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Restaurant Executives To Watch This Year

Running a restaurant can be both exciting and challenging – we have said before that it’s like trying to put order to an organized chaos. It takes careful organization, relentless effort and hard work to successfully run a restaurant, especially in the face of a challenging economy. Now, more than ever, an effective leadership of a restaurant company is needed, as it is he who walks the tight rope of making things happen despite the challenges.

Managing an ordinary restaurant is already a handful, so we can imagine how much more knotty it is if one is to manage a large chain with vast operations. Surely we can learn one or two, among many, from these executives who run the show. That said, let’s take a look at five of Nation Restaurant News’ 10 restaurant executives to watch this year, and see how these top honchos of large restaurant chains fight their own challenges, maintain their victories and aim for continuous growth as the rest in the industry looks on.

Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill

Steve Ells founded Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. in 1993, with a vision of having an inexpensive food in smart menu covers that doesn’t have to be low in quality, and led the company to accomplishing great things. Chipotle grew from a single restaurant to over 1000 in just 17 years, and now, seemingly, can’t be stopped. It treads on in booking industry-leading sales trends and profit margins and was able to preserve its darling image on Wall Street, even after four years of being a public firm. The chain’s special touch is its robust consumer appeal and its assiduous concentration of keeping its values and vision — such as its pledge to its “food with integrity” motto, and its known operational excellence. A new restaurant model, with fresh design elements, smaller kitchen and sustainable materials, has been launched to 26 outlets just recently. And their Asian dining concept ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen is rolling out anytime soon, with the same vision and principles to live by.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks

Starbucks Corporation’s founder, chairman, president and CEO was also featured in this list last year. The chain continues to be on the public’s watch list for anymore possible rebound growth, as it has positioned itself to fully recover its stride this 2011. The company, with their CEO masterminding its strategies, has now reworked its food offerings and has undergone total refocus of its in-store branding. Schultz has driven the chain back on track after hitting a low point in 2008 and was driven to close numerous outlets. It is now concentrating to regain pricing power and launch fresh products like their VIA instant coffee, along with several efforts to regain their customers.

Sandy Beall, Ruby Tuesday

Samuel E. Beall is founder, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ruby Tuesday, Inc. and is responsible for setting, overseeing and refining the chain’s corporate strategies, of which they have been concentrating on in the last five years. The 650-unit brand has undergone a multi-year plan to strengthen its image and enhance its menu offerings, now drawing more attention to its brunch program, Gimme a Mini and Tuesday Steak and Lobster Night. Beall is now saying that Ruby Tuesday is all set to grow again, with a call for fresher growth vehicles and with more cash flow to use up. He is now delving into a new seafood concept, with details to be announced this spring. He’s also keeping up the growth of Wok Hay Fresh Asian Diner, and is contemplating on converting slow Ruby Tuesday units to other brands, which includes Truffles Café and Jim ‘N Nicks Bar-B-Q. The company also agreed to license Lime fresh Mexican Grill, with plans of opening 200 locations of the fast casual concept.

Bernardo Hees, Burger King

When 3G Capital acquired Burger King in the last quarter of 2010, its sole shareholder, Burger King Worldwide Holdings Inc., elected Bernardo Hees as the new director and Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s second largest burger brand. Last year was a roller-coaster ride for the worldwide chain Burger King, with the successful launch of its bone-in Fire Grilled Ribs happening simultaneously with its reported reduced sales and franchisee failures. Now, franchisee-friendly efforts are being put in, including a retraction of their late-night operating hour’s policy. Under the new ownership and management, there’s indeed a lot to look out for.

Sally Smith, Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings’ CEO and President Sally Smith has driven the casual dining chain to success in the past years, as it focused on beer, wings and sports. The company is laying out plans of opening 100 more outlets this year, on top of it’s over 700 units, and is continuing the climb. On top of her to-do list is more marketing expenditures, restaurant remodeling and additional menu items on elegantly designed menu covers, as well as dipping into non-domestic markets, hoping to establish 50 locations in Canada in the next five years. Having had a perfect record so far, many in the industry are wondering if they can maintain the ride.