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From emerging concepts to watch like Zoës Kitchen to the largest restaurant company in the world, McDonald's, leadership is always the driving force behind successful brands. Nation's Restaurant News points to 10 restaurant executives to watch in 2013 from brands such as Popeyes, California Pizza Kitchen, Sbarro and more.
CEO, California Pizza Kitchen Inc.
Hart took over for California Pizza Kitchen founders Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax in September 2011, a tough time for the casual-dining chain. CPK had posted same-store sales declines of 6.6 percent in 2009 and 2.4 percent in 2010 before the chain was acquired in July 2011 by Golden Gate Capital for $470 million.
Now private, CPK has been quietly retooling. Tactics to shore up sales have included new pizza ingredients — by midyear in 2013, for example, all restaurants within the 266-unit chain will return to hand-tossed dough rather than using a dough press. Additional menu changes include a shift toward more innovative, seasonal and healthful dishes. At the restaurants, consumers will see changes in the form of pizza ovens that are front and center and a pizza bar that allows customers to see ingredients.
Securities analyst Conrad Lyon of B. Riley & Co. said Hart has the opportunity to succeed. “It could be a situation where he could really look like a hero if he can get customers to return,” he said.
Hart himself outlined his vision to Nation’s Restaurant News in December: “As we bring together the new products, with higher execution levels [and] the hospitality piece … we’ll combine all those things as we start to tell our story in 2013. We hope (lapsed customers) will come back and say, ‘Wow, this place is hip and cool.’”