The former Texas Roadhouse CEO comes with approximately 35 years of restaurant experience.
Red Robin announced Thursday that GJ Hart will come out of retirement and become its next CEO and president, effective September 6.
Hart will replace Paul Murphy, who recently told the burger chain that he plans to retire at the end of 2022 when his contract expires. He will remain as a special adviser until March 2023 to ensure a smooth transition.
Hart has approximately 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Prior to Red Robin, he worked as CEO of Torchy's Tacos from 2018-2021. Under his watch, the fast casual grew from 45 locations to nearly 100, including roughly 30 openings in 2020 and 2021. In November, the taco concept announced he was retiring, effective immediately.
The industry veteran also spent 11 years as chief executive of California Pizza Kitchen, where he lead the brand through a refreshed look, menu, and service model, and served as Texas Roadhouse's CEO, helping the steakhouse with its IPO in 2004 and growing revenue from $63 million to more than $1 billion.
He's been a member of Red Robin's board of directors since August 2019, and will continue to do so while leading the chain.
“While I have long admired Red Robin as an organization and brand, since joining the Board I have gained a heightened appreciation for the culture, values and brand equities that have made Red Robin so iconic for more than fifty years while recognizing its go-forward potential," Hart said in a statement. "I am eager to begin working with the team in this new capacity to strengthen the Company’s foundation, execute on our strategic priorities, and continue our collective efforts to create value for shareholders.”
Hart is joining the casual-dining brand as it continues to fold in Donatos Pizza nationwide. During the first quarter, roughly 200 restaurants sold the product, and those stores saw same-store sales rise by more than 5 percent compared to units that don't have it yet. The plan is to add 50 more locations by the end of 2022 and another 150 in 2023. Red Robin also launched multiple virtual brands, unveiled a new website, loyalty program, and apps, and opened a prototype with back-of-house and off-premises enhancements.
The 520-unit chain's comps grew 3.9 percent in Q1 versus 2019, which is the first positive quarter against pre-COVID figures.
“G.J. brings an exceptional track record of success to this role and we are excited to have him as our next leader for Red Robin," Dave Pace, board chair, said in a statement. "During the past 3 years, G.J. has distinguished himself as a thoughtful and effective Board member in supporting Paul and the Red Robin team as they navigated an exceptionally tumultuous period in our industry’s history. As we began our search for Paul’s successor following his announced retirement at the end of this year, G.J. expressed interest in the role and we quickly determined that he possesses all of the critical skills that we are looking for in Red Robin’s next leader. We are highly confident that he has the vision, passion, and expertise to successfully lead Red Robin into the future. Once again, I want to thank Paul Murphy for his leadership over the past 3 years and appreciate his support in facilitating G.J.’s transition.”