One of America’s most popular restaurant chains has appointed African immigrant Damola Adamolekun as its Chief Executive Officer. The 33-year-old will manage over 200 physical locations and is responsible for maintaining or expanding the almost $1 billion the business brings in in a year.
Adamolekun is now CEO of P.F. Chang’s, an American-based Chinese-fusion restaurant franchise founded in 1993 by Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang.
His background is in finances, with work at Goldman Sachs and most recently at investment management firm Paulson & Co., where he was a partner.
In early 2019, Paulson & Co. joined forces with TriArtisan Capital Advisors to purchase P.F. Chang’s for $700 million from private-equity firm Centerbridge Partners, Restaurant Business Online reports.
When Paulson & Co acquired P.F. Chang’s as a part of its corporate portfolio, Adamolekun was familiar with the brand. As a child, he grew up knowing the restaurant in his town in Columbia, Maryland, and was excited about the potential growth for the restaurant chain that he believed was attainable.
Adamolekun’s Success Plan for P.F. Chang
This is when the young whiz kid came up with the idea of managing the company versus hiring someone else to lead the vision, according to an interview in Fortune.
“I didn’t plan to operate the business when I did the deal. I pitched to my boss, John Paulson, that we buy this company, and then we went through the numbers, the structure of the deal, and the business potential,” Adamolekun explained to Fortune. “We hired a CEO to run it, but we had a lot we wanted to change. It was a pretty transformative thesis, between remodeling the entire fleet and building a digital infrastructure and delivery.”
Turned out Adamolekun was the CEO the chain needed.
“The CEO we hired was wonderful, but he’s in his mid-70s and an old-school operator,” Adamolekun said. “His focus was on operations and core management — and there was a lot of progress there — but less on some of the technology transformations we wanted. I started coming to Scottsdale, Arizona (P.F. Chang’s headquarters) to help. I spent a year as chief strategy officer, which is a made-up title because if I’m going to be here all the time, I need a title so people understand my purpose besides just being an owner and a director.”
The Harvard graduate took the position as CEO two years ago and is invested in working to make it a stronger brand, having an impact on the day-to-day operations, the business and even the menu. For Adamolekun, it is essential that the restaurant has a more elevated dining experience and is rooted in the brand’s identity.
Adamolekun said the company remodeled almost “80% of the fleet, introducing more colorful decor, ambiance, and music.”
One example of how hands-on he is is taking the option of macaroni and cheese off of the menu. He said, “There were a lot of things on the menu that didn’t belong.”
Turning P.F. Change Around
His input is working. According to data firm Technomic, since his appointment P.F. Chang’s had a revenue burst of 32 percent in 2021. The company brought in $922 million in revenue. A part of this growth comes from a push to step into the 21st century and utilize tools to advance customers’ experiences, providing a bridge between their desire to eat and the restaurant’s ability to serve. Digital tools like apps and delivery services have helped the company in this space.
“Technology helps,” he said when talking about making the experience more enjoyable for the customers. “We have a guest reservation system that makes their jobs a lot easier. We have tablets for paying at the table, which allows our servers to run around a little less. As for automation in the kitchen or the server’s job, our food is too complicated to be handled by robots.”
The restaurant has also utilized QR Codes for the in-house experience, something people most likely would not have done had the pandemic not forced technology as a solution to keep servers and customers safe.
“The things that [customers] have learned during the pandemic, they haven’t forgotten. So, a lot of people shifted to off-premise delivery ordering, they started using QR code menus, maybe they wouldn’t have done that before the pandemic…This sort of digital orientation that increased during the pandemic, out of necessity, we’ve seen that hold even as people come back into the restaurants,” Adamolekun said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Also, the inclusion of limited-menu restaurants that are smaller in size for pick-up-only orders has helped boost the annual bottom line.
For Adamolekun, the change in the company’s culture included leadership showing the rank and file they will work as hard for success as they are, including rolling up their sleeves and making work not just about the food, but about corporate goals.
Adamolekun’s Routine for Personal Success
Adamolekun’s day starts around 6 a.m. He says the first thing he does is check on the restaurant’s operating performance from the day before and compare it to a certain period of that day by reviewing daily flash reports. If he sees something unusual, according to MSN.com, he sets a plan to call Art Kilmer the COO to discuss it.
After the flash reports, he checks his emails and tends to the updating of his own to-do list. By 7:30 p.m., the executive is at the corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, where he meets with Kilmer and then later with CFO Brad Hill to speak about the pertinent needs of the day.
“My job isn’t making food,” he said. “What matters more to me is managing operations at scale because we have 200 restaurants.”
He added, “I’m very data-driven, so I wanted to build a heat map of sorts to see what’s happening within restaurants, so it’s not all anecdotes. The heat map for each restaurant measures culinary performance, the time to get an order to the table, audit scores, hospitality performance and wait times. Customer scores and turnover rate are in there, too.”
Even though Adamolekun, who also played defensive back at Brown University as an undergrad, is the CEO of P.F. Chang’s, he is also still a partner at Paulson, working to expand other brands within their portfolio.