Restaurant industry veteran G.J. Hart is coming out of retirement to become Red Robin's next CEO and president, replacing Paul Murphy, who will retire at the end of the year.
Hart knows the sit-down burger chain well, having been a member of its board since 2019. He was most recently CEO of Torchy's Tacos before abruptly retiring in November to spend more time with his family.
He expressed interest in taking over at Red Robin as it began looking for Murphy's replacement, Board Chair David Pace said in a news release. "We quickly determined that he possesses all of the critical skills that we are looking for in Red Robin’s next leader," Pace said.
"While I have long admired Red Robin as an organization and brand, since joining the board I have gained a heightened appreciation for the culture, values and brand equities that have made Red Robin so iconic for more than fifty years while recognizing its go-forward potential," Hart said in a statement. "I am eager to begin working with the team in this new capacity to strengthen the Company’s foundation, execute on our strategic priorities, and continue our collective efforts to create value for shareholders."
Hart helped more than double Torchy's footprint after joining the chain in 2018—the Austin, Texas-based fast casual now has more than 100 locations. Before joining Torchy’s, Hart helmed California Pizza Kitchen, where he led improvements to the casual-dining chain’s look, menu and service model. Prior to that, he steered Texas Roadhouse through its initial public offering in 2004 as president.
He was part of a 2019 board refresh at Red Robin that also included the addition of Pace, the former CEO of Jamba, and Steven Lumpkin, onetime CFO of Applebee’s.
"During the past three years, G.J. has distinguished himself as a thoughtful and effective Board member in supporting Paul and the Red Robin team as they navigated an exceptionally tumultuous period in our industry’s history," Pace said.
Murphy took the reins in 2019 amid a takeover attempt by a disgruntled investor, agreeing to a three-year term to help turn the chain around. Much of his time at 520-unit Red Robin was spent guiding it through the pandemic. It has been slower to rebound from the crisis than some of its casual-dining counterparts, finishing 2021 with sales down 10% compared to 2019, according to Technomic data.
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