flickr: Mike Mozart

Kelli Valade has spent more than two decades with Brinker International.

Chili's President Kelli Valade to Leave Company

Valade is headed to insights platform TDn2K as CEO.

After 22 years with Brinker International, Kelli Valade is leaving the company to join insight powerhouse TDn2K LLC, the parent group of well-known industry platforms People Report, Black Box Intelligence, and White Box Social.

Valade departs her post as president of Chili’s Bar & Grill, a job she held since June 2016 after succeeding current Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts. Valade was appointed Chili’s chief operating officer in July 2009. Her earlier career includes a human resources role at then-TGI Fridays parent company Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. Valade was SVP of human resources for Chili’s and On The Border before shifting into her COO and president positions.

READ MORE: Chili’s gets its mojo back.

Roberts, who previously helmed the spot for seven years, will step in as interim president of Chili’s.

“I'm not sure I can find the words to express how extremely proud I am of Kelli and all that she's accomplished," Roberts said in a statement. "I've seen firsthand the impact she's made at Brinker and Chili's and now she will help impact the entire industry."

Brinker said in a statement that Valade’s “leadership helped shift the culture, initiate the Women Take the Lead program, and impact positive results for Chili's.”

"This was an incredibly tough decision to leave a brand that I absolutely love and taught me the power of making people feel special," Valade added. "I've been honored to be a part of the amazing momentum the ChiliHeads have created and can't wait to see what's next for the team."

Valade joins TDn2K as president and chief executive officer.

“It is an honor for me to join the incredible TDn2K team,” she said. “I'm excited to apply what I've learned working alongside some of the most talented people in the restaurant industry at Chili's and Brinker. I grew up in the restaurants, led restaurants at Chili's and now with this opportunity at TDn2K, I look forward to making a larger impact on an industry I absolutely love."

Valade also holds a seat on the founders board of the Multi-Cultural Food Service Hospitality Alliance, and is a board member of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. She also once served on the board of the National Restaurant Association.

TDn2K co-founder Wally Doolin said in a statement that Valade is “the right leader to help us to continue to build a world-class company committed to being a model and a catalyst to help our members balance people, profits, and purpose.”

Other co-founder Joni Thomas Doolin, who was CEO before the move, added: "TDn2K research continues to connect the dots between the workplace and the marketplace and validate the impact of management culture on performance. No one is better qualified than Kelli to help our members make those connections and to continue to elevate the lives of employees and consumers.”

The two co-founders will remain active in TDn2K as co-founders and chairs, the company said. TDn2K’s membership represents 43,000 restaurant units, 2.5 million employees and nearly $70 billion in sales.

In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018, Chili’s achieved same-store sales gains of 0.6 percent and positive comp traffic of 0.8 percent. For the full year, Chili's saw its comps decline 1.1 percent compared to a 2.3 percent drop in 2017.

The 1,634-unit chain has enjoyed a stellar turnaround in recent periods. The brand began the year with a nearly 9 percent traffic drop and reported negative comps in every fiscal 2017 quarter, as well as the first three of 2018. Here’s a look at the trend in comp sales and traffic for Chili’s:

Comp sales:

  1. Q1 2017: -1.4 percent
  2. Q2 2017: -3.3 percent
  3. Q3 2017: -2.3 percent
  4. Q4 2017: -2.2 percent
  5. Q1 2018: -3.4 percent
  6. Q2 2018: -1 percent
  7. Q3 2018: -0.3 percent
  8. Q4 2018: 0.6 percent

The traffic flip (at company stores):

  • Q1 2017: -4.1 percent
  • Q2 2017: -6.5 percent
  • Q3 2017: -6.2 percent
  • Q4 2017: -6.5 percent
  • Q1 2017: -8.7 percent
  • Q2 2017: -4.4 percent
  • Q3 2018: -2.1 percent
  • Q4 2018: 0.8 percent

A big factor in the sales comeback has been a massive 40 percent menu cutback that quickened ticket times and improved execution. Read more about the changes here.