‘Not All Growth Opportunities Are Created Equally,’ Says Dine Brands Development Exec
"I love challenges, and with casual dining, I knew it was a space that had troubles in the past,” said Tony Moralejo, new president of international and global development at Dine Brands Global.
When Tony Moralejo transitioned to his role at Dine Brands on February 24, he came in with two main goals: To make sure the company was embracing innovation, and to ensure the brand was well-defined worldwide.
As former executive VP of international business and development at Church’s Chicken, Moralejo was tapped as president of international and global development at Dine Brands Global, the parent company of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & bar and IHOP restaurants. Moralejo helped retool the international strategy at Church’s Chicken, which operates as Texas Chicken outside the Americas.
“The challenge is a little different. At Church’s internationally, they didn’t have an identity or their identity had evolved so much it took on different personas,” Moralejo said. “The challenge was unifying it, making it more consistent and making a foundation it would filter through, and we were very successful with doing that.”
Dine Brands is well-defined internationally, but the main challenge will be ensuring the brand is disciplined in its expansion plans, Moralejo said. The execution of international development at Dine Brands could also use some improvement, he added.
“Not all growth opportunities are created equally. From a macro point of view, you have to approach expansion in a strategic way,” Moralejo said. “Expanding in the markets you’re currently in is a lot easier and less taxing than to go out and simply plant a flag in a brand-new market where you have no presence established.”
The brand is looking into the potential of ghost kitchens both domestically and internationally given the lower investment, cheaper real estate and touchless nature of transactions. Though it wouldn’t be Dine’s primary vehicle for expansion, Moralejo thinks it would complement the brand well.
“Domestically, Applebee’s and IHOP have lots of opportunities for growth,” Moralejo said. “Despite the pandemic, we’re still on track to meet those projections, though slightly delayed, we have lots of plans in place,” including redefining existing markets they once thought were filled or at capacity.
Moralejo estimates the brand will spend 60-70 percent on developing existing markets, 15 percent on regional expansion, and 5-10 percent on virgin new territory expansion.
Moralejo admits his job transition was challenging since pandemic shutdowns began a few weeks after his start date. His family was in the process of relocating to Los Angeles, which COVID-19 delayed. He looks forward to happy hours in the future with colleagues, as well as collaborating face-to-face in the office when safe to do so.
“I’m looking forward to growing here. I love challenges, and with casual dining, I knew it was a space that had troubles in the past,” Moralejo said. “I came in with eyes wide open that the family and casual dining segments were challenged, but there’s an incredible amount of potential domestically and internationally, and I love the challenge international poses and the franchisees you get to meet along the way.”