Nation’s Restaurant News has tapped five bold and innovative restaurant leaders as its 2013 Golden Chain Award winners. They will be honored during the MUFSO SuperShow, which will take place Sept. 29 – Oct. 1 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas.

“This year’s winners have developed and executed aggressive growth strategies for their companies at a time when others might be holding back,” said NRN Publisher Chris Keating. “We applaud their thinking and their impressive results and look forward to honoring them at MUFSO with one of the our industry’s most prestigious awards.”

First presented at MUFSO in 1977, the Golden Chain Awards honor restaurant executives for outstanding recent accomplishments as well as career achievements. Winners are chosen by the editors of NRN.

The 2013 winners will be honored during the Industry Awards Gala and Reception on Sept. 30. They will also participate in the CEO Panel on Oct. 1. Both events are sponsored by the Service Management Group, a leading international customer experience research firm.

From this year’s lineup, NRN readers can vote for the Operator of the Year, which will be announced at MUFSO’s Industry Awards Gala on Sept. 30.

Read more about the 2013 Golden Chain honorees:

Kelly C. Baltes
Chairman and chief executive, Cheddar’s Casual Café

A 22-year foodservice industry veteran, Baltes was formerly the executive vice president of operations at Darden Restaurants. He took over Irving, Texas-based Cheddar’s from its co-founders in 2007 and soon introduced the company’s four pillars — handmade quality food, polished atmosphere, real relationships and explicit value pricing. When the financial crisis hit in 2009, Baltes navigated Cheddar’s through without devaluing the brand by enhancing the guest experience and upgrading restaurant interiors.

“We believe we’re building a great American company,” Baltes said.

Cheddar's had U.S. systemwide sales of $545.8 million for its fiscal year ended in December 2012, an increase of 24.5 percent from the comparable 2011 period. The chain ended fiscal 2012 with 129 restaurants, in all, including 74 company and 55 franchised sites.

Ray Blanchette
Chief executive, Joe’s Crab Shack

With more than two decades of restaurant experience, Ray Blanchette has served as chief executive of the Ignite Restaurant Group, parent of Joe’s Crab Shack, since joining the firm in 2007. He was previously president and chief operating officer of Pick Up Stix and has also held multiple leadership positions during an 18-year tenure with Carlson Restaurants Worldwide.

The concept features a "100-percent Shore" menu of Southern flavors and spices that add a twist to fresh seafood from high-quality sources.

Joe's Crab Shack had estimated U.S. systemwide sales of $413.2 million for the fiscal year ended in December 2012, representing a 15.3-percent gain compared with preceding-year sales. The chain ended its fiscal 2012 with 129 restaurants, all company operated.  

At Houston-based Ignite, Blanchette also oversees 186 Romano's Macaroni Grill and 16 Brick House Tavern + Tap restaurants.