Janet Duckham, the chief supply chain officer for US restaurant chain Captain D's, will be retiring at the end of this month.
"I'm going to travel, and have other interests," she told IntraFish, following an illustrious 35 years in the foodservice industry.
"It's been a great run, and Captain D's has been great to me. A lot of hard work has been done, and it's time to move on."
Duckham said her last day will be Feb. 28, and that her replacement will be Brad Clark, who is leaving his role as vice president of supply chain and quality assurance at the P.F. Chang's China Bistro restaurant chain, which operates over 200 restaurants in the United States. Captain D's operates more than 500 restaurants in the US market.
"I know I'm a larger-than-life personality for Captain D's, but I've vetted Brad, and he's ready to work hard and take on the challenge," she said.
"Brad mirrors the Captain D's culture, and culture is important to us."
Operations: 'That's where the buck stops'
Duckham started her career in foodservice at Texas-based Luby's as a restaurant manager in 1986. From there she worked her way up the ranks until she became vice president of purchasing and distribution in 2009, managing all aspects of the restaurant's supply chain.
"I've always had affection for operations. That's where the buck stops," she said.
I may have had some fancy job title, but my whole career has been about rolling my sleeves up.
She joined Captain D's in 2010, as the company's vice president of purchasing and quality assurance.
During her time in that role, Duckham oversaw purchasing and quality assurance, and was instrumental in advancing all aspects of Captain D's complex logistics, sourcing and distribution, as well as food quality, safety and pricing. In 2017, she was promoted to her current role with the restaurant chain.
Throughout her career, Duckham has emphasized getting out in the field, whether to visit suppliers or one of Captain D's 292 company-owned restaurants.
"We don't make any money here at the corporate office, the restaurant has the cash register," she said.
"I may have had some fancy job title, but my whole career has been about rolling my sleeves up. The salesperson is important but the people who make and source your product, those people are important. That's why you develop relationships, and that's when people will do what you ask them to."
Duckham, whose six-foot frame has cut an unmistakable presence at shows such as Boston and the Groundfish Forum, served as a center her freshman year on the women's Texas A&M basketball team. While she enjoys being competitive and winning -- whether it's a game or a major seafood contract -- it's important to learn to win as part of a team, she said.
"People that play team sports, you have a discipline about your schedule. You not only learn about teamwork, you learn about how to work together through adversity," she said.
"Team sports teach the resiliency of what life can give you in a positive way. At Captain D's, we haven't won every contract, but you don't give up. You get back in there the next day and figure out how you could do a better job."
How to grow a seafood restaurant chain in 10 years
Duckham has led a unique company in the fast-casual restaurant space -- it serves primarily seafood and is growing its guest count and its sales.
In 2020 alone, Captain D's opened 30 restaurants. Entering its 50th year as a company, the chain has more than 500 restaurants in 22 states throughout the US Southeast, Midwest and in Utah.
"We've made seafood available, made it taste correct, and we execute it correctly. We have brought seafood to the masses, and will continue to do that," she said. She pointed to the company's practices of hand-dipped batter prepared in-house everyday, as well as its grilling options that make seafood items customizable.
"Shrimp, flounder, wild-caught salmon, clam strips, we've got everything," she said.
"The wild-caught pollock, wild-caught salmon and catfish, those are the big movers. We're doing our part to get US seafood consumption above 14 pounds per year for a person. We're growing, spending money and predominately serving seafood."
Captain D's is also vigilant about its suppliers. All of the company's aquaculture suppliers have either a Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) 3- or 4-star rating.
"We go and inspect facilities ourselves, we're extremely involved in plant and facility visits. We won't do sight unseen. We won't buy a stitch from anyone unless we've been in a facility ourselves," she explained.
Duckham did not want to reveal all of Captain D's suppliers, but said California-based Neptune Foods will be providing the shrimp for a double-dozen Lent promotion that will run through the end of April.
Will she ever return to seafood? She doesn't discount the possibility entirely.
"I might consider doing light consulting," she said. "I might help with a project, or organize a purchasing department and do some mentoring. It might appeal to me at some point. But I have the ability to retire, so why not?"