A 25-year veteran of the casual dining industry, Craft, 54, is currently the executive vice president of operations for Longhorn Steakhouse, a 300-unit chain based in Atlanta, Georgia, that generated approximately $900 million in annual sales in 2007. Longhorn was acquired last August by Darden Restaurants, Inc., of Orlando, Florida.
“Famous Dave’s is delighted to have attracted an individual of Wilson Craft’s caliber to lead our organization,” says K. Jeffrey Dahlberg, chairman of the board of Famous Dave’s of America. “Wilson is a proven leader in the industry, and his extensive experience in all aspects of casual dining, as well as franchising, will allow him to guide our company’s growth and further increase shareholder value.”
Prior to joining Longhorn in 2005, Craft was president of Chili’s Grill and Bar of Dallas, Texas from 2003-2005, the country’s second largest casual dining concept with more than 1,000 units worldwide, including over 250 franchised units, and annual sales of $2.5 billion. He was the president of Big Bowl from 2000-2003, and chief operations officer of Chili’s Grill and Bar from 1998-2000.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Craft says. “In its 13 years, Famous Dave’s has built an incredibly solid reputation in the casual restaurant industry. Its associates, its culture, the ‘cooked from scratch’ approach to all of its menu offerings distinguishes Famous Dave’s in this category, with a broad and loyal following nationwide. This is a great company and I’m eager to do my part to continue to deliver strong results and to build this great brand.”
Under Wilson’s operations leadership, Longhorn was named by The People Report as the casual dining concept with the “Best People Practices” in 2007 and had the lowest manager and second lowest staff turnover.
“I have known Wilson for more than 20 years,” says Lane Cardwell, acting CEO and Famous Dave’s board member. “He is the right individual at the right time to help us take Famous Dave’s to the top. He is passionate in his approach to the business, and an outstanding leader with a wealth of experience to move us into the future with this fabulous company.”