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Leadership

Salad and Go finally discusses its new CEO, Charlie Morrison

The former Wingstop chief executive called the salad restaurant chain “the QSR industry’s best-kept secret” and nominated himself for the position.
Charlie Morrison Salad and Go
Salad and Go hired former Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison in March. It is only now sending out a release announcing the hire./Photos courtesy of Salad and Go.

In March, the then-50-unit Phoenix-based chain Salad and Go hired the CEO of the much larger Wingstop, Charlie Morrison, in what could only be described as a major coup. Yet it said almost nothing outside of a three-sentence statement and would not answer questions about the company. The quiet period, which lasted four months, only added to the questions surrounding the move.

On Tuesday, Salad and Go broke its silence, sending out a release announcing Morrison as its chief executive and offering a few more details on the decision.

According to the release, the idea to hire Morrison came from Morrison himself. The longtime industry executive, a former finalist for Restaurant Business' Restaurant Leader of the Year Award, joined the drive-thru salad chain’s board in November 2020 and “quickly developed a strong affinity for the brand,” it said.

When the board started looking for a new CEO, the company said, Morrison nominated himself and was unanimously chosen to get the job.

“Salad and Go is poised to answer an escalating demand for craveable, convenient and affordable food like no other,” Morrison said in a statement. “I truly believe that this is the QSR industry’s best-kept secret, and I’m dedicated to introducing the wonders of this brand to the world.”

Morrison’s decision to leave Wingstop in and of itself is not unusual. People leave public company positions all the time, and he’d been chief executive there for several years, having led Wingstop through its 2015 IPO. In addition, the company had a ready-made successor in Chief Operating Officer Michael Skipworth.

Yet Wingstop had been considered one of the major winners of the pandemic. It had largely proven the model of takeout chicken wings, embraced delivery and inspired roughly 1,000 virtual copycats in 2020. Even before then, however, it was one of the industry’s strongest growth names and was poised to make a big push into international markets. As the leader of this chain, Morrison stood to earn many millions as it continued to grow.

Yet the release and the comments suggest that lifestyle issues played a huge role in the decision, much as analysts suggested in the aftermath of the announcement. And it’s worth noting that overseeing a publicly traded chicken wing brand isn’t all that it is cut out to be. CEOs deal with investors and go in front of them at least once a quarter to explain the state of their brand.

Chicken wings are perhaps the industry’s single most volatile commodity, going from record highs to major lows from one month to the next. That puts enormous pressure on executives to maintain profitability enough to satisfy investors.

Wingstop’s own stock price reflects that. It was one of the industry’s best performers on Wall Street in both 2020 and 2021. But its stock lost 35% of its value from its 52-week high by the time Morrison announced his departure. It would go on to keep losing as investors wondered whether pandemic darlings would lose their mojo in a recession. At one point this year, Wingstop’s stock was down 63% from its 52-week high.

As for Morrison’s new chain in Salad and Go, it remains a relative unknown. The company has been quiet, even after it secured its new chief executive. Restaurant Business made numerous requests through Salad and Go over the four months to get interviews with the typically media-friendly Morrison, to no avail.

Salad and Go has a drive-thru model at a time when that remains all the rage in the restaurant industry. Salad concepts have largely avoided drive-thrus until relatively recently, and Morrison could foresee a future in which such concepts could thrive in an environment where people want healthy items but do not want to leave their car.

Salad and Go says it has nearly 60 locations now and has plans to grow to nearly 90 by the end of the year and double that by the end of 2023, meaning that in the 20 or so months after Morrison’s decision, the company will have more than tripled its unit count. The brand operates 40 locations around Phoenix. But it opened a location in Addison, Texas.

The company also has its own food production facilities where it prepares the products and distributes them directly to stores, which helps it keep costs and prices down. Its menu features nine salads and wraps and a line of lemonades and teas and breakfast offerings.

It now has a CEO experienced in helping chains grow. “We want to democratize healthy food options and be intentional in ways we provide accessibility to fresh and affordable meals for all,” Morrison said.

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