Stock Certificate, specimenLate 1900'sAmerican Bank Note CompanyThe item shown is representative of the one you will receive
In 1984, The Cooker Restaurant Corporation
was founded in Nashville, Tennessee, by G. Arthur Seelbinder (whose printed signature appears on this piece), a former Wendy's franchisee, along with three others--Phil Hickey, Jerry Hornbeck, and trained chef Glenn Cockburn. Cockburn, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who became director and senior vice-president of operations for the company, created most of the items on the Cooker menu. Cockburn developed the home-style recipes that included pot roast, lasagna, soups, meatloaf, fish, steaks, sandwiches, hamburgers, ribs, and chicken--all made from scratch--for their restaurants.
In the spring of 1989, an initial public offering (IPO) raised over $12 million, which was earmarked for paying off bank debt, with the balance intended for expansion costs. Within months of the offering, Seelbinder assumed the duties Cooker's president after a failed buyout attempt by then-president Philip J. Hickey, Jr. (who held a five percent stake in the company) and an outside group. Rajan Chaudhry reported in Restaurant News
that "the buy-out proposal called for the resignations of Seelbinder and all other company directors, except Hickey. ... In June, Cooker [had begun] trading over the counter, and analysts [were] puzzled by the timing of the bid." The Wall Street Journal
quoted Seelbinder (who owned 16 percent of the company) as stating that there were "differences over control of the company" and long-term strategy. Hickey resigned from the company's board after a severance agreement was completed wherein Cooker's employee stock ownership plan bought out 1.1 million shares of the company's stock at $3.25 per share. Half of the shares were purchased from Hickey, with the remaining shares purchased from Gerald A. Hornbeck, who then resigned as Cooker vice-president of development and became a company consultant. Both agreed to a five-year relinquishment of interest in Cooker and entered into non-competition agreements, including the stipulation that they not participate in any proxy fight for the company. Speculation over the "management void" led to uncertainty concerning the future of the company, and analysts downgraded investment opinions. Cooker argued that despite the loss of its operations director, they maintained a strong management team capable of competent leadership.
Cooker's policy was to offer a money-back, satisfaction guarantee, or to give away free meals if customers were dissatisfied. In 1992, Cooker gave away $750,000 in free meals to back up the guarantee and justified that expense as a positive advertising strategy.
Glen Cockburn explained to Marjorie Coeyman of Restaurant Business
that the company "started as a mom-and-pop kind of place. It was casual and homey, but it wasn't attracting the kind of clientele we wanted. It wasn't profitable enough." Pricing was too low, management thought, and its valued servers were leaving because their tips were based on checks averaging less than $9. The company instituted a more upscale menu and interior appearance. Explained Cockburn, "Low-voltage lighting replaced the warmer, pink lights of earlier units. Old-fashioned black-and-white photos aimed at evoking a cheerful, nostalgic tone gave way to starker art photos of, for instance, a lone tomato. Customers didn't like it. They looked at it and said, 'That looks too expensive.'" As a result Cooker got burned by going too upscale, which alienated former customers.
In 1994, Cooker began organizing a new management team beginning with the selection of General Mills
's China Coast Division operations vice-president Philip L. Pritchard as the new company president, a newly created position. He had been a Darden
's Red Lobster Restaurant executive vice-president from 1986 to 1992 and was credited with successfully implementing their rapid growth before moving to General Mills, where he worked until taking the Cooker position. His strengths earned him a reputation as a manager who could handle aggressive expansion. A new human resources director, Jeff Karla, was recruited from McDonald's
, and Dave Sevig became CFO, leaving his controller's post at Red Lobster. Cooker concentrated efforts on selecting new sites in close proximity to office and retail centers. The company's expansion plans also continued to involve the opening of new restaurants in regions where Cooker restaurants already existed. The new operational strategy soon paid off. In 1996, the company acquired six former China Coast Restaurants from Darden Restaurants, Inc. (owners of Olive Garden Italian Restaurants) with the intention of converting them to the Cooker concept. Eleven new Cooker restaurants opened in 1996--showing strong performance--and plans were implemented for the opening of another dozen or so by the end of fiscal 1997.
Unfortunately, Cooker faced problems in the late 1990s and was once again forced to pare back its expansion efforts. Cooker's finances began to feel the pains of mounting debt, slowing sales growth, and falling customer traffic brought on by increased competition. In attempt to give its menu new life, Cooker added new items that included bruschetta, oriental chicken salad, and roasted portobello grill to its offerings. The company also decided to update its menu three times per year.
Hoping that some new blood would bolster Cooker's operations, the company named Henry Hillenmeyer chairman and CEO in August 1999. Under his leadership, the firm began selling off its stores in the south. Company headquarters were then moved from Florida--an unprofitable region for Cooker--to Nashville, Tennessee. Store count fell from 66 in ten states in 2000 to 50 in five states by mid-2001. In May of that year, Cooker was forced to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
As part of its reorganization efforts, Cooker began to focus on strengthening its relationship with its customers. As such, it revitalized its "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" and also focused on friendly and fast service, along with serving its customary large portions. The company also brought in industry veteran Dan Clay as vice-president and chief operating officer and co-founder Jerry Hornbeck, whose responsibility included revamping the menu. Ultimately, the reorganization could not save the company as Cooker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2002, and eventually ceased all operations in May 2004 - closing its last 20 locations.OH-Ohio Restaurants and Fast Food Specimen Pieces Female Subject Male Subject Child Subject Storefront Scene Photo Vignette Multi-Color