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.


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2012 Golden Chain Award winners
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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.

Meet more winners

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Dan Cathy
President and chief operating officer, Chick-fil-A

As head of one of the nation's largest family-owned businesses, Dan Cathy represents the next generation of leadership for the Atlanta-based quick-service chain founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy.

Cathy has served as the president and chief operating officer since 2001. In his quest to provide customers with “second-mile” service, he has defined a special role for himself: "I work in customer service."

Chick-fil-A had U.S. systemwide sales of $4.56 billion for the fiscal year ended in December 2012, marking a 14.2-percent increase over the preceding year’s sales. The privately held chain ended its fiscal 2012, with 1,669 locations, all of which were franchised.

Cathy previously won a Golden Chain Award in 2005.

Peter Cancro
Chief executive, Jersey Mike’s Subs

In 1972, Peter Cancro was a 14-year-old high school student in Point Pleasant, N.J. when he began working at Mike's Subs. He loved it, and three years later, at age 17, he became the owner and proprietor of that restaurant. He eventually opened more stores and began franchising in 1987. He changed the name from Mike's Subs to Jersey Mike's Subs to capture the authenticity of where the sub sandwich was born.

Today, he is chief executive of Jersey Mike's Franchise Systems in Manasquan, N.J., where he oversees more than 600 units that are either open or under development. Last year the chain continued its steady growth by opening 92 new restaurants throughout the country, a 33-percent increase in new store growth over 2011. The chain had 584 United States locations at the end of fiscal 2012, including 18 company and 566 franchised sites.

Jersey Mike's Subs had U.S.-systemwide sales of $334.1 million for the fiscal year ended in December 2012, which marked a 25.3-percent increase in sales compared to a year earlier.

Michael Hislop
Chief executive, Corner Bakery Café

Mike Hislop joined Dallas -based Corner Bakery Café as chief executive in 2006. Since then, he and his team have transformed the brand from a company-owned and -operated neighborhood gathering spot to a franchised industry leader.

The chain had $296.4 million in U.S.-systemwide sales for the fiscal year ended in Dec. 2012, an increase of 13.6 percent from the preceding year. Corner Bakery opened 20 new units in 2012 and signed another 125, raising its total to 147 open cafes and 288 under development. The company’s strategy to double its U.S. footprint by the end of 2015 includes significant expansion in the Boston and New York City markets.

Before Corner Bakery, Hislop was president and chief operating officer of Il Fornaio from 1995 until he became chief executive and chairman in 2001. Previously, he held key positions at Chevys Mexican Restaurants, El Torito Mexican Restaurants and T.G.I. Friday’s.

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