Restaurants must evolve, or they will be passed by—that's the nature of the industry.
It's true not only for branding, menu innovation, and growth strategies, but also for leadership. Quite often, concepts—whether dealing with retirement or an executive moving elsewhere—have to look for that fresh perspective.
A number of chains made moves in 2022. He are 24 CEO changes to note from last year.
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Starbucks, Laxman Narasimhan
Laxman Narasimhan previously worked as chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser Group, the parent of Lysol, Air Wick, and other retail brands. He was with the company since 2019. Beforehand, he served in multiple senior roles at PepsiCo, including global chief commercial officer and CEO of Latin America, Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa. He also worked as director of consulting firm McKinsey & Company for nearly 20 years.
He entered Starbucks in October and will assume the top position in April.
Church's Chicken, Joe Guith
Joe Guith previously served as Focus Brands' restaurant category president, overseeing more than 1,500 restaurants across fast casuals McAlister's, Moe's, and Schlotzsky's. Prior to that appointment, he worked as brand president of Cinnabon, and took the same role at McAlister's. Before Focus, the industry veteran was general manager of KFC's South Territory, which covered more than 1,500 units, 200-plus franchisees, and $1.5 billion in revenue. He also worked in a variety of roles for Coca-Cola.
Blaze Pizza, Beto Guajardo
At Focus Brands—owner of Schlotzsky's, Moe's, Auntie Anne's, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister's, and Carvel—the industry veteran served as international president since April 2020. While at the helm, he oversaw more than $400 million in sales in 50-plus markets with 1,900 restaurants and 100 franchisees. Prior to Focus, Beto Guajardo worked as president of Schlotzsky's and senior vice president of global strategy for Starbucks.
Smalls Sliders, Maria Rivera
In prior roles with brands including Krispy Kreme, TGI Fridays, Logan’s Roadhouse, Darden Restaurants and The Walt Disney Company, Maria Rivera built high-performing management teams from scratch and provided operational leadership at all levels of growth. Under her leadership, Smalls Sliders will accelerate previously announced plans for significant franchise growth.
Pollo Tropical, Dirk Montgomery (interim basis)
In December, the fast casual announced Richard Stockinger stepped down from CEO to pursue other interests. Dirk Montgomery, Pollo Tropical's CFO since 2019, is serving as interim CEO while the company searches for a permanent chief executive. Montgomery previously served as CFO and head of supply chain for Hooters and at Bloomin' Brands.
Steele Brands Management, Kelly Baltes
Steele Brands, parent of better-for-you concepts Crisp & Green, Stalk & Spade, and Paco & Lime, announced Baltes as new CEO in November. He has over 28 years of restaurant industry leadership experience in both founder-led and private-equity brands. In his most recent role as president for Maggiano’s, Baltes provided strategic and operational guidance to refresh the brand experience, improve guest metrics, and develop the business model to unlock revenues of $425 million.
He succeeded founder and CEO Steele Smiley, who remains sole controlling shareholder in the business.
Swig, Rian McCartan
Rian McCartan is the former vice president of global retail and real estate for See’s Candy, a Berkshire Hathaway Company. Prior to working for the 100-year-old iconic chocolate company, McCartan held leadership positions with Fortune 500 retailers like American Eagle Outfitters, Williams-Sonoma, Inc., and Skechers U.S.A.
In the past two years, Savory Fund helped the brand more than double its footprint to 45 shops. In 2023, the beverage concept expects to debut more than 25 corporate locations. Swig was sold to the Larry H. Miller Companies in 2022.
Cookie Plug, Chris Wyland
Wyland has been in the franchise industry for more than 20 years, working in development roles at nationally recognized brands, including Slim Chickens, Fransmart, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shops, and Fit Body Boot Camp. Since joining Roll-Em-Up Taquitos, he has led company growth endeavors that have included franchise sales, real estate, design, construction, marketing and technology.
The rising brand is shooting for at least 300 locations by the end of 2026 and at least 1,000 units under development.
Mo'Bettahs, Rob Ertmann
It was a promotion for Rob Ertmann, who had served as president of the fast casual since 2021. Ertmann has a background in multi-unit growth, along with more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant and retail industries. He served as COO at Philz Coffee and held leadership roles at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group and Peet’s Coffee.
Frisch's Big Boy, James Walker
James Walker brings more than 30 years of broad-based, senior-level management experience in the hospitality and retail industry. Walker previously held positions at well-known brands, such as Nathan’s Famous, Baja Fresh, Cinnabon, and Subway.
At Subway, Walker oversaw 28,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and was instrumental in starting Subway’s delivery program, menu transformation, and remodel program. While at Nathan’s Famous, he repositioned the brand as “The Flavor of NY” and successfully developed the sandwich menu offerings.
Wingstop, Michael Skipworth
Michael Skipworth, who played a key role in Wingstop's IPO nearly seven years ago, joined Wingstop in December 2014 and has served in a variety of leadership roles, including executive vice president and CFO and as president and COO. In the third quarter, comps increased 6.9 percent, and a majority of that growth came from transactions as 2021 pricing tapered off. On a three-year basis, the concept experienced a 36 percent rise.
He took over in March for Charlie Morrison, who left the company to head Salad and Go.
Gong cha, Paul Reynish
Prior to the bubble tea concept, Paul Reynish was president and CEO of Five Guys International Restaurants where he oversaw the brand’s expansion, opening in 11 countries in three years. Before that, he served as CMO for Dunkin’ Brands in Boston, and vice president of business for Dunkin’ Brands in Japan, where he managed more than 5,000 stores across the Asia Pacific region.
Additionally, the restaurant veteran was CEO of International Franchisees for Subway—the largest food and beverage franchise operation in the world—and also worked in multiple global executive roles for Burger King in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Domino's, Russell Weiner
Weiner entered Domino's in 2008 as CMO and became president of Domino's USA in October 2014. In July 2018, he was named COO and president of the Americas. Two years later, his title switched to COO and U.S. president.
During his tenure of more than a dozen years, U.S. retail sales have grown from $3 billion to $8 billion, digital mix has skyrocketed from 11.5 percent to more than 75 percent, store count has expanded by more than 25 percent, and market share has more than doubled. He replaced Ritch Allison, who retired last year.
BRIX Holdings, Sherif Mityas
Sherif Mityas is a veteran retail and restaurant industry executive, most notably serving as the chief experience officer for TGI Fridays and as CEO for Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery. He assumed full leadership of BRIX Holdings’ and Amici Partners Group’s brands including Friendly’s, Red Mango, Orange Leaf, Smoothie Factory, SouperSalad, and Humble Donuts.
El Pollo Loco, Larry Roberts
Larry Roberts joined El Pollo Loco in July 2013 as CFO. Prior to that, he spent 14-and-a-half years at Yum! Brands in various roles, including CFO and COO of KFC and CFO of Pizza Hut's joint venture in the U.K. Roberts also spent seven years in managerial roles at PepsiCo. El Pollo is in the midst of an "acceleration agenda," which envisions an aggressive franchise push in a number of markets across Western and Southwestern DMAs.
Torchy's Tacos, Mike Rypka
Mike Rypka, who founded the chain, was announced as CEO in March after leading the chain from 2006-2018. After a long career as a corporate chef for leading organizations like the World Bank, MTV Studios, Disney Animation and Dell, among others, Rypka launched Torchy's Tacos, his own concept.
In November 2020, Torchy's Tacos announced it sold a $400 million stake to a new group of investors, further fueling its aggressive expansion efforts. The brand is leveraging the investment to enter 10 more states in the next few years.
Fazoli's, Doug Bostick
Doug Bostick, formerly senior vice president of operations and franchise development, who’s spent 21 years at Fazoli’s, succeeded Carl Howard, who retired last spring.
FAT Brands purchased the fast casual for $130 million in 2021, putting it side by side with a number of quick-service and casual-dining chains, such as Johnny Rockets, Round Table Pizza, and Twin Peaks.
Del Taco, Chad Gretzema
In August, Jack in the Box announced the promotion of Chad Gretzema to brand president. He replaced former CEO John Cappasola who stepped down.
Gretzema has been with Del Taco since 2012 and was most recently COO, having previously served as senior vice president, strategic planning & innovation, and senior vice president, operations support and engagement. With more than 25 years of food and restaurant industry experience, Gretzema has held positions in operations, training and marketing at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Noodles & Company, and Oscar Mayer Foods.
Wienerschnitzel, J.R. Galardi
Wienerschnitzel announced J.R. Galardi as CEO in February. The title was added to his current position as company president which he has held since 2017. His first job was with Wienerschnitzel as a janitor, and over the years, he's touched nearly every facet of the business, from the fry station and drive-thru window to marketing, operations, community relations, and business development.
Under Galardi’s leadership as company president, same-store sales increased 42 percent, digital sales have grown 400 percent, and all areas of service improved significantly.
Pieology, Shawn Thompson
Shawn Thompson joined Pieology from Supercuts, where he served as president. Preceding Supercuts, he was president of Tim Hortons USA and head of global operations for Restaurant Brands International. Thompson has led large-scale consumer-facing franchised brands, opened hundreds of units, and developed deep franchisee relationships across multiple brands.
City Barbeque, Mike Muldoon
At the start of 2022, founder Rick Malir moved from founder to executive chairman. As part of the transition, Mike Muldoon advanced from president and COO to CEO. Muldoon joined City Barbeque as president and COO in 2019, bringing with him more than 25 years of experience in c-suite restaurant management.
The Ohio-based fast casual said it has room for another 875 restaurants across the country.
Tijuana Flats, Joe Christina
Before joining Tijuana Flats in 2022, Joe Christina served as CEO, president, and board member at Church's Texas Chicken. Before that, he spent 28 years at Burger King with continuously increasing responsibilities and also became a franchisee.
His previous positions at Burger King included vice president of global operations and training and division vice president, franchise operations where he led the southeast division with 350 franchisees and 1,800 restaurants.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, Stacy Peterson
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream named Stacy Peterson CEO in November. Before this role, she served in multiple capacities at Wingstop, including senior vice president of information technology, chief information officer, chief experience officer, chief digital and technology officer, and executive vice president, chief revenue and technology officer.
She replaced John Lowe, who led the chain from four shops to $100 million in annual revenue.
eegee's, Jason Vaughn
Jason Vaughn brings more than three decades of experience to eegee’s. Having served as senior vice president, operations at Yum! Brands, division vice president at Wendy’s, president and COO at Lenny’s Subs and, most recently, president and CEO of Frisch’s Restaurants, Vaughn’s strategic leadership experience will be used to spark growth.
Vaughn succeeded Ron Petty, who served as eegee’s chairman for a decade before becoming CEO in 2019.