Eric Wyatt is expanding the classic 74-year-old diner chain outside of Southern California for the first time.

NORMS Restaurants, a classic Southern California 24/7 diner chain, recently named restaurant veteran Eric Wyatt as its new president and CEO. Wyatt has more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, including national brands such as Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Boston Market. When it comes to a regional brand like NORMS, Wyatt says his approach to growth and innovation is the same as it is with national brands.

“Whether you’re regional or national, I think you want to be really aware of the consumers,” Wyatt says.

With an ever-growing Latino population in Southern California, Wyatt is spearheading new menu innovation and starting to test out Latin-inspired drinks and foods while also balancing the core diner food items the restaurant is known for, such as its hotcakes. NORMS recently launched a new Steak Adobada with chile, garlic, citrus, and topped with pico de gallo. And though NORMS’ customer base generally skews older, Wyatt is hoping to attract younger customers, as well.

One of Wyatt’s first steps in expanding the NORMS brand is opening two new Southern California locations in Ontario and Hollywood this spring. NORMS’ legacy in Southern California began in 1949 and has remained in the region since then, but as the new president and CEO, Wyatt plans to expand outside the state. NORMS will open its first Las Vegas location in the spring of 2024, bringing the number of NORMS restaurants to 24.

“I think the primary initiative is about getting outside of Southern California now that we’ve really got this amazing loyalty with consumers here,” Wyatt says.

Wyatt sees Las Vegas as the best place for NORMS to expand, given that Las Vegas is a 24/7 town and NORMS is open 24/7. Since there is a lot of competition in the restaurant industry in Las Vegas, Wyatt thinks it will be the perfect place to test out the strength and potential of the NORMS brand.

“It’ll really be a true test for us to be successful,” says Wyatt. “I have no doubt we’re going to be successful in Nevada in the future.” 

Although NORMS has plans to expand, Wyatt wants to ensure the integrity of the brand remains. Certain elements of NORMS are “sacred and true” to the brand, he says, including its Googie architecture (think dramatic angles, bright colors, and futuristic touches). Wyatt wants to keep these elements while also enhancing the visuals of the brand and its equipment, such as order-at-the-table technology.

“We want to preserve all those things that consumers have come to love and know about the brand,” Wyatt says. 

Building a Legacy

It was the architecture and menu at NORMS that initially sparked Wyatt’s interest in the brand. Before the Southern California native became part of the NORMS team, he spent time visiting various NORMS locations, where he got the opportunity to talk to customers. He came to admire the loyalty the guests had for the brand, whether they were newer customers or had been going to NORMS for decades. He also commended the employees who are committed to building upon the NORMS legacy.

Although Wyatt has had a long and diverse career in the restaurant industry, he originally went to East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania with the expectation of having a career in radio broadcasting. While in college, he worked at a restaurant where he cleaned the bar and was later promoted to dishwasher.

After college, he was hired by Mobil, where he managed operations at the convenience stores. While there, he opened the first Taco Bell express stores in Mobil mini-marts around Cathedral City, California, which reminded him of the excitement of working in the restaurant industry. His success in opening the express stores led Taco Bell to recruit him as a market manager in the Northeast region of the U.S.

While Wyatt attributes his success to hard work, he also admits that sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time.

“I wasn’t always the smartest person in the room, or, you know, got the best results all the time. But I worked super hard,” he says.

Wyatt believes in servant leadership and the idea that the company, employees, and community take precedence before anything else. When it comes to managers and employees, Wyatt believes a mindset focused on treating people with dignity and respect is needed to deliver on customer and business proposition expectations.

“You have to stay grounded and stay humble,” he says. “Every person from the newest entry-level position to executives in an organization has a role to play and is important in that role.”

Although NORMS has been around for more than 70 years, Wyatt believes the concept’s best days are ahead as it expands and attracts more customers.

“I believe the best is yet to come, and [am] really excited about the opportunity” to grow, he adds.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Chef Profiles, Feature, Norms