Uncle Julio’s Restaurant Group named Scott Lawton CEO and RJ Thomas president and chief operating officer. The moves will help the company accelerate growth, Uncle Julio’s said in a release.
Lawton cofounded bartaco in 2011, a coastally inspired restaurant that’s climbed to 29 locations in 13 states. He subsequently served as president and CEO of Barteca until its $325 million sale to Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group in 2018. Lawton rejoined bartaco as CEO after the company was acquired by L Catterton, which also owns Uncle Julio’s. L Catterton bought the 1986-founded casual brand in 2017 for an undisclosed figure.
Lawton will continue in his CEO role at bartaco in addition to assuming the responsibilities of CEO of Uncle Julio’s. Before Barteca in 2007, Lawton was COO of Big Time Restaurant Group from 2000 to 2006.
“Uncle Julio’s commitment to authentic, one-of-kind dining experiences has created an incredibly loyal following and I’m honored to assume the role of CEO,” Lawton said in a statement. “The company’s legacy and culture built around attention to detail in every part of the dining experience will continue to serve as the foundation for Uncle Julio’s during this next phase of growth. Bringing a deep commitment to brand building and innovation, I’m excited to leverage my experience at bartaco to create a truly memorable experience for every guest who walks into our restaurants. In partnership with RJ and the entire team, I look forward to leading Uncle Julio’s in this next chapter.”
Lawton’s more recent tenure at bartaco included rolling QR code ordering through the fleet in an effort to streamline labor and lean on a tech-driven customer experience. Read more about the change here. The tip pooling, Lawton said previously, enabled bartaco to pay average wages of $23 per hour and recruit a stable workforce.
Thomas brings over more than 20 years of restaurant industry leadership experience. He served as president and COO of King’s Seafood Company, overseeing the operations for all 24 locations. Thomas implemented several new restaurant concepts there, including a new steakhouse restaurant, which generated $13 million of sales in its first year, and reconceptualized the “Water Grill” brand, which opened six new locations and generated $100 million in revenue.
Thomas added, “I have long admired Uncle Julio’s for its unique take on Mexican dining—making authentic recipes from scratch using the freshest ingredients in a welcoming atmosphere. I’m proud to join Scott and the incredibly talented Uncle Julio’s team to help guide the company to continued success by combining great food and great service to drive great experiences.”
“Throughout their careers, Scott and RJ have established themselves as proven leaders with the vision and operational capabilities necessary to develop and run best-in-class restaurants,” noted Andrew C. Taub, a managing partner in L Catterton’s Buyout Fund. “I’ve seen firsthand the success Scott has had at bartaco, where he has elevated the brand, re-imaged the customer experience, and instilled a culture of excellence. Similarly, RJ has a tremendous track record introducing new concepts and innovating restaurant brands to support growth, while holding his team to the highest standards. We are confident that Scott and RJ will create a new and exciting chapter in the Uncle Julio’s story.”
Uncle Julio’s currently has 37 stores in 12 states—Colorado (one), Florida (two), Illinois (seven), Maryland (four), Missouri (one), New Jersey (one), North Carolina (one), Oklahoma (two), Tennessee (one), Texas (10), Virginia (six), and Wisconsin (one).