El Pollo Loco president and CEO Larry Roberts said Thursday he is stepping down after 10 years with the grilled chicken chain.
Roberts will stay on as a consultant through Dec. 28 while the company searches for a replacement. Maria Hollandsworth, El Pollo Loco’s chief operating officer, will assume the role of interim president and CEO in the meantime.
“Larry has been an instrumental part of El Pollo Loco’s history as a public company, from serving as our CFO during our initial public offering in 2014 to leading the company as our CEO for the past two years,” said William Floyd, chairman of the company’s board. “On behalf of the board, I want to thank Larry for his leadership and valuable contributions to El Pollo Loco over the past 10 years. It has been a privilege to work with Larry and we wish him the best.”
The announcement came as the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based chain reported systemwide same-store sales up 0.8% for the Sept. 27-ended third quarter. Revenues increased to $120.4 million, compared with $119.9 million a year ago.
Same-store sales were up 0.3% at company-owned units, reflecting a 1.3% increase in average check mainly due to higher menu prices. Transactions were down 0.9%.
Revenue from company-operated stores decreased to $102.7 million, compared with $103.2 million a year ago, largely because the company refranchised four restaurants earlier this year as part of an ongoing effort.
Roberts has led the company as it moves toward a more asset-light franchising model with refranchising. So far this year, the company has sold 17 units to franchisees, and the chain ended the quarter with 171 company owned and 321 franchised restaurants.
The CEO has also been expanding the chain’s use of kiosks and making investments in building the catering program, as well as building the brand’s social media chops.
Last year, El Pollo Loco introduced a birria LTO that went viral on TikTok. It was so popular, the chain brought back beef in another promotion earlier this year, and Roberts even hinted that beef could become a permanent protein. But the second promotion featuring birria was a dud, and Roberts steered the chain back to its core focus on grilled chicken.
Roberts in a statement said, “Being part of El Pollo Loco has been the highlight of my career, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together during my time with the company. I look forward to working with Maria, the rest of the management team and the board of directors through the end of the year to ensure the company is well positioned for the future.”
Hollandsworth joined the company in November 2022. She served previously as a regional vice president of operations for Dunkin’, where she worked closely with franchisees and led the leadership team. Before that, she spent two decades working with Jack in the Box, most recently serving as vice president of strategic initiatives and operations services.
Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.