Blaze, Cousins, Torchy’s, &Pizza, Slim Chickens CEOs: ‘Chaos is the New Normal’

This article was written by S.A. Whitehead for Fast Casual.

If you buy into the notion that true business growth can be uncomfortable, then it would not be a stretch to say that for the restaurant industry, this year has been like hitting puberty: painful, but as it turns out, necessary for the industry to reach the next level.

That was among the chief takeaways from five restaurant industry CEOs during this year’s Fast Casual Executive Summit CEO Roundtable.

Although they admitted that their brands had been buffeted around on the rocks of COVID-19, they ultimately snapped to it and made the necessary changes to put them on the course for much more pleasurable waters ahead. The keys were flexibility, adaptability and decisiveness at every level of their organizations, always with the contactless experience-seeking customer in mind.

The panel — moderated by Ryan Wuerch, founder and CEO of the cashback platform, Dosh — included a passionate discussion of the last year’s restaurant business by:

  • &pizza co-founder and CEO Michael Lastoria.
  • Blaze Pizza CEO Mandy Shaw.
  • Cousins Subs CEO Christine Specht.
  • Slim Chickens co-founder and CEO Tom Gordon.
  • Torchy’s Tacos CEO G.J. Hart.

Wuerch got the hour-long virtual session going by starting at the top, asking the speakers what leadership characteristics mattered most.

For Torchy’s Tacos CEO G.J. Hart, it was the need for leadership transparency that led the list of 2020 imperatives for the 83-location taco chain.

“The most important thing is to be upfront — to be transparent … because what you find is when there is uncertainty — like there is going on with COVID, especially those first weeks — people were scared,” he told the group. “So getting out in front of it and communicating the brutal facts of what you’re dealing with and the challenges ahead is critical.”…

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