The NextGen Casual is betting Caren Prince’s financial expertise will help fuel its aggressive growth plans.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill just appointed Caren Prince, a former Krispy Kreme executive, as the NextGen Casual’s new chief financial officer. Prince succeeds the brand’s former CFO Christopher Olson, who retired.

“Once I met the leaders here and learned about the experience across this leadership team, in addition to their focus on those on the front line who are the heart and soul of the brand, I was hooked,” Prince told FSR.

Prior to joining Firebirds, Prince served two decades at Mars Inc., a multinational manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products, with $45 billion in annual sales in 2022. While there, she occupied multiple leadership positions in the United Kingdom before relocating to the U.S., where she become CFO for the Retail Group and oversaw flagship M&Ms World stores, My M&MS e-commerce, and B2B operations.

Most recently, Prince served as CFO of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Krispy Kreme, supporting the rapid growth and transformation of the fresh doughnut business where she scaled both the team and the business to support accelerated expansion.

As new CFO of Firebirds, Prince will similarly focus on building the team and processes to aid the brand’s expansion. Her other key priorities will be transforming financial reporting and forecasting to support strategic decision-making with actionable insights, she notes. Plus, she’ll spend time in restaurants with operators to learn what drives the business, and find out where there is room for opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, Prince says she will “ensure that we continue to provide value to our customers, through driving efficiency and reducing complexity, while creating value for our most important assets—our people.”

In March, Firebirds was acquired and recapitalized by Garnett Station Partners, a New York-based principal investment firm that manages over $2 billion of assets. Firebirds operates 58 restaurants in 20 states, and is betting Prince’s strategic financial expertise will help fuel its aggressive growth plans.

“We’re positioned in a great space we like to call polished-casual, and we’re totally differentiated,” she says, noting Firebirds’ commitment to hand-cutting and grilling high-quality proteins over an open flame with local woods. “The flavor profiles are exceptional, and the fantastic hospitality is the cherry on top.”

“I am fired up to have joined this growing brand,” Prince adds.

FSR asked Prince three questions to get to know how her past experience will help in her new role, and how Prince sees being a female CFO as an opportunity to help develop other women and advocate for more women in restaurant leadership.

What first attracted you to this position at Firebirds?

I’ve spent most of my career in the food industry and am very passionate about food and the art of hospitality. I’ve dined at Firebirds several times in the last few months, and it’s been an exceptional experience every time. The people in our restaurants truly embody hospitality and service, and that’s difficult to find today.

Can you share how your past experiences at Krispy Kreme, Mars, and more will inform your approach as new chief financial officer of Firebirds? What learnings are you bringing with you into the role?

I have had the opportunity to scale up multiple great businesses with a focus on building high-performing teams, transforming financial reporting and analytics, and driving efficiency. I’ve had the chance to work with organizations the current size of Firebirds and quite a bit larger, so I’m excited to help the team navigate the next stage of growth and make sure we are building a business that is fit for purpose.

I also bring a passion for people development and a great toolbox from my prior roles to enable me to support the development of our teams, like the opportunity I had to sponsor the Women’s ERG at Krispy Kreme. I’ve always loved to mentor and develop people, especially young women who have a passion for this business.

A logo that reads Women in Restaurant Leadership, Elevate. Educate. Empower.

Women held 16 percent of large company CFO jobs in 2022. That’s an all-time high, up from 6.3 percent in 2004—but that’s still less than 1 in 5 CEOs. What opportunities for improvement do you see in the restaurant sector specifically when it comes to representation for women?

I am proud to be a female CFO, and I believe that is important that I use my position as an opportunity to mentor and develop other women and advocate for women in leadership. We as an industry have the opportunity to create forums such as Women’s ERGs and the new FSR Women in Restaurant Leadership initiative where women can have a voice and feel that they are being supported. These types of environments allow us to ensure that we are fostering an inclusive workplace culture that seeks diversity in hiring, and celebrates the achievements of everybody. All women need role models, and it can be hard in the restaurant industry to find them. Having mentorship programs is critical in addition to promoting equal opportunities in senior roles.

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Chain Restaurants, Feature, NextGen Casual, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill