Tijuana Flats named restaurant veteran James Greco as its new CEO on Monday, two and a half months after it was acquired out of bankruptcy.

Greco is a specialist in turnaround efforts, having done so at Bruegger’s and Sbarro as chief executive. At the former, he turned years of sales losses into 19 straight quarters of same-store sales growth. Under his watch, Bruegger’s unit count grew 30 percent and EBITDA increased 4x.

“Tijuana Flats is a great brand that is meaningfully differentiated and provides a platform to build upon to create a memorable guest experience,” Greco said in a statement. “We will revitalize the business by implementing initiatives focusing on the four brand basics of people, place, product and positioning.”

Previously, Tijuana Flats said former CEO Joe Christina would continue leading the company. At the time, the executive noted in a news release, “I look forward to evolving and expanding our brand and supporting the communities we serve.” The latest announcement did not indicate why the brand decided to change leadership.

The fast casual blamed its bankruptcy on multiple events, including an incorrect decision to expand menu options, squeezed profit margins from inflation, and changing consumer habits post-COVID. In May 2023, Truist Bank required a $1.2 million interest payment in addition to $250,000 quarterly principal obligations; this financial demand stripped Tijuana Flats of working capital. The brand began exploring strategic options in November and eventually was sold to Flatheads, LLC.

Tijuana Flats has 91 stores (65 corporate and 26 franchised) in Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.  Going back to January, 29 corporate stores permanently closed. At its peak, the chain had more than 120 company-run outlets.

Flatheads said it invested in Tijuana Flats due to its “immense brand recognition, strong following, customer loyalty, and future potential.” The group aims to uphold the fast casual’s legacy by returning to its core values and enhancing customer service, food consistency, quality controls, speed of service, portion sizes, and the in-store experience. This effort includes renovating and refreshing many of the restaurants. In early April, Tijuana Flats launched a new menu and updated its off-premises packaging to improve product quality and delivery times.

“We believe in the future potential of the Tijuana Flats brand,” ownership of Flatheads said in a statement. “Jim is a tenured industry veteran who has a proven track record of revitalizing restaurant businesses thereby creating jobs, fostering community development and building shareholder value. He is the right leader for Tijuana Flats at this momentous time as we work to unlock the full potential of this brand.”

Greco earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law. He also completed International Studies in Economics at City University of London.

In addition to Greco, Tijuana Flats hired Ingrid Hebel as vice president of operations.

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Franchising, Legal, Story, Tijuana Flats