Qdoba was founded in 1995, first as Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill, then switching names to Z-Teca Mexican Grill before becoming Qboda Mexican Grill in 1999. “Grill” changed to “Eats” in 2015. The company's vice president of franchise operations, Christine Willis, joined the same year, when Qdoba was still owned by Jack in the Box.
“From the sale to Apollo, we have been able to carve out the business completely from Jack in the Box, hire over 100 people here in San Diego, move into a new headquarters, and really focus on our brand being poised for growth,” Willis says. “Never has there been a time where there's been more optimism about the trajectory of the Qdoba brand. I think there have been periods of change over the last few years.”
“I'm really proud of the hard work we've done—carving out the business is no easy feat,” she adds. “It really is like driving the bus while you're changing the wheels, and keeping the business moving forward. To see where we are today is quite remarkable.”
Willis praised Jack in the Box’s handling of the brand near the end of shared ownership. In the last 18 months, though, she took over the franchise sales arm for Qdoba, hired teams, built infrastructure, and put new systems in place.
When Willis references the 100 corporate employees the brand hired, it was part of an initiative to build out internal teams it previously shared with Jack in the Box. Open positions included roles ranging from specialists to executive management in a variety of departments, such as: finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, marketing, supply chain, and restaurant development.
The company then announced, in mid-May, Keith Guilbault was officially taking the reins as chief executive officer. He previously served as Qdoba’s brand president and chief operating officer since 2016. Susan Daggett, vice president of finance since August 2016, took over as chief financial officer.
Qdoba’s new HQ, in the building formerly occupied by The San Diego Union-Tribune, was labeled, “Flavor Central,” and designed to serve as a hub for the culinary team to create and test menu innovations.
To put into perspective how big of an evolution this was, Qdoba had just 40 corporate employees two years ago. The new building houses roughly 125.
And the chain brought in a new corporate executive chef, Katy Velazquez, in July.
So, to Willis’ point, it’s been a busy time post-sale, to say the least.
“I'm really proud that we've been able to bring three new franchise groups into the system,” she adds. “We've got a lot of interest in Qdoba. … When you look at the trends in the industry as it relates to lifestyle and as it relates to all premises, and then you marry that up with our offering, we definitely have the proposition for a franchisee looking to diversify their portfolio. We've got a great track record.”