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QSR Feature
The 10 Most Innovative People

Cheryl BachelderIn less than three years as president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Cheryl Bachelder has introduced innovations in virtually every aspect of the chain’s operations, and she’s only just begun.

“Our first step was to freshen our face to the customer with a spanking new name for ourselves: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen," Bachelder says. “The name captures the essence of who we are.” New brand graphics featuring “dancing letters” also were introduced when the name was adopted.

In 2009, Popeyes outperformed both the chicken quick-serve category and the quick-service segment as a whole with a sales increase. In contrast, the quick-service category was down 1.1 percent, while chicken chains were down 5.4 percent. 

In her first months on the job, Bachelder and her veteran executive team took a long, hard look at the brand and faced what she likes to call “the brutal reality.”

“At the outset of 2008, Popeyes was faced with some very bleak statistics that were impossible to ignore, the worst of which was seven consecutive years of guest traffic declines,” Bachelder says. “In addition, our speed of service was ranked at the bottom of a major quick-service study.”

In an effort to speed up service, headsets and timers were installed in every restaurant, and to improve location choices the chain instituted new, state-of-the art real estate site modeling tools. Popeyes also made the bold move to consolidate seven regional advertising agencies and found a lot of cost savings when it signed with a single company.

In addition, the Atlanta-based chain, which has more than 1,900 units in 44 states and 27 countries, also introduced Annie, a fictional Popeyes chef who serves as the brand’s ambassador.

On the culinary front there have been several innovative moves, including the roll out of three menu platforms—Popeyes Big Easys, the Louisiana Travelers, and Popeyes Big Deals. Bachelder also engineered the launch of the Bonafide brand, which showcases its bone-in chicken, which is freshly prepared and marinated for 12 hours in Louisiana seasonings, then hand-battered.

And as Bachelder is proud to point out, one of the innovations that is moving the needle significantly is the Guest Experience Monitor, which allows guests to use their phones and participate

in an interactive survey while the experience is fresh.

“By listening to our guests and making the needed improvements, we raised our ‘delighted’ ratings from consumers by 17 percentage points in 2009,” Bachelder says.

Steve EllsBlessed with the spirit of an entrepreneur, the passion of an artist, and the attention to detail that can only come from a place of real confidence, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s founder, CEO, and chairman, Steve Ells, can innovate with the best of them.

Since launching the fast-casual concept in 1983, Ells has gone from one 850-square-foot Denver unit to changing the way America eats, one burrito at a time.

As a Culinary Institute of America graduate, Ells knows food and all its complexities, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping the menu simple, and the food as natural as possible. Chipotle’s Food With Integrity mission guides every purchase.

“We have visited farms with the leadership teams, restaurant managers, and area managers,” Ells says in a 2005 interview with QSR. “It’s a matter of getting out there and sharing the stories about Food With Integrity, and why it’s important, not only for the Chipotle brand, but also for animal husbandry, the environment, and ultimately, for great-tasting food.”

Over the years, Ells has been consistently recognized as a restaurant operator who doesn’t necessarily do things as they have been done before. Now boasting revenues approaching $1.5 billion, more than 900 units, and 24,000 employees, Chipotle continues to innovate and surprise.

In 2009 the chain began testing a low-roller menu, which offers smaller portions and prices, as well as a children’s menu. Likewise, Chipotle introduced the vegan Garden Blend burrito, containing a marinated meat alternative that is plant-based.

Paying close attention to the environment is also a mission at Chipotle and on display at the green restaurant in Gurnee, Illinois. The simply designed restaurant features an onsite wind turbine, among other energy-saving features.

“The atmosphere says something about the brand beyond just decoration. It’s architectural in nature. In our case, it uses very simple materials like plywood, concrete, and steel. Through architecture and good design you elevate these materials to something extraordinary,” Ells says.

Ells’ creative bent contributes heavily to the myriad innovations at Chipotle, but his attention to detail is equally a factor.

“Perhaps it’s because we’ve stayed focused on this simple operations system that we’ve been able to continually refine and improve details along the way,” Ells says.

“Our dedication to making the small details better, and some of the not-so-small details like where food comes from, have contributed to Chipotle’s success.”

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The 2010 list of the quick-service industry’s 10 Most Innovative People was chosen by QSR’s leadership including its publisher, associate publisher, and editor along with the article’s author. Submissions were accepted but not necessary to be included on the list. Executives were chosen for their impact on the industry over their careers, not just in 2010. List participants had to currently hold the position of CEO of a multiunit quick-service or fast-casual brand to qualify.