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CEO Nolan Is Smashburger’s Latest Casualty

The Smashburger franchised hamburger chain has appointed its chief brand officer Thomas Ryan as its new CEO and president, following former CEO Michael Nolan's abrupt departure Tuesday. Ryan, a co-founder of Smashburger, has filled various positions in other holdings under private equity firms Consumer Capital Partners and Cervantes Holdings. These two private equity firms are under the ownership of Richard "Rick" Schaden, former owner and CEO of the troubled Quiznos sandwich chain.

After hearing rumors of corporate shuffling, Blue MauMau confirmed the personnel change in a telephone call this morning to Smashburger's corporate headquarters.

Smashburger executives have recently been caught in a revolving door at the company's corporate headquarters in Denver. Former CEO Nolan was hired for Smashburger's top position after Scott Crane stepped down in April 2016. At the time, the company sent employees and franchisees a memo stating it was time for Smashburger to move in a new direction, giving no other explanation for the leadership shakeup. Crane's immediate predecessor David Prokupek had also resigned from his CEO post without public explanation. After leaving, Prokupek sued Smashburger and Consumer Capital Partners, claiming that they deceptively cheated him out of millions in stock.

Prior to joining Smashburger, Nolan served as executive vice president and chief development officer for CBC Restaurant Corporation, owner of Corner Bakery Café, in Dallas starting in 2014. He also served as vice president and chief development officer for Bloomin' Brands and Panera bread company, respectively.

On November 9, the chain appointed Glenn M. Moon as director of franchise sales, not stating who he was replacing. Moon came from Choice Hotels. On September 26, Smashburger announced the appointment of Mark Ramage as director of franchise development, who had previously been with Rave Restaurant Group.

Smashburger's chief marketing officer Josh Kern stepped down from his position on September 20, after serving in his role for less than two years. He previously held the position of CMO for Consumer Capital Partners, CCP, which owns Smashburger, and its sister brands Tom's Urban and Live Basil Pizza.

Then on May 25, Smashburger stated it was bringing in Gregg Koffler as its senior vice president of franchise sales and administration. Koffler had previously been with Corner Bakery Café where he oversaw the franchise sales department, adding over 400 franchises to the development pipeline.

Last May Smashburger had named Tom Ryan, who is now taking over the CEO/president position, as its chief brand officer. The company stated of the move that it "continues making moves to evolve its business and grow more aggressively." A Restaurant News report quoted Rick Schaden, Smashburger's chairman, saying: "As we set an aggressive growth pace, maintaining the integrity of the Smashburger brand is paramount."

The Denver Business Journal stated last April when Mike Nolan stepped in as Smashburger's CEO position that the hamburger chain has now opened 365 restaurants since its 2007 founding by Tom Ryan and Rick Schaden. In the interview, Nolan remarked that he didn't plan to make any immediate changes, but would examine the number of initiatives that Scott Crane put into place. "I absolutely believe in Smashburger. It possesses the potential to grow as a national brand well over the 1,000-store size."

"But Crane acknowledged that around the time he moved up to become CEO in November 2013, sales growth had slowed and that [company] officials believed they needed to increase brand recognition and [consumer] understanding in addition to opening new stores," the Business Journal reported.

Schaden gives a hint on why the CEO may have been replaced in that there was a gap between slowing sales of franchises and the company's lofty goal to increase the chain's size in a major jump.

At that time, chairman Rick Schaden stated, "At Smashburger we continue to set aggressive goals for quality, value, service and sales on an increasingly large scale."


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About Janet Sparks

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Janet Sparks is the former publisher of the Continental Franchise Review, an industry newsletter that covered the franchise community for over 30 years. She has also been a columnist for a leading franchise magazine for the past 13 years. Today she is an independent journalist who engages in investigative reporting, tackling complex issues that impact the franchise industry.

Janet can be reached at jsparks@bluemaumau.org or at 303-799-7398.