While the return of W. Kent Taylor to the post of chief executive at Texas Roadhouse may yield a few changes for the brand, the casual-dining chain’s founder says he’s never moved too far away from the daily operations of the concept he launched back in 1993.
Following the resignation of former chief executive G.J. Hart, who left Louisville, Ky.-based Texas Roadhouse Aug. 14 to become CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, Taylor resumed the role he had held at Texas Roadhouse from 2000 to 2004.
Since then, the brand introduced its first international location in September in Dubai and recorded a 13-percent increase in profit for the third quarter of 2011.
Taylor, who remained chairman of the company during Hart’s tenure as CEO, said Texas Roadhouse’s recent success has much to do with the brand fundamentals he has advocated from the beginning, with a compensation structure and local-store marketing focus that makes the brand’s managing partners and market partners more entrepreneurial.
Texas Roadhouse will open 25 new restaurants in 2012, including a few more units in the Middle East, Taylor said.
“We’ve had a solid 2011, and there are many more challenges ahead for 2012, but we’re not scared,” Taylor told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We’re ready to tackle 2012 like we did with 2011.”
Since you’re stepping back into the CEO role, what has the transition period entailed for Texas Roadhouse?
I’ve never relinquished real estate [site selection], I’ve always done the menu and the menu pricing, and I’ve always had my hand involved in our company conference. I have been there to protect the brand from ourselves and make sure we don’t make changes from [our differentiators like] three-table stations, cutting our meat in-house and making our items from scratch. Those are the type of things that a lot of companies transitioning from one leader to another tend to screw with and mess up. We’ve never had a market partner, who is like an area manager, quit. I’m very proud of that
We had a transition plan put in place about two years ago, so when G.J. announced he was leaving, we got the board together and pushed the “go” button. I would say that with me back in the saddle, I may view some things differently from G.J., but I don’t think fundamentally you’re going to see a shift in the business. What’s going to happen with me more engaged is you’re going to see my personality and my style reflected in certain parts of our business.
As an example, in marketing I really want to push social media, whereas we weren’t as directed that way before. For me, being on Papa John’s board of directors, I see how they leverage social media, and I would say there are a lot of things I’m picking up from them that we could take advantage of.