is my day off of focusing on it! But
yeah, it’s all about Buffalo Wild Wings.

Taylor: Do you consider that having a fast-casual
chronicle of Buffalo Wild Wings is something you wish to explore?

Brown: we don’t know yet. There are two of them
out there right now, and they’re really training labs.

Whether you finish up doing accurately what you’re contrast or finish up
holding certain elements of it, what we do like about it is you
learn a lot and it forces creation in the handling model.

Even putting the first Arby’s in New York and making it 1,900
block feet, it forced a lot of concentration on what really is needed,
and we’ve schooled about the handling indication just by anticipating and
reckoning out how to make it work. we adore that kind of thing.

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