Leadership

Cracker Barrel names Julie Felss Masino CEO as Sandra Cochran retires

The former president of Taco Bell International will take over leadership at the family dining chain next month. Cochran will become the executive chair through next year.
Cracker Barrel CEO
Cracker Barrel is changing CEOs for the first time in 12 years. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Julie Felss Masino will take over next month as Cracker Barrel CEO, the company said on Tuesday, as Sandra Cochran steps down after more than a decade at the helm of the family dining chain operator.

Masino comes to Cracker Barrel from Taco Bell, where she was head of international, helping oversee that chain’s growth to more than 1,000 locations in 32 countries. Masino will start at Cracker Barrel on Aug. 7 and will work alongside Cochran through the end of October.

On Nov. 1, Masino will become president and CEO and Cochran will become executive chair of the board through September 2024. Cracker Barrel’s current chair, William McCarten, will then become lead independent director.

The announcement was the culmination of what Cracker Barrel said was a “multi-year, CEO succession-planning process.”

“Julie brings a wealth of experience and an innovative spirit to Cracker Barrel and Maple Street,” Cochran said in a statement. “It has been a privilege to lead this brand for the last 12 years and I am happy to be able to transfer my role to someone as capable and accomplished as Julie.”

Masino will step into the shoes of the industry’s longest-tenured public company chief executive. Cochran took over Cracker Barrel in 2011 and since then has been one of the few women leading a publicly traded restaurant company.

Over that period, she guided the chain to a consistent, years-long sales recovery. Its stock is up 83% since then, though at one point it had more than tripled before the pandemic led to questions about the future of traditional family dining.

Over that time, she fended off one of the most aggressive activist investors, Steak n Shake owner Sardar Biglari, winning several proxy fights before the company and Biglari ultimately reached a truce last year.

Julie Felss Masino

Julie Felss Masino / Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

The company has also branched into other concepts, first investing in Punch Bowl Social before pulling its investment shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020. It had more luck with its 2019 acquisition of Maple Street Biscuit Co. That brand now has more than 50 locations and last year generated $61 million in system sales, according to Restaurant Business sister company Technomic.

Cracker Barrel itself has been a largely steady performer, absent the pandemic. System sales were $2.6 billion last year and the chain operated 665 locations.

(For more on Cochran, check out this profile.)

“Sandy’s contributions to Cracker Barrel are too many to catalogue, from driving performance and creating shareholder value, to recruiting and mentoring key talent, to successfully guiding our company through the pandemic,” McCarten said in a statement.

In Masino, the company is tapping into an executive with experience at some of the most forward-thinking and tech-savvy restaurant chains in the world. She also comes to Cracker Barrel with considerable international experience.

Masino spent more than five years at Taco Bell and helped transform that brand’s international business. Much of her career was spent at Starbucks, including as its chief marketing officer in China.

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