CEO plans to make Boston Market chain fly again

A: People forget about us. We had a much bigger marketing budget in the past. We've had to close stores and even (exit) entire markets. Every time you see a store close, it makes people wonder if you're still in business. They don't realize you're in other parts of the city.

Q: What's the best way to get people to think of Boston Market?

A: You have to come up with big ideas to let people know you're out there. We're introducing a "Two Kids Eat Free" program. Sure, we're in it to help ourselves, but we're also helping others. A single parent with two kids can buy a meal for six bucks, and they get two kids' meals free.

We may only break even on that, but it may be the only chance the family has to go out to eat that month. The only requirement is that you spend six bucks and bring both kids (14 and under) with you.

This is a huge, untapped market. Some 31% of households with kids are single-parent households.

Most kids-eat-free programs are not designed for them. They only give one free kids' meal for each adult-paid meal.

Q: What else new is coming?

A: We're about to begin a test program in one store where, instead of waiting … for your food to be assembled, you sit down and have it brought to you. We plan to bring the hot case back into the kitchen which is more like the … model used by Panera Bread and Chipotle.

Right now, we can only give you the hot food you see in front of you. That buys us a few minutes to work magic back in the kitchen. The food quality will hold up a lot better.

Q: Any signs of the recession easing?

A: No. Following the Fourth of July, the whole industry reset downward. … It's not going to get better until people quit reading about people losing jobs.

Q: You were early in $5 meals. Plan more?

A: Five dollars is a magic price. But it's not the $5 that's important, it's what you feel you got for the $5. Five bucks for a whole meal, not just a sandwich and chips, is a good deal. We have 11 offerings now, but only one-third sell well. We're going to go back and see which ones folks really see as a good deal.

Q: Any supersecret new products on tap?

A: We need to make sure that we do a better job on the products that we already have.

For what it's worth, we're still the rotisserie chicken king. We sell more … than anyone else in the business.

Q: Why did you take this difficult job?

A: I was part of an investor group that tried to buy Boston Market (from McDonald's). It was No. 1 on our list. But Sun (Capital Partners) ended up with it.

When they called me out of the blue, I couldn't believe my good luck. It took me two minutes to say, 'Yes' and to relocate (to Denver) from the city I'd lived in (Dallas) for the past 39 years. This is the last restaurant company I will work for.

Q: They say you eat out a lot.

A: I eat in 600 restaurants a year.

Q: What's the magic ingredient in Boston Market's creamed spinach?

A: Asiago cheese. You can print it — but don't tell anyone else.

Q: Anything else I didn't ask that you shouldn't talk about?

A: I feel like I just went to my internist and did blood and EKG tests. I've got a dozen second thoughts — but no retractions.

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