Repositioning veterans G.J. Hart, David Pace and Tom Conforti have joined the board of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers as part of a reshuffle that includes the pending retirement of Pattye Moore as chairman and acting CEO.
The appointment of Hart, Pace and Conforti is effective immediately. Moore will continue to serve until a permanent CEO is hired, the casual chain said. An additional board seat will be vacated in 2020 by the decision of independent director Stuart Oran to forgo another run for reelection.
The changes follow conversations between the chain’s leadership and activist shareholder Vintage Capital, which has offered to buy the 88% of Red Robin it doesn’t already own for $40 a share. Red Robin initially dismissed the offer, characterizing it as gamesmanship on the part of Vintage to force a changeover in management. But it showed a receptiveness to the bid when it was extended a second time by Vintage, which revealed at the time that interactions with management had warmed considerably. It characterized the negotiations as “constructive.”
Vintage had earlier said it would seek control of four of Red Robin’s nine board seats if a deal could not be hammered out within 10 days.
One of those seats was vacated by the retirement in April of then-CEO Denny Post.
Red Robin has been struggling to right itself after operational changes intended to cut down unit-level positions ended up slowing table turns and driving customers away. It has since closed a number of restaurants, intensified staff training, tweaked its menu and adjusted operations.
“Tom, G.J. and David each bring outstanding track records of significant growth and value creation in the restaurant, food service and hospitality industries,” Moore said in a statement. “We are confident their experience and expertise will be valuable assets to Red Robin as we execute on our strategic priorities and continue the Board's efforts to create value for our shareholders.”
All three have deep experience in repositioning and reviving restaurant brands.
Hart, currently CEO of the Torchy’s Tacos regional fast-casual chain, previously led California Pizza Kitchen through a comprehensive recast that included overhauling the restaurants’ design and menus. Earlier, he led Texas Roadhouse, one of casual dining’s perennial front-runners.
Pace was CEO of Jamba Juice from 2016 to 2018, where he attempted to broaden the concept into more of a full-menu option and less of a beverage stop. He also moved Jamba’s headquarters and improved profits before the brand was sold last year to Focus Brands for $200 million. He also has extensive experience in casual dining, having served as president of Carrabba’s Italian Grill and EVP of its parent company, Bloomin’ Brands, also the parent of Outback Steakhouse.
Conforti has served as CFO for a number of hospitality companies, including Applebee’s parent Dine Brands and, more recently, Wyndham Worldwide, the lodging operator. While working with IHOP, he helped transform the family chain to an “asset-light,” all-franchised model, and was involved with the company’s purchase of Applebee’s.
Red Robin operates or holds the franchise rights to about 560 namesake casual restaurants.