Darden changes leadership of Cheddar’s, Seasons 52

Dave George is overseeing Cheddar's, and John Martin will be responsible for Seasons 52.

Darden Restaurants COO Dave George has assumed day-to-day responsibility for the casual-dining giant’s Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and The Capital Grille chief John Martin has expanded his duties to oversee the company's Seasons 52 polished-casual operation following the departures of the chains' respective brand presidents, Ian Baines and Brian Foye.

The two brands have been the laggard performers among the eight casual chains in Darden’s portfolio, which includes large segment outperformers such as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille. Cheddar’s, a new addition to the fold, posted a 4.7% decline in same-store sales for the fourth quarter ended May 27, while Seasons 52 generated a 0.4% uptick.

The Orlando Sentinel, Darden’s hometown paper, tied the departure of Baines and Foye to their charges’ sales challenges.

Darden said in a statement, “We constantly evaluate our organizational structure to ensure we have the right talent in the right positions to deliver on our commitments to our guests, our team members and our shareholders. We believe that these organizational adjustments position Darden and our brands for long-term success.”

Baines had reported to George, who is expected to relinquish direct responsibility for 156-unit Cheddar’s when a new president is named. George continues to serve as EVP as well as COO of Darden, which owns and operates about 1,746 full-service restaurants.

Turnarounds have been George’s specialty, as underscored by the rebounds of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, both of which he served as president during their rejuvenations.

In addition to running The Capital Grille, Martin serves as president of the Eddie V's steakhouse group. His oversight of Seasons 52 is a structural rather than a temporary change.

Baines was president of Cheddar’s at the time of its 2017 acquisition by Darden for $784 million. He was familiar to some of the executives at Darden, having served as president of the company’s Smokey Bones barbecue chain before it was spun off.

Foye had been president of Seasons 52, a polished-casual concept with an extensive wine program, since December 2012. Earlier, he had served as president of Darden’s Bahama Breeze concept and came to the company in its acquisition of Rare Hospitality in 2007.   

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