El Pollo Loco presented Lee Alvarez Sr., Rafael Armenta, Bill Engel, Chris Pingel, and Roland Spongberg with the company’s Heritage Award. Given to select franchisees who contribute to the success of the fire-grilled chicken chain in meaningful ways, the Heritage Award was presented by El Pollo Loco president and CEO Steve Sather during the company’s recent Leadership Conference in Indian Wells, California.
“These Heritage Award winners are among the most accomplished, longest tenured franchisees in the El Pollo Loco system,” Sather says. “Each is an exemplary representative of the brand, always striving for excellence in every part of our business and pushing everyone around them to be better. On behalf of the entire executive management team, we celebrate their legacy of accomplishments and thank each of them for their partnership, leadership, and continued contributions to the brand.”
Lee Alvarez Sr. started his journey with El Pollo Loco in 1982 as a store manager; today, he is the franchisee of eight El Pollo Loco restaurants in Southern California, which he operates alongside three of his children. While Alvarez worked to acquire new restaurants, he says he never lost sight of his core business, attending to the quality, service, and cleanliness of each restaurant. Although he is proud of his accomplishments, Alvarez says he attributes his success to his family, his employees, and his partnership with the brand.
Rafael Armenta started his career with the restaurant chain by cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning tables at the first El Pollo Loco restaurant in Los Angeles. Over the next 32 years, he worked his way to the top, purchasing his first El Pollo Loco restaurant in 1994. Today, Armenta owns eight El Pollo Loco restaurants in Northern California. Armenta gained national attention last year after returning $2,200 to a customer who lost his wallet in the parking lot of his Manteca, California, El Pollo Loco restaurant.
Business partners Bill Engel and Chris Pingel invested in the El Pollo Loco brand as both fans and customers prior to becoming franchisees in 1986. Nearly three decades later and 24 franchised restaurants later, the San Diego County–based duo remains among the company’s biggest fans. Engel and Pingel constantly look for ways to improve the El Pollo Loco system: suggesting new menu items, recommending ways to enhance restaurant operations, and encouraging collaboration and communication.
Roland Spongberg is a former real estate developer who joined the El Pollo Loco system intending to acquire three locations. Today, Spongberg serves as the company’s single largest franchisee with 52 El Pollo Loco restaurants throughout California and Utah. His entrepreneurial spirit, passion for running great restaurants, and commitment to the El Pollo Loco brand continues to motivate Spongberg even after 26 years as a franchisee.