The executive led the company for nearly 10 years, and launched one of the industry's largest virtual brands during the pandemic.
Brinker International CEO Wyman Roberts will retire next month, after nearly 17 years with the company.
He will be replaced by industry veteran Kevin Hochman, who is leaving his post as KFC U.S.'s president and chief concept officer. Roberts will serve in an advisory role for 12 months.
He's worked as president and CEO of Brinker since 2013 and in various other roles—president of Chili's, CMO of Brinker, president of Maggiano's—since August 2005.
Under Roberts, Chili's adjusted to COVID's curveball by launching virtual brand It's Just Wings in more than 1,000 locations nationwide simultaneously—the single-largest roll out of a virtual brand to-date. The chain's off-premises channel remains more than 200 percent above pre-pandemic comparisons, thanks to its growing delivery business. The casual-dining giant's same-store sales increased 10.3 percent year-over-year in Q3, and average weekly sales per restaurant was $58,700, which surpasses 2019 figures.
"Since starting with Brinker 17 years ago, I have been inspired by the passion for making Guests feel special that our ChiliHeads, Maggiano's Teammates and BrinkerHeads bring to our restaurants every single day," Roberts said in a statement. "It has been a privilege to lead and be a part of this great company. I am impressed with Kevin's character and leadership skills, and I look forward to seeing him take our company to the next level of success as we make this transition."
Hochman joined Yum! Brands in January 2014 as CMO of KFC U.S. He served in that role until 2017, when he was appointed president and chief concept officer. From December 2019 to January 2022, he concurrently worked as president of Pizza Hut U.S. Prior to Yum!, Hochman spent more than 18 years at Procter & Gamble in various brand management and marketing roles.
"I am honored to be appointed Brinker's President and CEO and appreciate the support of Wyman and the Board," Hochman said in a statement. "I've been very impressed with our operations and technology and see huge potential for growing our iconic Chili's and Maggiano's brands. Brinker's mission is about making people feel special, and that's something I've tried to do throughout my career. I look forward to working with our Brinker team to accelerate growth by creating lasting and more frequent connections with our Guests and Team Members."
KFC has seen eight straight years of positive same-store sales, a streak that began when Hochman joined the company in 2014. In 2021, U.S. comps climbed 13 percent on a two-year basis, and digital sales skyrocketed 70 percent year-over-year, fueled by delivery and a recently launched e-commerce platform. The chicken chain also opened a net of four domestic units last year, which marked the chain's first year of positive unit development in 17 years. KFC is expected to see net unit growth again in 2022, with 25 percent of the pipeline being Next-Gen restaurants.
Hochman was responsible for the “Re-Colonelization” plan that infused life into the brand, as opposed to shaking things up and starting over. The company invested 100,000 hours of training on “colonel standards” and brought KFC’s quality back to the level people remembered.
At the same time, Hochman guided Pizza Hut through its transition into a primarily delivery/takeout business, meaning a significant makeover of the domestic footprint. The chain's U.S. business closed a net of 13 units in 2021, a stark improvement from the net of 745 closures in 2020—proof that the transformation is near completion. U.S. comps grew 9 percent in 2021 on a two-year stack.
"After an extended search for a successor, the Board is pleased to have Kevin serve as Brinker's next CEO," Joe DePinto, chairman of Brinker's board, said in a statement. "Kevin is a talented leader and innovative thinker with strategic vision, passion and a successful track record of building brands. We are confident he will create shareholder value and maintain the company's culture as we work to bring Chili's, Maggiano's and our virtual brands to even more Guests."