ATLANTA — Harsha Agadi has stepped down as chief executive officer of Church's Chicken after five years at the helm of the franchise chain. He will remain as an active member of the company's board of directors.
Agadi is replaced by Mel Deane, who has worked closely with many of the companies belonging to Church's Chicken owner Friedman, Fleischer & Lowe, a San Francisco-based private equity company.
Deane has held senior leadership positions at Friedman, Fleischer & Lowe companies, most recently as CEO of Discovery Foods, a manufacturer of Asian branded frozen foods. Since August, Deane has been executive vice president and general manager of U.S. operations for Church's Chicken. In this role, he has accelerated operational and marketing improvements as well as product development.
When the management change was announced, Church's Chicken stated its appreciation for Agadi's "tireless commitment to the brand" and for his many years of "dedicated" service to the company.
"There is no better time to build enterprise value and grow a company than now, when others are cutting back due to difficult economic conditions," said David Lowe, founding partner of Friedman, Fleischer & Lowe. "Mel Deane is a true 'value builder' who focuses relentlessly on the consumer. He did it at Discovery Foods, and we are confident that he will do it again with Church's Chicken."
"As I have gotten to know the people at Church's — including their highly successful network of franchisees — I believe they aspire to become the most respected and admired brand in their Quick Service Restaurant segment," Deane said.
Deane met with the board of the Church's Independent Franchise Association to describe his vision for their continued growth and success. "We have already welcomed Mel Deane to the Church's Chicken 'family,' and we applaud his new leadership role," said Lyndon Johnson, association president,
Church's Chicken is completing one of the best expansion years in its 58-year history, with the opening of over 100 new restaurants.
Founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1952, Church's Chicken is one of the largest quick-service chicken concepts. Church's Chicken serves chicken and chicken tenders with signature sides and hand-made from scratch biscuits. The chain has approximately 1,700 locations worldwide in 22 countries, with system sales approaching $1.2 billion.
Agadi joined the chain in 2004, when it was acquired by the Atlanta-based private equity firm Arcapita. Agadi's GHS Holdings LLC, a consulting firm focused on the restaurant industry, is a co-investor in Church's. With over 20 years in the restaurant industry, Agadi was a strong choice to take over the reigns at Church's.
His first move was to revise the brand's menu to focus on "spicy" products. Church's introduced two new main menu items — spicy bone-in chicken and its spicy chicken sandwich. The brand also renewed its focus on marketing and made a push to become an "urban brand." He also launched a focus on the concept of the Church's brand as quality food for a great value. The moves paid off and, in addition to generating over $1 billion in sales, Church's is second only to KFC in the quick service chicken market.
Agadi came to the United States from India in 1984 with a bachelor's degree from the University of Bombay. He attended Duke University and received a master's degree in business administration. He then got a job with Kraft General Foods, which led to a position at Pepsi. Agadi also served as president and chief operating officer of Little Caesars.