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Founder of King's restaurants steps back

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

King's Family Restaurants has named a new president as its founder and owner, Hartley King, has started to reduce his role in day-to-day management of the 32-restaurant chain.

King, 80, confirmed on Monday he has decided to ease up his operation of the company and let younger management personnel, such as Chris Whalen, 56, the new president, make the decisions “because they have the energy to do so,” King said.

Some of that new energy has been demonstrated, as Whelan guided the remodeling of four restaurants last year and three so far this year. Whelan said the drive to remodel and focus on food will continue.

“My priority will be to enhance our menu with fresher and healthier foods, while still having fun with our menu. I want people to notice positive changes every time they come into a King's Family Restaurant,” said Whelan, previously the company's chief financial officer.

Whelan said he is “looking for ripe sites in Pittsburgh to build new restaurants.”

“Our famous meatloaf remains one of our staple dishes, and all our soups are made from scratch,” he said. Most of the bread products used in the restaurants are purchased from Cellone, a bakery in Windgap.

Whelan said he hopes to establish a supply chain that will include local farmers.

Four years ago, King said that an attempt to sell all or part of the chain to potential buyer Unique Ventures Group LLC of Meadville wasn't completed because of lack of financing.

A spokesman for Unique Ventures declined to comment.

Most of the restaurants stay open until 11 p.m. or midnight, but the North Versailles store — the location of the first King's restaurant in 1967 — is open 24 hours on weekends. The company has one store in Ohio.

Explaining how the restaurant chain started, King said, “I had a petroleum company, which I sold last year. I was approached by some investors from Arkansas in 1967 who wanted me to build them a building for a barbecue restaurant. Two months later they dropped out, leaving me with a restaurant building. A friend of mine from New Jersey showed me how to operate a restaurant, and the rest is history,” King said.

Although the first restaurant was called Kings Country Shoppes, the next restaurant was called by the current name of King's Family Restaurant.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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