Global Franchise Group Taps Naf Naf Boss as New CEO
As its new CEO, Paul Damico will help Global Franchise Group acquire and launch franchising for new brands.
What’s it like to start a new CEO gig during a pandemic? “Surreal, it’s totally surreal,” says Paul Damico, whose first day on the job April 6 as CEO of Global Franchise Group meant being pointed to his office after HR tossed him his keys, then heading back home.
“I have been able to spend time with our CFO, at a distance of course,” says Damico, but other introductory meetings have shifted to phone and teleconferencing calls. His first week also meant navigating the first round of corporate furloughs, “about 60 people,” and that was after just furloughing 600 employees before he left his post as CEO of 40-unit Naf Naf Grill.
“Never in my life did I think I’d be doing everything I’ve had to do these last few weeks,” he says. “It’s just surreal.
“I came into what was already the full-fledged pandemic,” with GFG, franchisor of Great American Cookies, Hot Dog on a Stick, Pretzelmaker, Marble Slab Creamery/MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream & Treatery and Round Table Pizza, having closed 90 percent of its 1,400 stores, many of them inside malls. One bright spot has been Round Table Pizza, which GFG acquired in 2017 and is giving a refresh.
Damico says Round Table is “performing amazingly well,” with targeted digital and social media marketing focused on highlighting takeout and delivery options, along with reinforcing food safety measures. Damico is also helping to guide action plans for GFG’s other brands as they turn their focus to reopening.
“From a franchisor standpoint, it’s a lot of how do we make sure the products that we provide our franchisees are ready when they are,” he says, giving the example of the 400 Great American Cookies stores for which GFG supplies the cookie batter. Then as malls themselves reopen, GFG will take a phased approach to reopening stores. “First the anchors will come back, the key retailers will come back, then specialty retailers, then us,” says Damico, noting the foot traffic needs to be there before it makes sense for shop such as Pretzelmaker to return.
For Damico, who took over as CEO for Naf Naf Grill in June 2017 with the goal of getting the brand ready to franchise, the role at GFG is a similar opportunity to exercise his franchise strategy chops as the company identifies acquisition targets. Before joining Naf Naf, Damico was at Focus Brands, where after its acquisition of Moe’s Southwest Grill he came on and grew Moe’s from 300 to nearly 700 units.
“Ownership of the company really wants to acquire more brands and launch franchising, so that really excited me,” says Damico of GFG, which in 2018 was bought by two private equity partners, Lion Capital and Serruya Private Equity. Levine Leichtman Capital Partners had owned GFG since 2010.
At Naf Naf, “I was at a point that after three years we had executed all those strategies,” including opening the first franchise location in Indianapolis, he says. “That was a real milestone for me. I felt so good, the team I put in place is so great,” that it was time for something new.
Damico will also focus his attention on building a shared services platform for GFG’s six concepts, one that will allow it to more easily plug in new brands.
“For this to come to me at this point in my career is wonderful,” says Damico. “The growth opportunity is what excites me most.”