She will take on the new role effective June 1. 

Denny’s announced Tuesday that Kelli Valade, the former leader of Red Lobster, will become its new CEO effective June 1. The chain also signed an $82.5 million agreement to buy Keke’s Breakfast Cafe. 

Valade will follow John Miller, who announced his retirement in early April. She’s spent 30 years in the restaurant industry, including roles as president, COO, and senior vice president of human resources at Chili’s parent Brinker International. She was also the CEO of Black Box Intelligence for two years.  

She previously served as CEO of Red Lobster, but only for eight months. The seafood chain didn’t provide a reason for her departure. Valade described the move as an “an incredibly difficult, but necessary decision.” 

Valade holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Binghamton and a Master of Business Administration from Syracuse University. She is on the board of directors of, the Women’s Foodservice Forum, and the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

“Denny’s is a world-class brand that has earned the trust and loyalty of generations of guests as the leading family dining restaurant. I admire the Company’s guest-first approach and unwavering purpose of loving to feed people,” Valade said in a statement. “I am excited to work alongside a strong and highly experienced management team, a stellar franchise organization, and dedicated team members as we deliver further innovations while enhancing the guest experience. Stepping into this role, I am incredibly confident about the future opportunities for Denny’s and our commitment to driving long-term sustainable growth for our shareholders.”

When Valade becomes CEO in June, she will eventually oversee the meshing of Keke’s under Denny’s umbrella. Miller described the breakfast chain as a “high-growth brand that aligns well with our core competency while providing us with an opportunity to participate in the fast-growing A.M. eatery segment.”

The chain has 52 restaurants, including 44 franchises and eight company-owned stores. AUV is roughly $1.9 million. Keke’s will operate independently from Denny’s with its own leadership, strategies, products, marketing, operations, and development initiatives. The $82.5 million purchase price represents an EBITDA multiple of approximately 12x. 

“We intend to utilize the proven capabilities of our franchise-focused business model to develop Keke’s across multiple states with the long-term target of becoming the A.M. eatery franchisor of choice,” Miller said in a statement. 

Chain Restaurants, Feature, Finance, Denny's, Keke's Breakfast Café