Web Exclusive | December 2016 | By Bruce Horovitz

Execs: Puzder Would be Great for Restaurants

As the debate over Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee rages on, one thing is becoming clear: having one of their own in office excites restaurant operators.
Andy Puzder has been outspoken about cutting back on government regulations like mandating large minimum wage increases and the Affordable Care Act CKE Restaurants
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For all the things that critics have accused Andy Puzder, the outspoken secretary of labor nominee, of being—anti-union, anti-employee rights, and controversial—there’s one thing he’s never been accused of being: boring.

Perhaps a better word to describe the restaurant honcho’s personality would be compelling.

The restaurant industry is certainly compelled by Puzder's nomination as labor secretary, even before his confirmation hearings have begun. Restaurant executives are excited about the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent to Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, being nominated by Donald Trump to oversee the Department of labor. After eight years of hard-line regulations under the Obama administration, execs expect more of a pro-business, hands-off approach if Puzder is confirmed.

Read more about the nomination here.

“This is great news,” says Kendall Richmond, chief financial officer at Toppers Pizza, the White Water, Wisconsin-based chain with 75 locations in 14 states. “Andy understands the restaurant business.”

Whatever the controversy behind Puzder’s nomination, says Michael Mabry, chief operating officer at Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes, “The fact remains, you’ve got an individual who came into a restaurant organization, turned it around, made it profitable again, and has held that position for more than a decade.”

What’s more, says Peter Riggs, president of Pita Pit USA, a 240-unit chain with locations in 43 says, “to have someone intimately familiar with the franchising business as our 'secretary of state' is good for the restaurant business.”

Of course, Puzder isn’t confirmed yet. Nor is his confirmation expected to be a shoo-in. Opponents are certain to criticize his strong stance against raising the minimum wage and against the controversial overtime rule. And the provocative advertising campaigns that he approved for Hardee's and Carl’s Jr. featuring bikini-clad models pitching burgers is sure to raise some eyebrows, too.

Puzder’s critics are outspoken. “Puzder has proven he doesn’t support working people,” says Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employee International Union.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, concurs: “Andy Puzder is the last person to entrust with protecting the rights of American workers.”

One thing is for sure: Puzder attracts attention. Since turning around the once-struggling CKE Restaurants, he’s become an outspoken opponent to unnecessary government regulation, and has been called a “poster CEO” for the regulatory reform effort. That said, he’s also been an outspoken supporter of immigration reform and wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal over the summer bashing Trump’s illegal immigrant deportation plan.

Restaurant industry executives can hardly believe that one of their own is within reach of becoming the nation’s labor secretary.

“It’s pretty exciting to see one of our own elevated to where they will define policy,” says Pita Pit’s Riggs. “To have someone so intensely familiar with the nuances of franchising as secretary of labor is good for the restaurant business.”

“Andy understands the entirety of the industry, from the hourly wage earners to the entry level managers to top management,” says Mabry of Mooyah Burgers.  “He absolutely gets it.”

For Richmond, of Toppers Pizza, it’s all about having someone at the top “who won’t try to regulate profitability.”

Puzder’s ultimate confirmation, Richmond says, would “take off the constant pressure and constant unknown of regulation” for restaurant owners and operators.