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Garden Fresh names John Haywood CEO

Longtime industry executive takes over beleaguered owner of Sweet Tomatoes, Souplantation brands

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. on Thursday named industry veteran John Haywood as the company’s new CEO.

The 53-year-old California native takes over the San Diego-based owner of the Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes brands one month after the company’s sale to a pair of private equity groups.

With more than 20 years of senior management experience, Haywood brings considerable experience to the 97-unit company known for its 50-foot salad bar.

“John is the perfect guy to take our unique brands to the next level,” Gene Baldwin, former interim CEO of Garden Fresh and a member of the company’s board of directors, said in a statement. “He has a keen understanding of consumer insights, culinary trends and operations management in addition to the financial acumen it takes to succeed in today’s challenging environment.”

Haywood previously worked with several different companies, including Carrols Corp., where he was chief concept officer and chief marketing officer for its Hispanic Restaurant Division, which operated Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana. That has since been spun off into Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc. 

He also worked with celebrity chef Bobby Flay in creating Bobby’s Burger Palace, and he was the interim CEO for Don Shula’s Steakhouses, among others.

Haywood takes over a company that filed for bankruptcy protection last October amid declining sales. The company was sold to one of its lenders, private equity group Cerberus Capital Management LP, in January. Cerberus then sold Garden Fresh to Washington, D.C.-based Perpetual Capital Partners and Dallas-based CR3 Capital LLC in August.

Estimated system revenue at Garden Fresh was $273.9 million in the company’s 2016 fiscal year, according to NRN Top 200 estimates, down nearly 10 percent from the previous year. That was before any store closures. Garden Fresh closed 27 locations during the bankruptcy.

“Having grown up in California, I’ve long admired the Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes brands,” Haywood said in a statement. “Our guests have remained so loyal during challenging times, and we now look forward to exceeding their expectations and earning their loyalty in every way.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

TAGS: Fast Casual
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