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Friendly's Ice Cream is using Pennsylvania locations as test cases for restaurant changes

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The chief executive of one of America's friendliest-sounding restaurant chains was in the midstate earlier this month for the revamp of four eateries here.

The restaurants are test cases for refreshing restaurants away from the New England home of Friendly's — and with good reasons, according to President and CEO John Maguire.

Friendly's announced it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2012 when the business of Friendly Ice Cream Corp. and its subsidiaries was sold to Friendly's Ice Cream LLC and its subsidiaries, according to a previous statement. The corporation had entered bankruptcy protection in fall 2011.

The company remains listed online in the portfolio of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital Partners Inc., whose affiliate is listed on Friendly's website as acquiring Friendly's in 2007.

Maguire joined Friendly's in 2012 after about 20 years with Panera Bread Co., most recently serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Maguire spoke with the Business Journal about the decision for Friendly's to look to the midstate as its away-from-home roll-out of new offerings and amenities.

"We came away pretty excited about Central Pennsylvania and our success that we are going to enjoy there for years to come," he said.

Q: Why choose Central Pennsylvania as a test area for your change?

A: Friendly's has 48 locations in Pennsylvania; 10 are company owned and 38 are franchises, Maguire said. The business has a strong history in Pennsylvania, and the restaurants do well here.

In addition, the four company-owned locations Friendly's selected for changes in the Central Pennsylvania market touch many local guests but also reach people who come to the midstate because of seasonal tourism, he said.

Given the number of visitors, particularly during the summer months, it's a great way to expose people from other areas to the new offerings, Maguire said.

Unveiling refreshed restaurants for the company is also happening in eastern and western Massachusetts as well as Maine, he said. The plan is to have about 40 locations redone in those markets.

Could you describe a bit about what the changes are?

Maguire said his philosophy on what makes a restaurant successful comes down to the quality of people you hire and what you do to develop them; the quality of the food and offering what people want; and then upkeep, quality and cleanliness of the environment and experience.

Changes cover all of these areas, he said.

Everyone has been retrained in what they do and why they do it through what Friendly's refers to as mission-based training, Maguire said. Some employees were not rehired.

Employees also get new uniforms, which instills pride in the job, Maguire said.

The company also made changes to the food, such as using bigger eggs, serving larger ice cream portions and switching to fresh, never-frozen burgers, he said.

The refresh includes new high-top tables, booths, lighting, artwork and paint to hark back to the company's roots and yet still work for the 21st century.

"We call the look a timeless look," Maguire said.

Why did you choose to make the move to Friendly's from Panera Bread?

Maguire said he was 26 when he started with Panera and 46 when he left, so he grew up there. But he wanted the opportunity to lead an organization that he had a great experience with growing up in New England.

"Even when my kids were little, that's where I took them for great experiences," Maguire said.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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