St. Patrick's Day may be just another day to some people, but for the restaurant chain Bennigan's, which is experiencing a resurgence of sorts, the holiday represents the culmination of a yearlong planning process.
"No one has given us permission but we have decided to own St. Patrick's Day," said Paul Mangiamele, CEO of Bennigan's. “We have adopted the attitude that every day is St. Patrick's Day. We have green beer, a fun, high-energy atmosphere and a celebration on the 17th of every single month leading up to the big hoopla on St. Patrick's Day, so the celebration really is yearlong."
Today, the company is able to celebrate due to a growing number of locations and positive reviews from customers. However, that celebration would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. That's because Bennigan's was forced to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on July 29, 2008, and, as a result, closed all 150 corporate locations across the United States.
While the liquidation of the company's assets could have been a death knell for Bennigan's, the brand has taken a lesson in resilience from Ireland, the country from which it draws many of its culinary inspirations. That resilience has paid off. The company currently has more than 85 restaurants in 15 countries and plans to open 12 more locations this year and at least 20 more in coming years.
Mangiamele has been the man steering Bennigan's in the right direction since taking over in May 2011. Lessons learned from the prior failures of the brand have been a driving factor in the company’s revival.
"There were a lot of years where there were bad custodians of the brand and the brand drifted," Mangiamele said. "The closures were the culmination of neglect and mismanagement. There was a brand that was rudderless."
Learning from those tough times, Bennigan's was able to reinstate the founding principles that were in place when the company opened in 1967. Chief among them were a restaurant that offered great customer service and one that focused on ensuring the brand appeals to families, both with food and prices.
Ironically, those lessons would not have been learned without the tough times of years past. While the Chapter 7 bankruptcy may have been a low point for the brand, it afforded the company the opportunity to re-evaluate itself.
"I did a 360-degree review of every single aspect of our business, from operations to marketing to design to construction to real estate to franchising to finance," Mangiamele said. "You name it we did a deep dive into it. We left nothing to chance without a deep exploration into what do we do, how do we do it, and how do we make it better."
The results of that examination have been applied in the renaissance of the Bennigan's brand. Chief among those changes are a renovated and remodeled physical layout of the restaurant. That included the decision to decrease the size of company restaurants, thereby lowering both the cost of entry and real estate costs for franchisees.
All these moves make up a specific part of Mangiamele's plan to ensure continued growth at Bennigan's.
"The first job for any franchisor is to make sure the investment gives you strong returns," Mangiamele said.
A former franchisee himself, Mangiamele has refocused the company, making franchising goals a chief driver of growth. Bennigan's owns just two corporate locations of the 85 total restaurants, but has signed five new franchise agreements to open 20 more restaurants in coming years. Despite all the strides made in recent years, Mangiamele says the growth of the business would not be possible without the right people to drive the company every day.
"If you want to be relevant and stay relevant you better be thinking about your brand and people all the time," Mangiamele said. "At the end of this it is all about people. Of course, you have to put the foundational pieces in a cohesive way that spells out a compelling story and model, but nothing happens until you fill it with great people and we have them in supporting roles."