- Denny's CEO John Miller plans to retire later this year, the casual dining chain shared in an SEC 8-K filing on Friday.
- The company is currently searching for a replacement.
- Miller's impending exit marks at least the ninth major restaurant CEO change announced in the last 8 months. Chick-fil-A, El Pollo Loco, Darden Restaurants, Torchy's Tacos, Wingstop, Fazoli's and Starbucks initiated CEO swaps between September and March, while Red Lobster's CEO resigned on Tuesday after holding the role for less than a year.
The restaurant industry's slew of CEO changes may reflect a sense of growing confidence in the market's stability. The departing leaders of Darden, El Pollo Loco and Starbucks are all retiring, and Kevin Johnson, former CEO of the coffee chain, told Starbucks' board in 2021 that he would retire when "the global pandemic neared an end."
Torchy's Tacos' changing of the guard also followed a CEO retirement, and Chick-fil-A's chief executive position was passed from Dan Cathy to his son, Andrew Truett Cathy.
Miller held an especially lengthy tenure as Denny's CEO, entering the role in January 2011. He shed the title of president in February 2020, which is now held by CFO Mark Wolfinger.
Like most casual chains, Denny's was hit hard by dining room closures and restrictions at the start of the pandemic. But the diner has adapted to emerging growth opportunities under Miller as its business stabilized. In January, Miller announced Denny's would launch two virtual brands this year to grow market share. The Burger Den was rolled out in February at at least half of the chain's domestic locations, and The Melt Down went live this spring across roughly half of its U.S. stores.
"We believe our overbuilt industry will suffer an unfortunate and meaningful rationalization of seats through the pandemic largely at the expense of independent and full-service operations. We do not celebrate this prediction, but we believe the brands that survive will have the opportunity to gain market share," Miller said during an ICR presentation in January.
This investment in digital business builds on Denny's off-premise gains. The chain more than doubled its weekly off-premise sales compared to its pre-pandemic business, when average weekly off-premise restaurant sales totaled $4,000, Miller said at the ICR presentation. During the company's Q4 2021 earnings call in February, he said The Burger Den and The Melt Down have supported "elevated off-premise sales volumes."
Denny's also announced a partnership with Reef Technology in January to offer delivery from ghost kitchens in urban markets where the company is underpenetrated. The companies didn't specify which markets these units will be placed in, or how many locations Denny's plans to create with Reef.
Expanding its footprint through ghost kitchens could allow the company to bolster its presence at a reduced cost compared to traditional brick-and-mortar growth, building on its sales momentum. For fiscal year 2021, Denny's revenue jumped 38% to $398.2 million and domestic same-store sales grew 41.1% compared to 2020, but were down 4.7% compared to 2019. The company also opened 12 domestic franchised restaurants last year and completed nine store remodels.