Louie Psallidas is stepping down as CEO of Uno Restaurant Holdings, he announced on his LinkedIn page Wednesday.
Jim Ilaria, former CEO of a large Applebee’s franchisee and a longtime industry executive and private equity operator, was picked to replace him.
“When I first became CEO of Uno, a wise man told me that it would be important to recognize when the time comes to step away, and now after almost 11 years at Uno I have decided that the time has come for me to step aside and hand over the reins to a new leader,” Psallidas said in his announcement, “A farewell to my friends at Uno.”
Psallidas was first named CFO of the Boston-based chain in 2008 and was promoted to CEO in 2014.
Psallidas said in his announcement that he plans to work with Ilaria “over the next few weeks” to ensure a smooth transition. He said he has worked with Uno’s owners to find “a strong and capable successor with similar values and beliefs who can take the Uno brand to the next level.”
In an interview with Restaurant Business on Wednesday, Ilaria called Psallidas “a great operator and a class act.”
Uno operates 100 locations, primarily in New England, Florida and Chicago. The company recently refranchised eight restaurants in Maryland and Virginia to a franchisee, Bastian Restaurant Group, as part of a plan to sell company stores to franchisees. The company is owned by the investment firm Newport Global Advisors.
Ilaria said he is “honored and excited to be leading such an iconic American brand” that will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year. And he described a “three-pronged growth plan” to add new units domestically and internationally.
The first prong is to develop a new, low-cost conversion package aimed at operators of casual-dining restaurants that are losing money. A bar and grill concept could be easily converted to an Uno with the addition of a pizza oven.
“Some of these markets have good sites but the trade area has voted that they don’t want their offering,” Ilaria said.
Outside the U.S., the company has developed Uno Next, a pizza-focused prototype designed to bring the brand into new markets. And the company plans to work with operators in nontraditional locations such as airports to bring Uno’s grab-and-go offerings there.
Ilaria said that the company does not plan to sell all of its locations to franchisees, as some other brands have done. “I’m a big fan of having some company stores to drive trial and show franchisees we have skin in the game,” he said.
And Ilaria noted that, as a former executive with both franchisors—he was once an interim CEO of the Hot Stuff Foods franchise—and franchisees, he could relate to a franchise system like Uno.
“I have a strong focus on our franchisees’ four-wall profitability,” he said, adding that he believes in working with operators to develop marketing programs that increase the brand’s market share.