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A new order at Isaac's: Founder steps down as CEO [Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Pa. :: ]
[March 12, 2014]

A new order at Isaac's: Founder steps down as CEO [Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Pa. :: ]

(Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 11--There's a simple reason why Philip R. Wenger is looking for a new job.

It's because he just hired somebody to fill his old one.

Wenger, the founder of Isaac's restaurant chain, has stepped down as its president and chief executive officer.

He's picked D. Michael Weaver as his successor.

Wenger, who remains owner of the company, has become chairman but no longer is part of its day-to-day operations.

After more than 30 years of running the business, Wenger said he felt it was time for a change. The transition took effect March 3.

"I wanted to do something else," said Wenger, 55, a Lancaster city resident.

"While I still care deeply about the company, I decided it was better for Isaac's to bring in someone younger, smarter and more capable." Weaver, 45, was president of Tabor Community Services from 1995 to 2006. Since then, he's held leadership posts in construction, manufacturing and retail.

"I like the values Phil stands for. It's a wonderful platform to build upon and grow," said Weaver.

Wenger opened the first Isaac's in 1983 in downtown Lancaster, where the company's corporate offices remain.

Known for its grilled sandwiches named after birds, casual atmosphere and colorful decor, Isaac's today has 18 restaurants in six counties, including eight in Lancaster County.

The regional company has 550 employees and annual revenues in excess of $20 million, despite intense competition from national chains.

"Isaac's is coming off three really good years, which gives us the opportunity and freedom to do this. It's the right time for the next chapter of my life," said Wenger.

Wenger has no concrete plans for the future, other than to keep working on his cabin getaway along the Susquehanna River and keep supporting community causes.

"I'm fully invested in community building, and I will continue to do that," said Wenger.

Wenger is vice chairman of the board of Lancaster General Health, chairman of its Heart Group and chairman of LGHealth's mission and community benefit committee.

He also is on the board of the Susquehanna Heritage Gateway Association.

Wenger is a past chairman of the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, the Lancaster County Community Foundation and The Lancaster Chamber.

He also has been active in the United Way and Fulton Opera House.

"I have about 10 years of solid, productive career left. I'm going to be doing a search for what feels right. It could be either a volunteer or paid position....

"I just want to do something different than running Isaac's." An Eastern Mennonite University graduate, Wenger also is considering a return to college.

Wenger and Weaver have known each other for more than 10 years.

They met when Wenger chaired the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness. Weaver, then Tabor's president, was on the coalition.

Wenger started Lancaster City Living, an organization dedicated to encouraging young adults to move to the city. Tabor provided office space and support.

Weaver's impact on Tabor was not lost on Wenger.

Not only did Tabor expand exponentially in size and reach, it was instrumental in launching the East King Street Improvement District and the Transitional Living Center.

Weaver left Tabor to hold executive positions at Weaver Masonry (he's not related to the company's owners), Dutchland (a maker of wastewater treatment plants) and other firms.

About a year ago, Weaver called Wenger, looking for a reference as he sought a new job.

They met for breakfast to talk it over. The discussion led to a new job alright, but not the one initially discussed.

Wenger said their shared values of commitment to customers, employees and the community were crucial points.

"Phil created something that was sustainable before sustainable was a buzzword, and I like that," said Weaver.

The conversations also covered the possibility of Wenger someday selling the business to Weaver, but no agreement is in place.

Weaver, the father of three, will continue to live in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg is a convenient midpoint between Weaver's new job and his wife's job as softball coach at Messiah College.

Weaver acknowledged the transitions were "a big step" for both he and Wenger.

Weaver said he was excited by the chance to lead an organization that's both "a good place to work and does good things." Isaac's offers health insurance to employees who work at least 25 hours a week and supports many charitable causes.

With no experience in the restaurant industry, Weaver admits he has a lot to learn. He says he likes it that way.

"I am a constant learner. I don't stop. I keep asking questions...," said Weaver.

"I have to focus on learning the industry. I call it becoming a master of the craft. That takes continual focus and love of that focus by me.

"I'm trying to get out to the stores as much as I can.

"You don't really make great sandwiches at the corporate offices. It's hard to sell them there, too," Weaver quipped.

The new CEO said he has no plans to make immediate changes, a stance reinforced by friends who are Isaac's customers.

"When I began to tell people that this was the decision I made, it's amazing how many people said to me, 'Well, whatever you do, don't get rid of the Scarlet Ibis,' or whatever their favorite sandwich is ...," said Weaver.

The new CEO was happy to reassure his friends.

"There's no need to change great stuff," he said.

___ (c)2014 Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pa.) Visit the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pa.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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