Cherry Hearn Brings Many Hats to Role of Which Wich President
From outside counsel to franchisee to general counsel for the brand, Cherry Hearn brings a lot of varied experience to her new job as president of Which Wich.
She said her years at Which Wich just kind of snowballed into this new role. “It’s a culmination of a lot of time and it’s not something I particularly saw coming,” said Hearn. “You just dive in and live your life and embrace the experience along the way and the next thing you know you’re being asked to be the president.”
Of course, she’s being quite modest. She said she met Jeff Sinelli, the founder of Which Wich, while working on a trademark issue that turned into a “David and Goliath case” against KFC. Through that experience she got to know and the concept—so much so that she opened up a few locations, No. 8 for the company and two more later.
“I just kept doing the trademark work for the company on the side while I was a franchisee, the company just grew. We always joked around about me having to come back to Dallas and head up legal; long story short that’s what happened,” said Hearn.
From there, her role expanded to help with legal issues for Sinelli Concepts as it added brands and continued to grow. But now with a small stable of brands, it was time to create a president role for Which Wich, the “bread and butter” of the multi-concept company but an area to which founder Jeff Sinelli couldn’t devote all his attention.
“It’s a role that has not been our org chart. Jeff is very hands on and has really stayed in the day-to-day from day one. He increasingly recognized the need to free himself up from that to focus on the creation of some of the other concepts and other special projects. No one person can do it all, and he wanted to be able to accelerate the incubation of these other brands,” said Hearn. “So he needed someone he knew and trusted to hand the reins to.”
Still, it was a bit of a surprise for Hearn.
"He came to me in spring after a multi-month negotiation that we had worked closely on with Pepsi. At the end of that he said, ‘I want to have a conversation that may take you buy surprise,’” said Hearn. The conversation, of course, was to ask her to take over Which Wich as president. "It was very flattering to say the least, and very satisfying. Who wouldn’t have that said to them by their boss, but it did take me by surprise.”
The biggest boon for Hearn is her life as a franchisee. It means that she both can look through the lens of the end entrepreneur when it comes to adding stuff like a new French fry platform for the company and that Pepsi update, but also knows that compliance means a stronger brand.
“There’s been a lot of hand holding but also letting them know there is a new sheriff in town. My lawyer background probably makes me wiling to be a little more firm with them on compliance,” said Hearn.
She said her first item of business will be hitting on the fundamental execution of the brand as it evolves.
“Really, I’m going focus this brand on the fundamentals. It’s easy to lose sight on those when you’re busy or rolling out a new menu or a new beverage program, but the fundamentals of great food and good ops and hospitality, that’s where we’re looking to focus in 2020,” said Hearn. “And there’s so much competition in the industry and we have great competitors, but we want to be differentiated by that one cut above customer service that people think about when people the restaurant.”
As for becoming one of the growing handful of top women leaders in the franchise industry, it’s nice for her, but almost as nice for all the women who now report to her.
“It’s really nice to be part of an organization where being male or female isn’t part of the equations, in that sense I’m really gratified. But to have younger women in various stages of their career be so thrilled when we announce this, it was overwhelming. Everyone was happy, but every single woman from age mid 20s to early 50s, just had the most wonderful sparkle in their eye and hugged me and said how important it was to see a woman as the president of the company,” said Hearn. “It made me realize how much impact I can have as a mentor as president.”