Major-chain execs make an entrepreneurial shift

executive cafe laptop

As an SVP of Starbucks, Clarice Turner handled big projects for a very big chain—steering the 16,000-store empire into nighttime bar service, to name just one of the moonshots. But after working at NASA scale for seven years, Turner left the industry’s second-largest chain this summer for a brand too small to appear on most sales rankings: 28-unit Boudin Bakery.

Ralph Bower doesn’t need an introduction. In two decades of leading restaurant chains, his smallest charge was 300-store Pei Wei Asian Diner. He left the fast-casual sister of P.F. Chang’s in August to become CEO of The Melt, an operation with 19 units.

The pair are hardly unusual in leaving resource-rich operations of scale for small growth concepts still in entrepreneurial mode.

Turner’s former colleague Christine Barone resigned her SVP post at Starbucks, where she oversaw food and bakery operations, to become CEO of 19-branch True Food Kitchen in mid-September.

Phil Costner, a former president of Mimi’s Cafe and la Madeleine, now oversees 28 Granite City brewpubs and Cadillac Ranch honkytonks.

Irene Cook was SVP of Panera Bread before joining the C-suite at Dug Inn, a farm-to-table fast-casual chain with 12 stores.

Larry Mench packed up the personal items from his VP’s desk at Tim Hortons and began to introduce himself as COO for the seven-unit Oasis delivery chain.

Turner, a former president of Papa Murphy’s, insists that size was less important to her than geography. For nearly a decade, she’s been slogging back and forth from Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters to the San Francisco area, where her husband and family continued to reside.

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