Robert Thompson has resigned as CEO of Punch Bowl Social, the food-and-entertainment concept he founded eight years ago, to form an innovation lab for developing products aimed at millennials and Gen Zers.
His resignation is the latest twist for a venture formerly hailed as one of the restaurant industry’s hottest concepts. Thompson had successfully pitched Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on becoming a partner in Punch Bowl, where it would provide capital and expansion knowhow to help the brand grow beyond what were then 20 branches. Cracker Barrel invested $140 million for a minority stake in Punch Bowl, stunning the industry.
But when the pandemic hit just one year later, Cracker Barrel announced it was divorcing itself from the venture and would not provide the capital needed to keep Punch Bowl from defaulting on its loans. Thompson’s brainchild laid off all 2,300 of its employees and shut its restaurants, two of them permanently. Its founder immediately commenced what he described as a determined scramble to find new partners.
Punch Bowl’s website lists 16 current locations, with six more under development.
Millennials and members of so-called Generation Z were prime targets of Punch Bowl, which offered an array of foods, cocktails and games. The announcement of Thompson’s departure from the chain indicated that the entrepreneur’s new incubator business is already working on several products aimed at those demographic groups. It was not clear if they are restaurant-related.