Au Bon Pain execs meet with students, share industry insights and wisdom

Jennifer Miller
September 30, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State School of Hospitality Management welcomed both the current and former CEO of Au Bon Pain – a restaurant chain headquartered in Boston with more than 300 locations in the United States and abroad – as fall 2016 Walter J. Conti Visiting Professors.

Raymond Blanchette, president and CEO of Au Bon Pain, and Susan Morelli, former president and CEO of Au Bon Pain, shared career and industry wisdom with students and faculty members Sept. 25 and 26 in classroom and round table settings.

In a lecture for students enrolled in HM 490 Strategic Hospitality Management, Blanchette outlined his leadership approach.

“The leader points the way; the leader keeps everyone going while pointing out the white lines on the road,” Blanchette said.

Additionally, Blanchette shared a tactic that has helped him flourish in his career.

“Let natural curiosity drive your business. That is the No. 1 thing I’ve done at every level of my career to help affect positive change. Curiosity begins the learning process. Ask yourself why something isn’t happening at your business and then you observe and find out why,” he said.

Blanchette previously served as CEO of Ignite Restaurant Group and executed a turnaround of Joe’s Crab Shack while also creating the Brick House Tavern+Tap brand and developing it to roughly $90 million in revenue. The performance enabled Blanchette to take the company public in May 2012. He is also the founder of Sugarloaf Concepts LLC, d.b.a. Fat Biscuit.

Student Ross Morris said Conti Professor lectures are unique learning opportunities that add value to the hospitality management program. The program creates an opportunity for students to meet face-to-face with industry leaders in a less formal setting, allowing students to ask questions and “pick their brain,” he said.

“Today’s lecture was very helpful as Ray not only covered topics and concepts in strategic management that we have been learning about in class, but he also reinforced them with examples of his own decisions and how that has shaped his career path,” Ross said.

Susan Morelli talking with students

Susan Morelli, former president and CEO of Au Bon Pain, shared career and industry wisdom with students and faculty members in classroom and round table settings.

IMAGE: Kevin Sliman

Morelli joined Au Bon Pain in 1988 and was named interim president in 2005 and president and CEO in 2006. Under her leadership the company focused its menu on healthful, balanced eating, earning recognition as No. 1 Healthiest Restaurant by Grellin and as one of the “healthiest restaurants in America” by Health Magazine.

Morelli led the company’s accelerated growth into highly visible, densely populated non-traditional domestic real estate including hospitals, universities and transportation centers, while also supporting successful international franchise expansion in Thailand and India. She retired in July 2016.

As Conti Professor, Morelli spoke to students enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, a professional development program for emerging women leaders. During the round table discussion, Morelli described her leadership style as open, approachable and collaborative with a willingness to listen to other points of view.

“I was never a top-down kind of leader. If you get people to talk things through the right decision will be clear,” she said.

Morelli shared that in the early years of serving as CEO, she encountered some skepticism from the male-dominated finance field as to her appointment, perhaps because she was a female who was seeking significant funding on behalf of management’s purchase of the company from its previous owners.

Conversely, she said the hospitality industry is generally supportive of female executives, particularly in Boston, a city known for women leaders in industry and higher education.

“A good organization is gender blind. It’s important to perpetuate that culture. Au Bon Pain is truly gender blind. The best candidate gets the job,” Morelli said.

Student Kayla Sorochak said Morelli’s dedication to working with people is not only one of her greatest strengths, but also a great benefit to others.

“By passing on her knowledge of her personal experiences, she is able to inspire and lead a new generation of hospitality leaders into the workforce,” Sorochak said.

Donna Quadri-Felitti, director and associate professor for the Penn State School of Hospitality Management, recognizes that being named a Conti Visiting Professor is a prominent symbol of success in the hospitality industry as it identifies, in the tradition of Walter Conti, distinction in both career achievement and service to others through education, and moreover to Penn State University students.

“In this semester’s Conti Professor appointments, our students were able to directly engage with a seasoned CEO who successfully grew Au Bon Pain from 30 restaurants to 300 as well as hear from her successor who is leading the chain’s next generation of innovation and development,” said Quadri-Felitti.

Walter J. Conti, for whom the Conti Professorship is named, is a well-known restaurateur and industry leader from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and former Penn State trustee. He is the retired owner and chief executive officer of Conti Cross Keys Inn and the Historic Piper Tavern, formerly Conti's Pipersville Inn, both located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Conti has held various leadership positions in the National Restaurant Association, including a term as chairman from 1981 to 1982, and he is a "diplomat" of the association's educational foundation. The Conti Professorship Program was established by alumni and friends of the Penn State School of Hospitality Management in 1987 to honor Walter J. Conti for his contributions to the school, to Penn State and to the hospitality profession. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 30, 2016