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Bill Trefethen

By Susan BelknappPublished: November 01, 2012

CEO Daphne’s California Greek restaurants, Carlsbad
Hot factor: Applied his vision and financial acumen to turn around a restaurant chain

When Laguna Beach’s Bill Trefethen brought Daphne’s Greek Café out of bankruptcy in 2010, he knew he was facing perhaps his greatest – but potentially most rewarding – challenge.

Trefethen has an impressive background in the finance side of business. He is the founder of American Commercial Capital and Trefethen Advisors. In addition, he’s a former managing director with Koll Investment Management, a director in the Financial Advisory Services division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a member of the financial advisory services division at Arthur Anderson.

One day, Trefethen realized that he was hungry for a creative challenge. “I was searching for something I could look at and be proud of,” he says. “I saw the potential in Daphne’s and saw that it needed major updating. So I set about finding out how to do just that.”

Trefethen knew that if Daphne’s was going to overhaul the brand, there was a risk of alienating the chain’s longtime customers. However, the company ran on an outdated model that was part of the problem that had landed the company in trouble in the first place.

“First, we needed to bring in some ‘cool factor’ and thought that the California lifestyle and action-sports themes could fit great with the Mediterranean-inspired menu,” he says.

Integrating California culture with healthy, tasty Greek and Mediterranean cuisine seemed like the ideal amalgam to create a unique culinary niche. Convincing others of this, however, wasn’t so easy. “You always get push back,” Trefethen says. “Our concept depended on operating at a higher food-cost percentage than the industry average.”

Some of the key ingredients to many of Daphne’s new signature dishes – shrimp, salmon, avocado, feta cheese, pine nuts, mango, fresh produce and vegetables – don’t come cheap and are rarely seen at the price point offered by the new menu.

The rebranding didn’t stop with just the menu – every store is getting a major makeover. The company supports local community initiatives in education, youth sports and arts in schools.

The new company culture is evident the moment you walk in the door and see the new brightly colored furniture, surf-inspired art and flat-screen TVs.

“When you do something like this, the cultural change has to come at every level,” Trefethen says. “But when you have more than a thousand employees, the conversion isn’t instantaneous. Increased training and continuously pushing for the highest-quality personnel will help us solve that.”

With more than half of the chain’s 54 stores now rebranded and remodeled, the new concept is outperforming the old by a significant margin. Trefethen doesn’t plan to stop there. He and his team are continually working with new menu items and ways to make overall production more efficient. Additionally, Trefethen is considering new brand-development ventures independent of Daphne’s that express his many diverse areas of interest.

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