Friendly’s Ice Cream LLC leader Harsha V. Agadi is expected today to resign as chairman and chief executive of the troubled chain, and the company’s chief marketing officer is also leaving in several weeks.
The leadership shake-up comes one month after the Wilbraham restaurant business emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Agadi, who joined Friendly’s in August 2010 and invested his own money in the company, will remain on the board. Friendly’s chief operating officer, James M. Parrish, is stepping in today as interim chief executive as Friendly’s searches for a permanent successor.
“It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that I have resigned my position as the chairman and chief executive officer at Friendly’s . . . Although I have enjoyed the last 18 months with you, I have personal commitments that require more of my time,’’ Agadi wrote yesterday in a letter to employees. “I remain very engaged with Friendly’s and I will continue to be on the board of directors . . . My financial investment in the company will continue. You will also see me from time to time as I plan to have an office in the building.’’
Chief marketing officer Andrea McKenna, also hired in August 2010, is leaving at the beginning of March. A Friendly’s spokeswoman confirmed the leadership changes.
Agadi has more than 25 years of food service industry experience, including five years as chief executive of Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken, where he grew annual sales to more than $1 billion. At Friendly’s, he oversaw the launch last fall of its High 5 campaign. He even appeared in commercials that promoted five popular menu items for $5 each and encouraged restaurant staff to give customers “high five’’ gestures. Over the past year, Agadi has tried to improve restaurant operations, including the quality of food, customer service, and the cleanliness of restaurants.
Agadi’s predecessor at Friendly’s, Ned R. Lidvall, also had a short-lived career at the ice cream maker, lasting less than two years.
Friendly’s, founded in Springfield during the Great Depression, has struggled in recent years. The company was acquired by Florida private equity firm Sun Capital Partners in 2007, but the restaurant chain continued to face challenges under the new owners.
In October, Friendly’s filed for Chapter 11, claiming it was a casualty of a tough economic environment, rising costs, and changing customer tastes. The company has closed 100 restaurants - about one-quarter of the entire chain - and laid off about 2,000 workers in the past several months.
An affiliate of Sun Capital acquired Friendly’s out of bankruptcy after no other bidders stepped forward.