Applebee’s President John Cywinski is leaving to be CEO of another chain

Cywinski oversaw a strong period at the casual-dining giant since joining in 2017. He’ll be replaced by Tony Marolejo, president of international and global development for Applebee’s parent Dine Brands.
Applebee's sign
Applebee's finished its best quarter on record in September. / Photograph: Shutterstock

Applebee’s President John Cywinski is leaving the casual-dining chain to become the CEO of another restaurant company, Applebee’s owner Dine Brands said Wednesday.

Cywinski has served two terms at Applebee’s—first as CMO from 2001 to 2006 and then as president since 2017. In his second go-around, he has steered the chain through the closures of hundreds of underperforming locations and a return to a 100% franchised model. In September, Applebee’s posted its best quarter ever on a three-year basis. He said in a November interview that he never felt better about the 1,571-unit casual-dining chain. 

Dine did not reveal the identity of his next employer.

“It’s been an absolute honor and privilege to serve as president of this very special brand,” Cywinski said in a statement Thursday. “I’ve truly enjoyed every moment leading this remarkable group of franchise partners and this equally remarkable team over the past six years. I’ll look on with great pride, knowing the brand is stronger than it’s ever been and poised to continue its extraordinary success moving forward.”

Tony Marolejo, currently Dine’s president of international and global development, will take over as president of Applebee’s U.S. He’ll be replaced by Scott Gladstone, SVP of strategy and innovation for Dine.

Marolejo joined Dine in 2020 after serving as EVP for international business and global development for Church’s Chicken. He also spent more than 18 years at Burger King. 

Gladstone came aboard in 2016. Before that, he worked for Boston Consulting Group advising Fortune 500 companies.

“We have a deep bench of talented leaders at Dine,” said CEO John Peyton in a statement. “As a result of our succession planning, today’s announcement demonstrates our ability to tap into the great talent of our management team and ensure a smooth and seamless transition. Both Tony and Scott have deep institutional knowledge about Applebee’s, IHOP, and the industry, and they are the ideal leaders to take us to the next level of growth.”

In between his first and second stints with Applebee’s, Cywinski operated Dunkin’ and Sonic Drive-In franchises in Chicago. He then became president of Yum Brands’ KFC before returning to the casual-dining segment as EVP of strategic innovation and marketing at Chili’s parent Brinker International. 

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