Executive Movements — March 2015

  • Wienerschnitzel Hires Doug Koegeboehn as CMO

    Irvine, CA   Wienerschnitzel, the world's largest hot dog chain, announces the appointment of Doug Koegeboehn as Chief Marketing Officer; joining the Irvine-based company with more than 20 years of marketing experience in the quick service restaurant industry. Koegeboehn will lead brand, marketing, digital, menu, and overall communications strategy efforts. He will also oversee the newly-formed Visionary Department, a forward-thinking marketing division dedicated to building brand loyalty among younger generations.

    Koegeboehn begins his new role, already with decades of Wienerschnitzel brand experience, most recently serving as Group Account Director at DGWB Advertising, Wienerschnitzel's advertising agency of record based in Santa Ana, California. Beginning on the Wienerschnitzel account in 1995, his marketing support runs the gamut, from developing annual ad plans and promotions, to menu strategy, and even dreaming up new products. While at DGWB, Koegeboehn also led nationally-recognized accounts including California Avocado Commission, Yogurtland, Dole, and El Pollo Loco.

    "I am beyond excited about my new role on Wienerschnitzel's management team because I absolutely love the brand and I'm committed to helping take this beloved iconic brand to the next level," said Koegeboehn.

    Koegeboehn is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, and currently resides in Aliso Viejo with his wife and two children.

  • Ruby's Diner Inc. Names Seasoned Food Industry Veteran to Lead Franchising Push

    Irvine, CA  (RestaurantNews.com)  The Ruby Restaurant Group, the Irvine, Calif.-based operator of the iconic 1940s-themed family restaurants and 1960s-themed dinettes, has announced the appointment of a seasoned franchising specialist to oversee a big push this year to grow Ruby's through franchising of a simplified, fast casual model of the family owned and operated brand.

    As Ruby's new vice president of franchise development, Larry Sidoti, who has more than 20 years of experience developing such marquee franchise powerhouses as Yogurtland, Juice it Up and Mrs. Fields Cookies, will oversee this new phase in Ruby's growth strategy.

    "We anticipate awarding 20 franchise deals in 2015," said Doug Cavanaugh, Ruby's founder and chief executive officer. "Larry is the perfect person to build on Ruby's 32-year track record as one of the most successful brands in the highly competitive Southern California restaurant industry. We look forward to introducing Ruby's classic lineup of burgers, fries and handmade shakes to new markets."

    Ruby's is not new to franchising and licensing. In addition to its iconic Southern California pier restaurants, Ruby's currently operates at Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J. Ruby's restaurants are also located in two of Southern California's premier outlet malls; the Citadel Outlets in Commerce in the greater L.A. area and the Carlsbad Premium Outlets in northern San Diego County.

    The 2015 franchising push, however, represents a new business strategy for The Ruby Restaurant Group Cavanaugh said. Franchising territories will be available throughout Southern California and the U.S., including non-traditional sites such as airports, outlet malls, casinos and universities, according to Cavanaugh.

    "There are numerous benefits to potential franchise operators," Cavanaugh said. "We will offer an attractive franchising opportunity in the streamlined version of the Better Burger category, with reduced start-up costs for the smaller, fast-casual Ruby's model."

    The restaurants will range between 2,000 and 2,500 sq. ft. with room for between 40 and 60 customers at tables and a counter and, like the recently launched Ruby's Dinettes, will have an early 1960s theme. The new Ruby's franchises will offer limited beer and wine service and a pared-down menu focusing on the time-tested classic Ruby's lineup of burgers, fries and handmade shakes.

    "With start-up costs expected to range between $458,000 and $1.425 million, our franchise model provides a favorable sales-to-cost ratio," Cavanaugh said.

    Sidoti, a resident of San Clemente, Calif., has a long track record of dramatically improving operations and executive team productivity through franchising. He comes to Ruby's from Yogurtland Franchising Inc. in Irvine, where in five years he led business development efforts to grow and expand Yogurtland to over 300 stores from 37 stores.

    Sidoti had similar success expanding Mrs. Fields Famous Brands and the brand he founded, Juice it Up Franchise Corp., where he spent 13 years. Sidoti earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix and earned his undergraduate degree from Cal State University, Fullerton.

  • Grill Buffet Chain Golden Corral Names Lance Trenary as New President and CEO

    Raleigh, NC  (RestaurantNews.com)  Golden Corral, the nation's leading grill buffet chain, announces the appointment of Lance Trenary as President and Chief Executive Officer effective January 1.  Trenary, who started in his family's restaurant business at an early age washing dishes, moved up the ranks at Golden Corral the last 29 years, serving most recently as the company's Chief Operating Officer. Trenary will take over for retiring CEO Ted Fowler, who has held the top position with the company since 1989.

    "I'm humbled and very excited to lead Golden Corral through the next chapters of our success," Trenary said. "Although we face our share of challenges, I am more optimistic than ever because of the strength of the brand, the quality of the team I am fortunate to lead and the legacy of success we will build on. For 43 years, our mission has been 'Making Pleasurable Dining Affordable,' and as long as we stay focused on our passion for food, the quality of our people and the value we offer, we will continue to grow."

    "Lance is admired and respected throughout our system and the entire restaurant industry by his colleagues and peers," said Ted Fowler, Golden Corral's retiring CEO. "Lance has a vision for this company that excites everyone around him. I leave the top job at Golden Corral in good hands with a leader we're confident can take us to the next level."

    Leadership Legacy

    Trenary will become Golden Corral's third CEO since the first restaurant opened its doors back in 1973. Before Ted Fowler, James Maynard, the company founder, held the position. Golden Corral started in 1973 as one restaurant in Fayetteville, N.C., and today has grown to 501 locations in 41 states. Four hundred restaurants are franchisee owned and 101 are company owned.

    Trenary started in the restaurant business at 9 years old, washing dishes in his father's restaurants. In 1985, he started with Golden Corral as a restaurant partner manager and climbed up the corporate ladder with promotions to District Manager, Director of Operations, Division President, VP of Development, Senior VP of Company Operations and most recently as Chief Operating Officer. He is known for his humble, approachable leadership style and deep understanding of Golden Corral customers and what makes them tick. It was Trenary who brought the famous chocolate fountain to Golden Corral after he spotted something similar at a Chinese buffet in the Midwest.  At that restaurant, he saw folks waiting in long lines to dip strawberries into a chocolate fountain. He brought the idea to Golden Corral, and today the famous Chocolate Wonderfall® is a sweet success.

    "Through all the moves and job changes, my wife and daughters have been the most important part of my life," he said. "I get very emotional talking about them, but I'm very fortunate to have a beautiful family and a job I love. Not bad for a busboy from Mississippi."

  • Brinker International Names Thomas J. Edwards Jr. As Executive Vice President And Chief Financial Officer

    Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE: EAT) announced today that Thomas J. Edwards Jr. has been named Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the company, effective March 16, 2015.

    Edwards is a hospitality and consumer goods industries veteran with a wide range of financial leadership experience. He joins Brinker from Wyndham Worldwide where he most recently served as Chief Financial Officer of the Wyndham Hotel Group, a leading franchised and managed hospitality company with a global presence. Prior to this, Edwards also held a number of leadership positions with Kraft Foods and Nabisco Foods during his 14-year tenure.

    "Tom's extensive background with global consumer brands and top-tier finance organizations will be instrumental in helping Brinker continue to deliver shareholder value," said Wyman Roberts, CEO and President of Brinker International and President of Chili's Grill & Bar. "In addition, his strong track record working in a global, multi-unit environment will be an asset to our team as we implement growth and operational initiatives across our brands."

    Brinker International, Inc. is one of the world's leading casual dining restaurant companies. Founded in 1975 and based in Dallas, Texas, as of Dec. 24, 2014, Brinker owned, operated or franchised 1,634 restaurants under the names Chili's® Grill & Bar (1,585 restaurants) and Maggiano's Little Italy® (49 restaurants).

  • Eat at Joe's, Ltd. Names Mark McGarrity As Chief Information Officer

    Eat at Joe's, Ltd. (OTCQB: JOES), a holding company with wholly-owned subsidiaries in the digital publishing and advertising industry and in the food service industry, today announced that the company has named Mark McGarrity as Chief information Officer (CIO).

    Mr. McGarrity, CEO of Franklin Networks, Inc., which was recently acquired by the Company, has in excess of 13 years of internet marketing experience, will maintain and grow Eat at Joe's digital publishing and advertising operations.

    As CIO, Mr. McGarrity's responsibilities will include continuing the growth of the Company's current digital media platforms and to establish a research and development department (R&D). The R&D department will allow the Company to conceive, create and develop the necessary applications with which to continue its expansion and the continued growth of the Company's new business model. Once established, the in-house capacity will allow the Company to achieve greater vertical integration and be less reliant upon outside contractors.

    Mr. McGarrity has enjoyed repeated success as a driven business leader and as a successful entrepreneur. He has built several businesses that generate multi-million dollar revenue in the software development and Internet marketing arena.

    Mr. McGarrity stated, "I assumed the position as CIO because I recognized an unprecedented opportunity to continue the work that I started at Franklin Networks at a higher level and at the same time, it's an opportunity to assist the Company in realizing its goals and objectives of moving Eat at Joe's in a new direction. I am a firm believer in the potential of the Franklin Networks marketing platform and that is why we agreed to the all restricted-stock purchase of Franklin Networks with stringent gating provisions."

    "Mark understands and has the level of commitment necessary to grow a business. That understanding and mindset, coupled with his substantial experience will undoubtedly enable Mark to help us navigate our path to success," added James R. Thompson, Esq., President and CEO of Eat at Joe's.

    Eat at Joe's is a holding company that through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Franklin Networks, Inc., is engaged in digital publishing and advertising operations and through its other wholly-owned subsidiary, E.A.J. PHL Airport Inc., owns and operates an "American Diner" theme restaurant located in the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called "Eat at Joe's®." The Company is currently exploring opportunities for additional acquisitions in these and other verticals, including mobile application and game development, in order to expand its holdings, to drive and increase revenue and to generate profits and build value for shareholders.

  • Noodles & Company Appoints Gretchen Paules as Vice President, Field Marketing

    Broomfield, CO  (RestaurantNews.com)  Noodles & Company (NASDAAQ:NDLS), serving classic noodle and pasta dishes from around the world, today announced that Gretchen Paules has joined its team as Vice President, Field Marketing, where she will oversee all field marketing support, including franchise marketing.

    "As a brand built on grassroots marketing and thoughtful engagement with guests on the local level, we are thrilled to have Gretchen join our team and look forward to leveraging her more than twenty years of experience to build upon our local marketing leadership," said Dan Fogarty, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Noodles & Company. "We're excited about Gretchen bringing her years of experience to help us bring our Your World Kitchen positioning to life with our teams, in our restaurants and with new fans as we build our brand across the country."

    Most recently Ms. Paules was principal in her own consulting group, Elevation Branding & Communications, where she developed media strategies, business and marketing plans for brands including Abuelos, The Walking Connection and Quaker Steak & Lube.  Prior to that she held senior positions with Famous Brands (Mrs. Fields, TCBY), Boston Market, Rock Bottom Restaurants, Aramark, Burger King and Arby's.  Throughout her career, Ms. Paules has led strategic development, field marketing, franchise marketing, advertising, CRM programs, social media and digital programs for these notable brands which will all serve as relevant and important experience in shaping and driving field marketing activities for Noodles & Company.

    Ms. Paules is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a board member of the Marketing Executive Study Group (MEG) of the National Restaurant Association.  She is also a volunteer with No Kid Hungry/Share Our Strength.

  • Casual Dining Franchise Adds Experienced Vice President of Marketing to Executive Team

    Winston-Salem, NC  (RestaurantNews.com) East Coast Wings & Grill, a polished casual family dining franchise with an emphasis on buffalo wings, has recently named Stacey Kane as Vice President of Marketing. As an experienced marketing professional, Kane brings with her extensive knowledge in the restaurant industry.

    With more than 20 years of experience working with and building multi-unit restaurant chains, some of Kane's previous positions in the industry include Global Director of Buzz at AmRest Restaurants, where she worked with the leadership teams of more than 740 restaurants with over nine brands in 12 countries. Furthermore, in 2007, Kane joined California Tortilla, a 40 unit restaurant chain where she was responsible for overseeing all marketing functions as the Vice President of Marketing. Prior to her career at California Tortilla, Kane spent 11 years as a top-level media buyer for Subway® restaurants. She has also served on several boards, including the Share Our Strength's Marketing Advisory Board and the National Restaurant Association's Marketing Executives Group Board. In 2012 and 2013, Kane was named as one of the Top 20 Movers and Shakers within the Fast Casual Restaurant Industry by Fast Casual Magazine.

    "Stacey's impressive track record in spearheading creative national campaigns as a restaurant marketer will help us continue creating awareness across the country as we further our franchise development footprint," said Sam Ballas, CEO of East Coast Wings & Grill. "In her new role, Stacey will lead our marketing department and oversee our National Director of Unit Level Marketing, with immediate focus on implementing programs aimed at creating brand awareness, customer retention and new customer acquisition."

    With 82 locations currently operating or in various stages of development, the company opened five new restaurants in 2014 and is on track to open eight additional locations in 2015. Furthermore, 2014 marked the sixth consecutive year that East Coast Wings & Grill finished with new store unit growth above 20 percent, which led the brand to a four percent increase in sales over 2013.

    "I am very excited to join the East Coast Wings & Grill team during this period of rapid expansion and new restaurant openings. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to leverage my marketing skills with a brand that has established itself as a leader in the casual dining segment," said Kane. "I look forward to working with the amazingly talented team to build sales and drive buzz while simultaneously creating awareness for the East Coast Wings & Grill franchise opportunity."

    With a focus on great-tasting, freshly prepared food, the burgeoning brand delivers a warm and inviting décor that leaves customers feeling a sense of community. And while its 75 flavors and 675 combinations of buffalo style wings remain a staple of the concept, East Coast Wings & Grill's six-page menu also includes such casual dining fare as burgers, salads, sandwiches, ribs and more.

  • Capital Restaurant Concepts Names Thomas L. Gregg As Its New CEO

    Washington, DC  (RestaurantNews.com)  Capital Restaurants Concepts (CRC) announces the appointment of Tom Gregg as CEO, to lead and grow the group of iconic restaurant brands into the future. Mr. Gregg comes to CRC after founding and spearheading the largest American smart card software company in the 1990's 3-G International (3GI). He has also served as president of the publicly traded international sous vide food manufacturing company Cuisine Solutions, and was also the chairman of the famous chef brand sous vide products company, Fiveleaf. Most recently, Mr. Gregg has been recognized for his work as co-founder of the Washington, DC-based Medium Rare restaurants, and as an advisor/investor for many companies, including Central Michel Richard restaurant, through his private investment company, MacGregor Capital.

    "I have more experience as an entrepreneur then a restaurateur," explains Gregg. "However, I have a strong understanding of the culinary side of the business, and combined with my business background, I hope to help re-energize and grow the current CRC iconic brands to their full potential, and then add iconic brands to our current portfolio of restaurants."

    "I am excited to have Tom aboard," states CRC Chairman and Founder Bechara Nammour. "His focus on business fundamentals and strategic growth is what is needed to help lead our restaurant group into the future." Mr. Gregg was a 1999 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in DC.

    Capital Restaurant Concepts., Ltd. (CRC) is the premier "iconic" restaurant operator in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. Our history dates back to the 1982 opening of J.Paul's — An American Dining Saloon, in Washington, DC's historic Georgetown.   The group also includes Georgia Brown's, a southern low country restaurant two blocks from the White House opening its doors in 1993; Paolo's, and iconic Italian restaurant in the heart of Georgetown focused on Pasta, Pizza, and Pizzazz which opened in 1987; Old Glory a quintessential Bar-B-Que restaurant since 1985 also in the heart of Georgetown, serving traditional BBQ from all over the South and also known for its over 100 bourbons; and Neyla, a classic Mediterranean originally operating in Georgetown for over 20 years and now re-opening in Reston this Spring.

  • Real Mex Names 35-Year Industry Veteran Bryan Lockwood As Chief Executive Officer

    Cypress, CA  (RestaurantNews.com)  Real Mex Restaurants ("Real Mex" or the "Company"), the largest full service, casual dining Mexican restaurant chain in the United States, today announced that Bryan Lockwood has been appointed Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately.

    Mr. Lockwood is a proven executive with extensive operational expertise in the restaurant industry. Prior to joining Real Mex, he served for a decade in the roles of Chief Executive Officer and President of Tavistock Restaurants, a company he co-founded in 2003. During his time at Tavistock Restaurants, Mr. Lockwood grew annual revenues to $300 million while overseeing operations of 13 upscale restaurant concepts and approximately 7,000 employees. In his more than 35 years in the restaurant industry, Mr. Lockwood has served in a variety of roles including as an executive, advisor, principal, investor, franchisor, and franchisee.

    "I am pleased to have someone of Bryan's caliber lead Real Mex during this exciting phase of growth for the Company," said James J. Zenni, Chairman of Real Mex and President and Chief Executive Officer of Z Capital Partners. "Bryan brings extensive industry knowledge and valuable operational experience, as well as a proven track record of overseeing the successful turnaround and growth of various restaurant brands. Under Bryan's leadership, I am confident that the Company will continue to successfully build out our premier brands and further execute on our transformational strategy to drive growth and profitability. I look forward to capitalizing on Bryan's unparalleled expertise to elevate Real Mex to new heights for the benefit of all our constituents, including our valued customers."

    Mr. Lockwood commented, "I am extremely honored to join Real Mex at such an important time in the Company's history. Real Mex has an impressive portfolio of leading brands, and I look forward to getting started and working closely with this talented team to build on the Company's momentum."

    Real Mex is a portfolio company of Z Capital Partners, L.L.C. and Tennenbaum Capital Partners, LLC.

    About Bryan Lockwood

    Bryan Lockwood is a 35-year restaurant and hospitality industry veteran. Most recently, Mr. Lockwood founded Rare One, LLC., his personal restaurant investment company. From 2003 to 2013, he served first as President and then as Chief Executive Officer of Tavistock Restaurants, a company that he co-founded. Mr. Lockwood was directly responsible for Tavistock Restaurant's portfolio of upscale restaurant concepts in the U.S., which include Abe & Louie's, Atlantic Fish, Aquaknox, Blackhawk Grille, Cafe del Rey, California Cafe, Canonita, Coach Grill, Joe's American Bar & Grill, Napa Valley Grille, Sapporo and ZED451. He also led growth initiatives such as the acquisitions of Back Bay Restaurant Group and E-Brands Restaurants as well as the acquisition and expansion of fast-casual brand, Freebirds World Burrito. During his time at Tavistock Restaurants, Mr. Lockwood successfully grew the business to $300 million in annual revenues through the acquisition and turnaround of brands that had been through bankruptcy as well as organic growth.

    Prior to co-founding Tavistock Restaurants, Mr. Lockwood established and served as an advisor at Lockwood Advisory Partners from 1997 to 2003, providing financial and operational advisory services to a number of industry-specific institutions, including Houlihan's, J. Gilbert's Wood Fired Grill, CNL Restaurant REIT, Denny's, TGI Friday's, Sheraton and Holiday Inn, among others. He previously served on the advisory Boards of Le Cordon Bleu, Art Institute and Tournament Players Club.

  • Pizza Patron Promotes Andrew Gamm to Executive Vice President

    Pizza Patrón yesterday announced that it has promoted Andrew Gamm to executive vice president. Gamm will continue to build on the strong momentum created following the brand's strongest year ever in 2014.

    "This promotion could be regarded as somewhat overdue. Andrew Gamm has been a trusted colleague of mine for more than 20 years. He possesses intimate knowledge of the brand and is fully vested in its future," said Antonio Swad, CEO of Pizza Patrón. "For many years he has been my personal counsel on difficult decisions regarding Pizza Patrón, and I cannot think of anyone better suited for this position. I am excited to work more closely with him than ever before as we move ahead."

    Gamm is now responsible for overseeing all Pizza Patrón operations nationwide. Additionally, he is accountable for the development and execution of all brand and expansion strategies. He initially joined Pizza Patrón in 2002 as brand director. With more than 20 years of experience in advertising and brand management, Gamm has helped transform the restaurant landscape, executing award-winning brand-awareness and revenue-driving strategies for a multitude of restaurant concepts.

    In a statement, Gamm says, "Pizza Patrón has always been an exciting and disruptive brand that so many people love and respect. My goal is to get better performance from each store -- better sales, better service and better food, so that our brand promise of 'Más Pizza. Menos Dinero.' is realized by every customer."

    "Andrew brings strong experience in branding, franchising, and strategy, and has proven himself over the years. He is the right leader at the right time to take over this role as Pizza Patrón executive vice president," Swad says.

    Since 1986, Pizza Patrón has been committed to making its promise of "Más Pizza. Menos Dinero.®" a reality for every customer. From the beginning, the brand has been recognized for its 'fresh-dough' pizza, its low prices and its trademark "friendly, bicultural service." In 2007, the company drew international media attention with its PIZZA POR PESOS® program when it began accepting Mexican Pesos at all of its restaurants. In 2012, the company's PIZZA POR FAVOR™ promotion that gave free pizzas to anyone who ordered in Spanish sparked international news coverage and lively debate throughout the U.S. Today, Pizza Patrón is the leading Mexican pizza brand in the U.S. 

  • Pizza Patron Promotes Victor Vazquez to Vice President of Business Development

    Dallas, TX  (RestaurantNews.com)  Pizza Patrón announced today that it has promoted Victor Vazquez to vice president of business development. Vazquez will be focused on both domestic growth strategies and international expansion.

    "Victor is a proven business leader and strategist that keeps the company's growth and vision at the forefront of every business decision he makes," said Antonio Swad, CEO of Pizza Patrón. "He's spearheaded many intricate and difficult tactics that have been pivotal in positioning and revitalizing the growth of our brand."

    Vazquez joined Pizza Patrón in 2010 and has served in multiple leadership and project management positions within the company. His adept communications and negotiating skills have become widely recognized for achieving strong results as a recent industry trade publication noted his 'tact and amicable approach' has earned him the nickname the 'velvet hammer.'

    "The vision for the growth of the brand has always been very clear. However, we've had many obstacles interfering with our trajectory," said Vazquez. "Now with clear skies, and our plane fueled and free of parasite drag, we are ready to reach our destination."

    Victor will spearhead the company's North American franchise development as well as all international growth opportunities. Vazquez will report directly to Andrew Gamm, executive vice president of Pizza Patrón, and Antonio Swad, the company CEO.

  • Long John Silver's Appoints New Chief Executive Officer

    Long John Silver's has named James O'Reilly as chief executive officer. O'Reilly brings to the role more than 20 years of food service leadership, including, most recently, chief brand officer for Sonic Drive-In.

    Additionally, O'Reilly has served in a variety of domestic and international leadership positions for many prominent brands including Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Yum! Brands, and Procter and Gamble. He earned an MBA from York University and B.S. in Biochemistry from McMaster University.

    "I am very pleased that James has accepted the position of CEO for Long John Silver's," said Rick Duffy, chairman of the board for LJS Partners, LLC. "James brings the right combination of brand building, system leadership, and innovation to the LJS system. I am confident that his leadership of the brand will poise the company for growth in the years ahead."

    O'Reilly added, "I'm pleased to join the team at Long John Silver's. It's an iconic brand, and I look forward to drawing upon my knowledge of the quick-service industry to give consumers more reasons to love Long John Silver's."

    Long John Silver's is the nation's largest quick-service seafood chain, and has been named among the top 50 restaurants in quick service and the #1 seafood brand in quick service by QSR magazine. Founded in 1969, Long John Silver's is a classic American brand based in Louisville, Ky. with more than 1,100 franchised restaurants located throughout the U.S. and Asia. Through its franchise model, Long John Silver's backs its franchisees with food innovation, marketing, and business support. 

  • Darden Announces Appointment Of Chief Executive Officer

    Gene Lee Appointed CEO by Unanimous Vote of Board
    Gene Lee Has Been Operating as Interim CEO Brings 30-Plus Years of Restaurant Operating Experience
    Gene Lee Appointed to Darden's Board of Directors

    Orlando, FL  (RestaurantNews.com)  Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that its Board of Directors has appointed current Interim Chief Executive Officer Eugene I. Lee, Jr. as Chief Executive Officer and director, effective immediately.

    Jeffrey C. Smith, Darden's Independent Non-Executive Chairman, commented, "On behalf of the Board, I want to say how excited we are to have Gene Lee as our CEO.  After conducting a thorough search and reviewing numerous highly qualified candidates, it was clear that Gene was the best candidate and was the Board's unanimous choice.  As Chairman of the Board, I have worked closely with Gene during his Interim CEO role and have been incredibly impressed by his clear thinking, openness to new ideas, passion for winning, and wonderful leadership style.  Gene has already done a terrific job improving the energy and attitude inside Darden and we expect the reinvigorated culture to continue to improve.  Gene brings the perfect combination of restaurant-level operating experience, brand- and corporate-level management expertise, and thoughtful, focused, hands-on leadership.  The Board and I look forward to working with Gene to write the next successful chapter for Darden."

    Commenting on his appointment, Mr. Lee said, "As President and Chief Operating Officer, and then as Interim CEO of Darden, I fully appreciate the possibilities of an improved and reinvigorated Darden.  I am incredibly excited to continue to work with the Board of Directors and to execute our common vision for Darden.  I believe Darden has a fantastic future and look forward to continuing to work with Darden's talented employee base in our collective effort to return Darden to the pinnacle of full service dining."

    Mr. Lee brings more than 30 years of restaurant operating experience to the role, which ranges from early stage high-growth concepts to large high volume chains. Prior to his appointment as Interim CEO, Mr. Lee served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company for one year, and prior to that as President of the Company's Specialty Restaurant Group (SRG) for six years. Under Mr. Lee's leadership, SRG grew from 60 to 175 restaurants while delivering annualized sales growth of 17 percent and annual restaurant earnings growth of 26 percent.

    Mr. Lee joined Darden in 2007 as part of its acquisition of RARE Hospitality International, where Mr. Lee served as President and Chief Operating Officer.  Mr. Lee had been with RARE since January 1997, serving initially as Executive Vice President of Operations for its Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse concept. He became Executive Vice President of Operations for RARE's LongHorn Steakhouse division in October 1997 and was promoted to COO of RARE the following year. In 2001, he was named President of RARE and elected to its Board of Directors. Prior to RARE, Mr. Lee served as Senior Vice President of Operations for Uno Restaurant Corp. and in several management positions for York Steak House Systems.

    In 2013, Mr. Lee was recognized with the People Report Workplace Legacy Award, which is presented annually to the leader who has clearly demonstrated a commitment to balancing people and performance throughout his or her career in the foodservice industry.  A native of Massachusetts, Mr. Lee earned an MBA from Suffolk University in Boston.

    Since a CEO has now been chosen, the Company will turn to its search for the next Chief Financial Officer to succeed C. Bradford Richmond upon his retirement, which will include both external and internal candidates.

  • Great Wraps Grill Adds Four New Execs to Leadership

    With its recent brand enhancements and growth initiatives, Great Wraps Grill announced several key moves that further strengthen the brand's leadership team. The first is the appointment of Spencer Reid as vice president of franchise development. Since coming onboard in late 2014, Reid has already driven franchise interest and secured expansion agreements in Dallas, Austin, and Oklahoma City. In addition to Reid, the Great Wraps has promoted Drew Garverick to vice president of operations, with broad responsibility over menu development and ongoing operations. Additionally, the brand has brought on Jackie Bak as restaurant development manager and Brian Gibson as corporate training manager.

    "I have always felt that the success of any brand depends on the skill, professionalism, and chemistry of the corporate staff," says Mark Kaplan, CEO and chairman of Great Wraps Grill. "Over the past 12 months, we've set out to identify and hire the very best talent to further energize the brand and power our franchise expansion. Spencer, Drew, Jackie, and Brian are tremendous additions to our team, and are already working to position us as an industry innovator, fueling Great Wraps Grill's growth throughout the country."

    As vice president of franchise development, Spencer Reid is responsible for developing strategic direction for franchise development, including growing franchise sales for the brand. Prior to his current role, he served as vice president of franchise sales for Raving Brands in Atlanta and was responsible for expanding its brand powerhouse, Moe's Southwest Grill. Reid held various franchise development roles at Raving Brands for nearly 10 years.

    Promoted recently to vice president of operations, Drew Garverick is leading Great Wraps Grill operations team into the new brand generation of fresh, grilled products. Garverick also drives menu innovation with chef consultants, assures quality control, and develops marketing and operational programs to assist franchise partners in maximizing store success. Before joining Great Wraps Grill, Garverick supported operations at Salsarita's Fresh Cantina and the Taco Stand. 

    Recruited as restaurant development manager, Jackie Bak significantly raises the bar at Great Wraps Grill for interior design, supply chain management, construction management, and more. Prior to coming on board with Great Wraps Grill, Bak was a designer with Casablanca Design Group, a full-service supplier that designs commercial interiors and high-quality seating and décor for the restaurant industry. While she was on board with Casablanca, Bak was instrumental in the re-branding and rollout of McDonald's latest restaurant prototype.

    Ramping up Great Wraps Grill's operational support and training, Brian Gibson joined the brand as the brand's corporate training manager. His role is to fine-tune Great Wraps Grill's training material and help franchisees better execute at the store level to maximize service and financial performance. Before improving the Great Wraps Grill professional line-up, Gibson held key training positions at Tin Drum Asia Café, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, and Sonic Drive-In.

  • Del Frisco's Names Two Regional Managers

    Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:DFRG) promoted Sabrina Scully and Nick D'Ambrosio to serve as regional managers.

    Scully will serve as Dallas Fort Worth Regional Manager, overseeing current Del Frisco's Grille locations in Southlake, Uptown Dallas and Fort Worth as well as the Del Frisco's Grille in Plano scheduled to open in summer 2015. Most recently she served as general manager of Del Frisco's Grille in Southlake, Texas. Scully joined Del Frisco's Restaurant Group in 2003 as a bartender at Sullivan's Steakhouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and worked her way up to manager of Sullivan's Steakhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has also opened two Sullivan's Steakhouse restaurants for the company in Leawood, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska.

    D'Ambrosio will serve as northeast regional manager, overseeing Del Frisco's Grille locations in the New York tri-state region, Boston and surrounding areas, including Burlington and Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. D'Ambrosio joined Del Frisco's Restaurant Group in 2011 as a General Manager for the first Del Frisco's Grille location in New York City. Prior to Del Frisco's, he worked in management roles for such restaurant brands as Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group as a manager for Cité Grill, B.R. Guest Restaurants.

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