Dave Pickens background in the restaurant industry began at Red Lobster as an hourly employee.

FoodFirst Global Restaurants, the owner of BRIO Tuscan Grille and BRAVO Cucina Italiana announced Dave Pickens, an industry veteran who’s worked his way up through restaurants, as its new president and chief operations officer.

In his new role, Pickens will be responsible for overseeing operation excellence, guest growth, and effective cost management at both restaurant chains. Pickens has been brought on by FoodFirst to help improve efficiency and the quality of service, the newly formed company said.

Following last spring’s $100 million sale of 110-unit Bravo Brio Restaurant Group to Spice Private Equity, a Swiss subsidiary of investment firm GP Investments, American restaurateur Bradley D. Blum and the Brazilian-based firm announced the formation of FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc. The group then announced a new culinary team and plan to refresh the brands.

Hoping to breathe new life into the 26-year-old company, FoodFirst is focused on investing money into revamping the brand. Building a strong leadership team is also important for the company to make a full turnaround.

“We began the process of reinvigorating our brands by elevating the food through the assembly of a world-class culinary team. Dave’s appointment represents the next step toward fulfilling our mission,” Brad Blum, owner-partner, chairman and chief executive officer CEO of FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc, said in a statement. “Providing food that tastes amazing and is also good for you is central to our mission. I am thrilled that Dave is joining our team as he brings a wealth of knowledge, leadership and operations experience. I look forward to his positive contributions as we distinguish BRIO and BRAVO into being excellent businesses and the employer of choice.”

Pickens background in the restaurant industry began at Red Lobster as an hourly employee and he continued there through all levels of operations. Previously, Blum worked with Pickens on Olive Garden’s leadership team during its turnaround initiative. While working at Darden, Pickens helped push the brand toward 57 consecutive quarters of same-restaurant sales increases.  

“I am eager to partner again with Brad and join the FoodFirst Global Restaurants officer team,” Pickens added. “I believe I can contribute to the company’s exciting vision by further elevating the operations of two brands that already hold enormous potential and positively influence overall performance. By having very high standards, setting restaurant teams up for success and holding people accountable, we will ensure that all facets of the guest experience are exceptional while creating an excellent work environment for our employees. Both of these outcomes are key components to consistently achieving our desired long-term financial goals.”

In addition to Pickens and Blum, the new leadership team at FoodFirst consists of Rob Viveros, executive vice president of operations for BRIO; Lou Rios, senior vice president of operations for BRAVO; Eric Tucker, senior vice president of training and operations support; Diane Reed, chief financial officer; John Wong, chief marketing and technology officer; and Mike Ellis, chief development officer.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Labor & Employees, BRAVO/BRIO Tuscan Grille