LongHorn Steakhouse promotes Laura Williamson to president

The former head of finance replaces Todd Burrowes, who is now president of business development for parent Darden Restaurants. It was part of a flurry of leadership changes at the company.
longhorn steakhouse restaurant
Darden has a track record of developing leaders in-house. | Photo: Shutterstock

Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants on Thursday named a new president of the fast-growing LongHorn Steakhouse chain as well as new presidents for several of its smaller brands as the company looks to foster the development of leaders from within. 

Laura Williamson was promoted to the top job at 575-unit LongHorn, where she had previously been head of finance for nine years. LongHorn has been the star of Darden’s portfolio as of late, growing systemwide sales by more than 10% last year.

Williamson replaces Todd Burrowes, who earlier this year was named Darden’s president of business development. On Thursday, the company revealed that his new responsibilities will include restaurant development and facilities, Darden’s international and franchising business, and oversight of the recently acquired Ruth’s Chris.

One of his direct reports will be Rik Jenkins, who has been promoted to president of Ruth’s, from SVP of operations. Burrowes will help support Jenkins as the 80-unit steakhouse chain continues to acclimate to Darden, CEO Rick Cardenas said. 

Orlando-based Darden also named three new presidents within its Specialty Restaurant Group of smaller full-service brands:

  • Bryan Clements, former head of operations at Olive Garden, is now president of Yard House.
  • Falon Farrell, former head of operations for Eddie V’s, is now president of The Capital Grille and Eddie V’s. 
  • Mark Cooper, head of finance for the Specialty Restaurant Group, is now president of Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze.

All three will report to John Martin, president of the Specialty Restaurant Group.

Darden also announced that Kevin Kalicak, SVP of finance and investor relations, is now head of finance for Olive Garden. Kalicak has been with Darden for more than 27 years.

He was succeeded as head of investor relations by Courtney Aquilla, who has spent more than nine years at Darden. 

The moves continue Darden’s habit of promoting and developing its leaders from within, a strategy that has helped make the company one of the industry’s most consistent performers.

Cardenas on Thursday noted that three of Darden’s seven brand presidents began their careers as hourly employees in its restaurants, and that the presidents’ average tenure is 27 years. Cardenas himself joined Darden as a busser 35 years ago.

He added that the continuity allows the new crop of Darden leaders to learn from their predecessors before they retire. “Not saying that anybody is leaving anytime soon,” he said, “but this gives them a chance to develop people while they're still around.”

The announcements were made during Darden’s fiscal fourth quarter earnings call Thursday.

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