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One of the people behind the chicken sandwich war last year will become the new chief executive of Regis Corp.

Felipe Athayde, who was president of the Americas for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, will take the reins on Oct. 5 when Hugh Sawyer retires from active management and his current roles as chairman, president and chief executive.

Athayde takes over a struggling company that is trying to recover from COVID-19 effects at the same time it finishes a transition to a franchise-only model.

“With some of the most iconic brands in North America, a strong network of franchisees and innovative customer-facing technology, Regis is well-positioned for growth, even in the current environment,” said Athayde in a statement. Besides its nameplate brand, Regis also owns Supercuts, Smart Style and Cost Cutters.

He said he is excited to build on the momentum.

Under his leadership, Popeyes introduced its first chicken sandwich — more complicated than it would seem since restaurants had to be fitted with equipment such as bun warmers, Athayde told the Miami Herald last year.

When it was introduced in August, Popeyes engaged in a social media battle with Chick-fil-A, known as the founder of the fast-food chicken sandwich.

Some Popeyes outlets were overwhelmed with block-long lines for the new sandwich, as it became a hit and industry experts declared Popeyes the winner of the first round of the sandwich battle.

Popeyes was bought in 2017 by Restaurant Brands International. Athayde also held senior management roles at Burger King and Tim Hortons under his career with that company.

Popeyes, under Athayde, has had some of the largest quarterly comparable sales increases in the industry, Regis said.

Athayde earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Fundação Getulio Vargas (EAESP-FGV) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“With a proven track record of growing franchised businesses and a demonstrated ability to execute strategic change, Felipe is the ideal person to assume this role at a pivotal time for Regis,” said Virginia Gambale, Regis’ lead independent director.

Athayde takes over Regis at a critical time. The St. Louis Park-based business was struggling before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. It now must rebuild customer traffic as its salons reopen after stay-at-home orders.

Last week, the company said its revenue fell 76% during April and it recorded a $73.6 million loss during the quarter ended June 30.

The company was expecting to complete its conversion to an asset-light franchise model by the end of this year, but it now expects the process to be completed by the middle of 2021.

Regis’ board of directors elected current director Daniel Beltzman, manager of Birch Run Capital Advisors, as nonexecutive chairman, taking over with Sawyer’s retirement.

Sawyer will remain with Regis as an executive adviser through September 2021.

Gambale lauded Sawyer’s leadership in developing and executing the strategy to shift to a model with all franchise-owned salons “that has positioned Regis for its next chapter of growth and development.”

On a day when the broad stock markets were down, Regis shares closed Tuesday at $6.46, down 51 cents.

Catherine Roberts • 612-673-4292