Tijuana Flats announced sweeping leadership changes Wednesday as it prepares for “its next chapter of expansion.”
Brian Wright, the former chief executive of Bertucci’s, is taking over as CEO from Rick Van Warner, who served in the position since last March. He will continue to sit on 135-unit Tijuana Flat’s board. Van Warner succeeded Larry Ryback as CEO after he departed that February to become CEO of casual-dining concept Cotton Patch Café Inc.
“Tijuana Flats is a unique brand with a fantastic people-first culture,” Wright said in a statement. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue moving the company forward alongside Louie, Steve, and the rest of our dedicated and passionate team and franchisees.”
Van Warner, who previously held a senior management position at Darden, has been a director at Tijuana Flats for more than a decade, beginning with a consulting role in 2001.
Before leading casual-dining chain Bertucci’s, Wright worked as COO at Au Bon Pain and was president of Chevy’s Restaurants. He also previously directed operations for Einstein Bros. Bagels (then known as Einstein Noah’s Bagels) and Boston Market, where he opened more than 50 locations.
Additionally, Tijuana Flats named Louie Psallidas chief financial officer and Steve Culbert SVP of operations. Psallidas joins the chain from Uno Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of 100-plus unit Uno Pizzeria & Grill. During his tenure, Psallidas held CEO, president, and CFO appointments.
“Tijuana Flats has an incredible history and is a fun brand that has experienced successful growth over the past 20-plus years,” Psallidas said in a statement. “I look forward to helping the company reach new heights.”
At Uno, Psallidas oversaw franchised and corporate units, the company’s fast-casual division, retail channel, and helped lead the company through its sale. Earlier, he clocked eight years as CFO and SVP of PGHC Holdings, parent of Papa Gino’s Pizzeria and D’Angelos Sandwich Shop restaurants.
Culbert most recently worked as VP of operations at Au Bon Pain. Culbert’s prior stops include regional VP with Einstein Noah Restaurant Group and managing partner for Bloomin’ Brands’ Carrabba’s.
“It’s no secret that Tijuana Flats has one of the most fun and best-known brands in the fast-casual space, being one of the first concepts to delight consumers and industry veterans alike with their innovation and over the top hospitality,” Culbert added. “It’s an honor to now be a part of the team that is charged with continuing that momentum well into the future.”
Tijuana Flats, founded 1995 in Winter Park, Florida, said the changes “reflect the commitment by AUA Private Equity Partners, who through its affiliates owns a majority stake in Tijuana Flats, to develop and grow the brand, while also renewing its emphasis on technology and convenience.”
The chain first received an undisclosed investment from the firm in 2015.