The 2014 Golden Chain winners represent the best the restaurant industry offers today. The honorees lead companies exceeding the limits of today’s unstable economy and provide strong, steady leadership that has positively affected associates, managers, employees and even customers.

To celebrate the winners, NRN dives into the strategies they use to build brands and inspire people. They were also feted at the 2014 MUFSO conference, Oct. 5-7 in Dallas, at an awards program and panel discussion sponsored by SurveyMini by SMG.

Read the condensed versions of the conversations and listen to the complete audio interviews below.

Sandra Cochran
President and chief executive, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

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Since being named president and chief executive of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store family-dining chain in 2011, Sandra Cochran has worked to a­ffirm the chain’s position as a leader in the family-dining segment. The chain posted $2.1 billion in 2013 domestic foodservice sales and had segment-leading estimated sales per unit of $3.4 million, according to NRN’s 2014 Top 100 report.

Cochran spoke with G.J. Hart, president, CEO and executive chairman of California Pizza Kitchen and winner of a Golden Chain Award in 2006, when he was with Texas Roadhouse.

Greg Creed
Chief executive, Taco Bell

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Taco Bell chief executive Greg Creed has been a force behind some of the brand’s most memorable moves, and he’s said his goal is to double the chains systemwide sales to $14 billion by 2022.

Creed spoke with Firehouse of America CEO Don Fox, who was honored with both a Golden Chain Award and Operator of the Year in 2011.

Joseph DePinto
Chief executive, 7-Eleven

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As 7-Eleven chief executive, Joe DePinto has fostered growth in both the U.S. and abroad for the convenience-store chain in his nine-year tenure with the company. Today it leads the convenience-retailing category with 53,000 locations and worldwide sales that total more than $84.8 billion.

DePinto spoke with Stan Sheetz, president and CEO of Sheetz Inc. and winner of a 2012 Golden Chain Award.

Aylwin Lewis
Chief executive, Potbelly Sandwich Works

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Since he joined Potbelly Sandwich Works as chief executive in 2008, Aylwin Lewis has steered the chain through a period of significant growth. Under his leadership, the sub shop has grown from about 200 units to nearly 350 today, and annual sales of $300 million. He also led the chain through a successful initial public offering in October 2013 that raised about $105 million.

Lewis spoke with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen CEO Cheryl Bachelder, winner of a 2012 Golden Chain Award.

W. Kent Taylor
Founder and chief executive, Texas Roadhouse

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Texas Roadhouse’s W. Kent Taylor has had his share of failed stores and growth capital that didn’t come through, but his perseverance in the face of those challenges, as well as his model of giving employees a piece of the profit, have paid huge dividends for the casual-dining chain. Same-store sales increased 2.9 percent at company-owned units and 3.6 percent at franchised restaurants in the second quarter, driven by traffic gains and check increases.

Taylor spoke with Ignite Restaurant Group CEO Ray Blanchette, who was honored with both a Golden Chain Award and Operator of the Year in 2013.