Restaurant Leader of the Year nominees think outside the box

The five finalists, Lisa Ingram, David Overton, Wyman Roberts, Peter Cancro and Claudia San Pedro, all took their chains to new heights by thinking differently.
Restaurant Leader of the Year nominees
Image by Restaurant Business

One of the five finalists for Restaurant Business Restaurant Leader of the Year created a brand from scratch and took it to $100 million in basically a few months. Another turned a 100-year-old brand into a source for groundbreaking innovation.

One engineered a pair of unique deals in quick succession. Another made an early bet on technology. And one paid for its franchisees to remodel locations.

Each of the five finalists for Restaurant Business Restaurant Leader of the Year took their chains to new heights, in large part through innovative thinking. All week, we’ve presented their stories. The five are White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram, The Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton, Brinker International CEO Wyman Roberts, Jersey Mike’s Founder Peter Cancro and Sonic President Claudia San Pedro.

Each of those five are worthy of the award, though the Restaurant Business staff will choose the ultimate winner and will present that award at the Restaurant Leadership Conference in April.

Here’s a look again at the five finalists:

Lisa Ingram, White Castle: The fourth-generation CEO helped make a 100-year-old brand new and hip, with robot burger makers and plant-based burgers. To get an idea of just how hip this brand is, look at the remarkable long lines the chain generated when it opened its Orlando location last year.

David Overton, Cheesecake Factory: Overton has guided the chain into the powerhouse it is today. But he also guided the company’s interesting acquisition of Fox Restaurant Concepts, giving the company its own concept incubator. It also used an investment from Roark Capital to get through the pandemic.

Wyman Roberts, Brinker International: Maybe the most relevant brand in the U.S. today is not a brick-and-mortar concept but It’s Just Wings, the virtual wing brand run out of Chili’s and Maggiano’s locations. The brand helped the company quickly recover from the pandemic.

Peter Cancro, Jersey Mike’s: We are still amazed at the company’s surprising move to pay for its franchisees’ store remodels. Nobody does that. Yet by investing $175 million into the program, Jersey Mike’s got the remodels done quicker, generated strong sales and got a return through higher royalties.

Claudia San Pedro, Sonic: Sometimes, the best ideas aren’t evident until years later. San Pedro helped get a costly and complicated technology effort completed, then watched sales recover just as the chain gets sold to Inspire Brands. It is paying dividends today with some of the industry’s strongest results since the pandemic.

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