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he lousy economy swallowed up business. Savvy competitors have nibbled at its customer base. And signs of middle age -- from dated design to a stilted menu -- began to set in several years ago at the 32-year-old chain with 1,865 locations in 49 states (no locations in Hawaii -- yet).
Enter Mike Archer, former president at T.G.I. Friday's and now president at Applebee's. Parent DineEquity (which also owns IHOP) turned to him four years ago to fix the mess at Applebee's. In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY marketing reporter Bruce Horovitz, Archer, 52, explains the changes at Applebee's and why he thinks he can make Applebee's relevant to the next generation. (This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: In its fourth decade, isn't Applebee's getting a bit long in the tooth?
A: We recognized several years ago that Applebee's had an opportunity to revitalize. Millions of people know and love Applebee's. We want to create a new generation of Applebee's lovers.
Q: Does Applebee's really stand for anything?
A: We're a neighborhood restaurant. We have enough options and choices for people to use us on a regular basis. We're part of the neighborhood.
Q: But does Applebee's have a signature product -- like McDonald's has the Big Mac?
A: Our steak. It's America's favorite steak. We sell more steak than anyone in the bar and grill category.
Q: What's the most important change you're making at Applebee's?
A: The food. We're focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients and improving flavor profiles. We're signaling the change by revitalizing the stores. And we're communicating the change with a campaign about the freshness and food quality. Our new summer menu includes lemon shrimp fettuccine with sauteed fresh spinach and basil. And our new garlic rosemary chicken is made with fresh-squeezed lemon. Until now, strawberries were used only in desserts and beverages at Applebee's. Now, strawberries are about to show up in a new salad.
SOURCE: USA TODAY