Leadership

David Graves is out as president of Pizza Hut U.S.

Aaron Powell, the pizza chain’s global CEO, will take over management of the brand domestically while a replacement is found.
Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut U.S. will be overseen by CEO Aaron Powell until a new president can be found. | Photo: Shutterstock.

David Graves is out as president of Pizza Hut U.S., the company confirmed in an email to Restaurant Business on Friday.

Aaron Powell, Pizza Hut’s global CEO, will take over management of the brand domestically while a successor to Graves is found.

“We appreciate the strong leadership David Graves has brought to the Pizza Hut U.S. business during the last four-plus years and the positive impact he had made in helping modernize the brand and positioning it for the future,” the company said in a statement. “We wish him well on his next chapter.”

The company said Powell will oversee U.S. operations “as part of his global responsibilities” and to “help drive our ambitious growth agenda forward.”

Graves was an executive with KFC U.S. until 2020, when he was named general manager and chief brand officer of Pizza Hut U.S., KFC’s sister chain under parent company Yum Brands. He was elevated into the role of president on Jan. 1, 2022.

The pizza chain had been in decline in recent years as store closures, due in part to the bankruptcy of its formerly largest franchisee NPC International, and challenges with some of its legacy full-service locations. Pizza Hut operates 6,500 locations in the U.S., but that's down from 7,300 in 2019. 

The company believed that the sale of 900 NPC units to Flynn Restaurant Group and sales improvement during the pandemic put the brand on solid footing.

The brand appeared to be on the right track early in 2023, as its use of third-party delivery providers and the introduction of its Melts product led to strong sales at the end of 2022 and early last year, including 8% same-store sales growth in the first quarter of 2023.

But sales have slowed since then, including a 4% decline in the fourth quarter.

Yum executives expressed confidence in the brand’s performance in February. CEO David Gibbs told analysts that, while they expected difficulty this quarter due to tough comparisons, they still anticipated growth on a two-year basis.

“We have had an enormous lap and, obviously, I have to take that into account as we launched Melts last year very successfully,” Gibbs said. “But we certainly have planned for Pizza Hut U.S. to be positive for the year.”

The departure of Graves is the second major executive change among U.S. pizza chains this week, following news that Shake Shack hired Rob Lynch away from Papa Johns to be CEO.

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