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Jean Birch assumes leadership of Papa Murphy's

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Chain-restaurant veteran Jean Birch has assumed day-to-day responsibility for the Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza chain following the resignation of CEO Ken Calwell.

Birch will continue to serve as chairman of the franchise company, a role she assumed in September, while serving as interim CEO. Papa Murphy’s said in announcing Calwell’s resignation that he left to pursue other opportunities, without revealing any specifics.

Calwell had been CEO of the pizza chain since 2011.

The change follows a dismal quarter for the 1,600-unit pizza chain, which sells prepped-to-order pizzas that patrons heat and serve at home. For the quarter ended Sept. 26, 2016, same-store sales at company units fell 7.7% year over year, and comps at franchised stores slipped 5.6%. About 10% of the system, or 166 units, are company-operated. 

The downturn came as many pizza chains, particularly those with a high proportion of sales for off-premise consumption, have outperformed the industry in sales and orders.

"While the general climate in the quarter continued to be challenging, we believe we are at a key inflection point at Papa Murphy's, having successfully laid the groundwork for many of our long-term strategic initiatives,” Birch said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing the results of these initiatives in 2017 and for years to come."

Birch has served as a Papa Murphy’s director since April 2015. Earlier, she held the top job at a number of major restaurant chains, serving as president of IHOP from 2009 to 2012, president of Romano's Macaroni Grill from 2005 to 2007, and president of Corner Bakery Cafe from 2003 to 2005.

She spent 12 years in a variety of vice presidential-level jobs at Pizza Hut.

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