Bendel hired by The Habit Burger Grill

SANTA BARBARA Calif. Russ Bendel, who stepped down as president and chief operating officer of The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants Inc. last week, has been named president and chief executive of The Habit Burger Grill, officials said Tuesday.

A20-unit burger chain based in Santa Barbara, Calif., and known locally as The Habit [2], the chain’s founder, Brent Reichard, will step down as CEO but remain active in the brand’s growth as chairman. Dave Nordahl, the current president, also will remain involved as a board member.

In August 2007, KarpReilly LLC, a Greenwich, Conn.-based private-equity firm, bought a majority ownership in The Habit, with Reichard, Nordahl and other members of the management team retaining the balance. The company is planning to open 100 to 120 units over the next five to seven years in California, Arizona and Nevada.

KarpReilly also has been an investor in the Mimi’s Cafe brand, where Bendel was chief executive prior to joining The Cheesecake Factory last September. Other restaurants in KarpReilly’s portfolio include Elephant Bar, Ale House Restaurants and Cafe Rio.

“We are very excited to have Russ Bendel as our new CEO,” Nordahl said. “We know that his leadership style, character and experience will help us achieve our goals for The Habit. Russ’ experience in casual dining and growing quality brands makes him a perfect fit.”

The Habit chain was founded 35 years ago in Goleta, Calif., a town near Santa Barbara. Reichard got his first job at the original Habit restaurant when he was 16 and bought the restaurant with his brother four years later. He and his brother continue to wholly own the Santa Barbara locations.