Ray Blanchette has been replaced as CEO of Ignite Restaurant Group, the multi-concept operation he founded, by Bob Merritt, the former CFO of Outback Steakhouse’s then-parent, OSI Restaurant Partners.
During his time with OSI, now known as Bloomin’ Brands, Merritt was hailed as one of the best CFOs in the business. He oversaw Outback’s finances from the time it consisted of five restaurants until it opened Restaurant Number 1,250 some 15 years later.
Merritt has kept a relatively low profile in the business since his highly publicized resignation from OSI in 2005, when he announced his departure during a conference call with financial analysts. In 2007, he served as interim CEO of Cosi for six months, and has been a director of Cosi, Ruth’s Chris parent Ruth Hospitality and Ignite.
He was president and CEO of Benjamen Moore & Co., a paint manufacturer, from June 2012 through September 2013.
Merritt assumes an operation that has been slipping faster than the casual dining sector as a whole. Ignite’s main brand, the Joe’s Crab Shack casual-dining concept, posted a 6.6 percent decline in same-store sales for the third quarter. Same-store sales at sister chain Brick House Tavern + Tap ebbed .6 percent.
The company lost about $4 million for the quarter, compared with a year-earlier loss of $6.5 million.
Ignite ran into trouble when it purchased the Romano’s Macaroni Grill dinnerhouse concept from Brinker International in 2013 for $55 million. The brand’s drag on profits prompted Blanchette to sell the brand earlier this year for $8 million.
Ignite operates about 160 restaurants.
Merritt raised eyebrows in 2005 when he resigned during what was expected to be a routine call with analysts. He said at the time that he was fed up with the “lunacy” of new accounting rules and a perception that all business people were dishonest.