Q&A: Ken Calwell, Papa Murphy's president


At the end of the year, Ken Calwell, president of take-and-bake pizza chain operator Papa Murphy’s International, will take the reins as chief executive.

He replaces John Barr, who will remain chairman, and plans to focus on the strategic growth of the 1,290-unit chain, which was acquired by New York-based Lee Equity Partners last year.

Calwell plans to build on Papa Murphy’s “food forward” focus and differentiation as a take-and-bake pizza brand that brings families together for a made-at-home meal.

Calwell recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about Papa Murphy’s future.

What are your priorities as you step into the chief executive role?

I want to continue to keep us very focused on doing what we do best.

Consumers love Papa Murphy’s. But what do they love? They love the quality of our product. We don’t spend money on ovens or freezers, so we can put all that money into our food and preparing it fresh. And we do that at a really fair price.

We are a simple concept that’s very focused on pizza, on ingredients and preparation to make it great tasting. That’s the strength of our brand.

It’s so tempting for people to change up the game. I think it’s almost harder to stay focused on the core values of the brand and make it great.

That doesn’t mean everything will stay the same. We have opportunities. We are incredibly strong in the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California, people have grown up with this brand and they love it. Like In-N-Out Burger in California or Chick-fil-A in the South, that’s how we are in the Pacific Northwest.

We have to figure out how to expand smartly and strategically across the U.S. We’ve got to make sure we don’t expand too broadly, too fast. We have to choose markets very selectively that we’ll move into and focus our resources.