El Pollo Loco hires Yum Brands vet Liz Williams as CEO

Williams, previously president of Taco Bell International, will assume her new role at the fast-casual grilled chicken chain on March 11.
El Pollo Loco
El Pollo Loco has named Liz Williams as its next CEO. | Photo: Shutterstock

El Pollo Loco on Tuesday named Yum Brands veteran Liz Williams as its next CEO, effective next month.

Williams will replace Larry Roberts, who announced in November that he would step down from the top spot after a decade with the fast-casual grilled chicken chain. El Pollo Loco’s COO Maria Hollandsworth had served as interim CEO.

With the leadership transition, Hollandsworth becomes the company’s president and will continue to serve as chief operating officer.

Williams, who starts her new job on March 11, brings to the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based brand both retail and restaurant experience.

Most recently, she served as CEO of Outfox Hospitality, the parent company of the fast-growing hybrid convenience store-café chain Foxtrot, as well as upscale grocer Dom’s Kitchen and Market. Before that, she helmed plant-based concept Hart House.

But she is perhaps most well known for her 10 years with Yum Brands between 2010 and 2020, where she served as chief financial officer and president of Taco Bell International. During that time, she steered brand strategy, as well as the growth and performance of Yum’s international business in 30 countries.

“Throughout her career, Liz has demonstrated her ability to accelerate growth in food and beverage brands, while simultaneously improving financial performance,” William Floyd, chairman of El Pollo Loco’s board, said in a statement. “We believe she has the skills and experience necessary to lead El Pollo Loco as we capitalize on the significant opportunity ahead of us.”

El Pollo Loco has nearly 500 company-owned and franchised locations in seven states.

The chain reported $120.4 million in total revenue during its third quarter, a slight increase from the prior year. El Pollo’s same-store sales increased 0.8%.

During Roberts’ tenure, the chicken chain shifted toward an asset-light franchising concept via refranchising. He also expanded the use of kiosks, invested in catering and built up El Pollo’s social media presence.

Williams said she sees plenty of white space for the brand.

“While the company was born in Mexico over 40 years ago and has become an iconic West Coast brand, I believe we are just getting started,” she said in a statement. “I believe that the opportunities to accelerate the growth of our brand are substantial.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Restaurants bring the industry's concerns to Congress

Neary 600 operators made their case to lawmakers as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.


Proposed TGI Fridays sale is no home run, but has promise for both sides

The $220 million all-stock deal would get Fridays’ owner TriArtisan out of its decade-long investment and give the struggling chain a like-minded partner in franchisee Hostmore, experts say.


Podcast transcript: Virtual Dining Brands co-founder Robbie Earl

A Deeper Dive: What is the future of digital-only concepts? Earl discusses their work to ensure quality and why focusing on restaurant delivery works.


More from our partners