In 2020, Damola Adamolekun became the first Black CEO of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, a popular Asian restaurant chain founded in 1993 by Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang.
The company has since been sold to TriArtisan Capital Partners LLC and Paulson & Co. Inc. for $700 million. Adamolekun is a partner at Paulson & Co.
Becoming CEO in May 2020, he led the company to a 31.7% increase in sales in 2021 compared to the year before. The recent success of the company was largely thanks to the revolutionary ideas he brought on board.
When he took charge, the company had a solid brand but he identified two challenges he had to deal with. First, what was going on inside the casual-dining chain’s restaurants, and second, what was going on outside of them, he told Restaurant Business Online.
He realized that P.F. Chang’s dine-in experience was “lacking” and its off-premise business was next-to-nothing at just 18% of the 200-unit chain’s sales.
“What was missing was the experience around the meal,” he said. “The lighting was too bright. The music was non-existent.” The décor? “Beige central.”
He began his revolutionary path towards turning things around at P.F. Chang’s by reworking the dining rooms and revising the menu items to make them extremely appealing. What’s more, he has added delivery and to-go orders and now has a number of small fast-casual-type of locations around the country.
According to Restaurant Business Online, self-delivery is now used in 90 of the brand’s full service locations and he does not intend to completely move away from third-party delivery platforms.
“We get a lot of walk-in business,” Adamolekun said. “When you don’t have that front of house, you lose maybe half your sales of people just walking in.”
As CEO of P.F. Chang’s, the 33-year-old said he also prioritizes an “open door” policy”, which, according to him, has made him build a rapport with the team and perform his role much more efficiently.
“Now as CEO, I make sure my door is always open, so I’m viewed as approachable and people feel comfortable bringing any issues or concerns to me,” he told the Insider.
He also ensures that everyone is on the same page before anything else. He has weekly meetings with his top operational leaders on strategies to remain viable and competitive.
The young businessman further acts as a guide for his team to dodge distractions and remain focused on their main goals. “If it’s not on the list, they should not spend time on it, and nothing can get added to the list without my express approval,” he said.
Before P.F. Chang’s, Adamolekun worked in the Investment Banking Division of Goldman Sachs and as a Private Equity Associate at TPG Capital. He received his bachelor’s degree in Economics from Brown University, where he was a member of the Ivy League champion Brown Football team. He also earned his Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.