Rita’s names Jonathan Fornaci president, CEO

Staff Writer
Rita’s names Jonathan Fornaci president, CEO

Rita’s Franchise Co., parent company to the 550-unit Rita’s Italian Ice frozen confectionary snack chain, has named former Straw Hat Pizza executive Jonathan Fornaci president and chief executive, the company said Friday.

Rita’s was recently purchased by New York-based investment firm Falconhead Capital LLC.

Fornaci had served as president of Straw Hat Pizza since 2008. He previously founded a Northern California real estate development, retail and mortgage broker company and served in executive positions with technology, consulting and finance companies.

“We are energized and excited to have someone with Jonathan's experience take the lead of this brand, and we look forward to watching his vision for this promising system come to fruition,” said Thomas Christopoul, executive chairman of Trevose, Pa.-based Rita’s.

At Straw Hat, Fornaci helped the chain grow from 38 to 86 units and led expansion outside its core California market, helped refine the menu, upgrade décor and develop an in-store frozen yogurt concept.

An employee who answered the phone at Straw Hat headquarters said company veteran Allen Strege had assumed the presidency, though it was not clear if that was on an interim basis or a regular appointment. Strege did not return calls as of press time.

Christopoul was named executive chairman and interim chief executive at 27-year-old Rita’s when control of the company was transferred from a group of investors led by former chairman and chief executive Jim Rudolph to Falconhead. The terms of that deal, announced this month, were not disclosed.

Under the agreement, Rudolph, whose family runs McKnight Capital Partners, purchased Rita’s in 2005, when it had about 300 units, retained a minority interest in the franchising company and was named vice chairman.

Christopoul is an operating partner at Falconhead, a private equity firm specializing in investments in a diverse group of consumer-focused businesses.

“We are delighted to acquire Rita's, one of the largest frozen treat concepts in the country with considerable growth potential,” David S. Moross, Falconhead chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

"This transaction is an important vote of confidence in the Rita's concept and a positive development for our franchisees,” Rudolph said in a statement about the deal. “David and his team will be excellent stewards of the brand and will have my full support as they pursue a number of exciting growth initiatives.”

Contact Alan J. Liddle at alan.liddle@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN