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Brad Blum named CEO of Bravo, Brio

The two casual Italian brands will be the nucleus for a new company run by the former Olive Garden chief, with financial backing from Brazil-based GP Investments.

Former Olive Garden and Burger King chief Brad Blum has been named CEO of the new parent of the Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italiana casual chains, with plans to use those holdings as the nucleus of a new multibrand operation.

The new company, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, is a partnership with Brazil-based GP Investments, a private-equity company that says it has raised $5 billion in capital. FoodFirst intends to acquire other brands that fit what the company set as a five-point philosophy combining environmental and nutritional concerns with economic principles.

The announcement of Blum’s appointment noted that GP is the principal owner of Leon Naturally Fast Food, a European chain that plans to enter the U.S. market.

Joining Blum at FoodFirst is another alumnus of Darden Restaurants, Bob Mock, who will serve as COO. Mock, who spent much of his career in operations, created the Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill concept for Darden, the parent of Olive Garden and the longtime employer of Blum.

Blum would eventually rise to vice chairman of the company before leaving to become CEO Of Burger King. He subsequently served as CEO of Romano’s Macaroni Grill, a late bidder for Bravo and Brio, and was one of the directors that a Darden dissident investor hoped to put on that company’s board.

The first order of business will be rejuvenating Bravo and Brio, Blum said. “We will do this by relentlessly focusing on the quality of the food, improving the menu, sharpening the operations, remodeling the restaurants and delivering a highly differentiated guest experience,” he indicated in the statement from FoodFirst. “We took the company private, so we could invest in the company.”

GP closed on Brio Bravo Restaurant Group on May 24. It acquired the public company from shareholders for roughly $100 million in an all-cash deal.

GP’s partner in the bidding was identified as Spice Equity Group, described as a Swiss private-equity group. Blum was based in Switzerland while working for General Mills, onetime parent of Olive Garden.

“Brad has a proven track record with multiple restaurant companies. That is why we are making this investment,” said Antonio Bonchristiano, CEO of GP and vice chairman of FoodFirst. “As owner-partners, we place our confidence in his leadership and that of his team. We expect a long, profitable relationship.”

Blum assumes responsibility for Bravo and Brio from Brian O'Malley, who took the chains through the acquisition.

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