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Change at the top at P.J. Whelihan’s

Bob Platzer, the founder of PJW, a large regional restaurant group, steps aside as Jim Fris moves up.

Bob Platzer (left) and Jim Fris at the P.J. Whelihan's location in Oaks, Montgomery County, on Dec. 15, 2016.
Bob Platzer (left) and Jim Fris at the P.J. Whelihan's location in Oaks, Montgomery County, on Dec. 15, 2016.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff / MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

On the eve of its 35th anniversary, PJW Restaurant Group -- whose 22 regional restaurants include P.J. Whelihan’s, the ChopHouse, Treno, and the Pour House -- is shaking up its leadership.

Bob Platzer, 67, who with his wife, Donna, launched the business in 1983 with a 14-stool bar in the Poconos, has ceded the chief executive role to Jim Fris, 63, who joined the company as chief operating officer 15 years ago when it had seven restaurants.

“I’m not calling this a retirement,” said Platzer, who is taking the title executive chairman, formally stepping back from day-to-day operations. Platzer said he wants more time with family and his real estate and philanthropic ventures.

A succession plan had long been intimated, the men said. The decision followed a Platzer family vacation to Europe. “Bob was away, and when he came back, it went from zero to 60,” said Fris, a restaurant lifer who recently was named chairman of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“His knowledge in the industry is unmatched,” Platzer said of Fris. “I’m fortunate to have a guy like Jim."

Platzer said he still loved the business and his company, which has nearly 2,000 employees (many of whom are second-generation), “but they deserve to have someone full time. It also, quite honestly, gives me the opportunity to wake up some days and say, ‘I’m not going to work.’”

The move comes amid continued growth and a rebranding for the company, which says it is now approaching $100 million in annual revenue as it plans to open three restaurants in the next six months.

The P.J. Whelihan’s sports bars, named after Platzer’s maternal grandfather, has always been the company’s core brand. Platzer, who constantly scours the region for real estate deals, said he and Fris decided to snap up prime properties near Whelihan’s suburban locations to thwart potential competitors.

To do so, they needed to create other concepts. The Pour House focuses on craft beers, while Treno is Italian and the ChopHouse is a steakhouse.

PJW plans to open two new brands: Central Taco & Tequila in Westmont, just down the street from its headquarters, in December, and ChopHouse Grille in Exton in 2019. There also will be a P.J. Whelihan’s opening in Horsham.