Julia Stewart knows chain restaurants from the bottom to the top. Starting as a waitress at IHOP in her teens she would later become president of Applebees, but was denied the chance to be CEO even though she felt she was promised the role.
The mother-of-two became CEO of IHOP in 2001 and was the big mind who orchestrated the takeover of Applebee's in 2007. The company took over $2.3 billion in debt to make the merger happen. Now a publicly traded company, DineEquity, it has more than 3,600 Applebee's and IHOP restaurants with revenue reaching $669 million in 12 months.
"Applebee's needs really fit our core competencies: reenergizing a brand, improving operations," Stewart said. "We had the management capacity and the wherewithal to really make it happen and so we intend to make the same magic at Applebee's that we've been able to do at IHOP."
In the past few years IHOP has made a comeback thanks to its all-day breakfasts, but Applebee's has been struggling to stay relevant in the large assortment of chain restaurant choices.
That's when Stewart steps in with a hope to bring back the restaurant with a new menu, a marketing blitz and renovations to reflect a more modern look. A price tag of $75 million.
Admitting sales have been sluggish, Stewart reveals her plans to change the trend of the restaurants.
"Sluggish, good word. The idea is to change the perception of Applebee’s, and over time to change the trajectory of sales. But the first idea is to change the perception of the brand. People want a $30 experience for $13.75 a person," she said.
And her plan worked. Between 2003 and 2005 sales surged 19 percent at IHOP, but they weren't out of the woods yet.