El Pollo Loco CEO Steve Carley to step down

El Pollo Loco CEO Steve Carley to step down

Steve Sather, operations SVP, to serve as interim leader

After nine years at the helm of El Pollo Loco Inc., Steve Carley plans to step down as president and chief executive in September, the company said Thursday.

UPDATE: Steve Carley has been named chief executive of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Click here for the story [3].

Steve Sather, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based chain’s senior vice president of operations, will serve as acting president and chief executive while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Carley. Chain spokeswoman Julie Weeks said Sather would be considered as a candidate for the job and that he would maintain his current position in the interim.

After his resignation is effective on Sept. 12, Carley has said he will pursue other opportunities to be announced later.

Carley joined the grilled chicken chain as president and chief executive in April 2001. In a statement, the company said Carley “brought the brand an entrepreneurial spirit with a culture of discipline and aligned employees around clearly defined performance criteria.”

During his tenure, Carley grew El Pollo Loco from the 242 units in 2001 to more than 400 restaurants in 13 states, aiding franchising with the development of a new prototype that enabled for more consistent operations.

Carley also helped the company navigate the change of ownership after former private-equity parent American Securities Capital Partners LP sold the chain to current majority owner Trimaran Capital Partners for $415 million in 2005.

Sather joined El Pollo Loco in January 2006 as vice president of operations. Previously, he served as senior vice president of retail operations for Great Circle Family Foods LLC, the franchise operator of the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts brand in Southern California.

Prior to that, Sather served as chief operating officer for Rubio’s Restaurants Inc., and served in management at Rally’s Hamburgers, La Salsa Holding Co. and Taco Bell.

“Steve Sather’s passion for our brand, restaurant leadership experience and strategic acumen will provide El Pollo Loco strong and effective leadership,” Carley said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more pleased or supportive of Steve.”

Also on Thursday, El Pollo Loco’s parent company, EPL Intermediate Inc., reported that it narrowed its net loss for the second quarter to $7.7 million, from with a loss of $25.8 million for the year-ago second quarter. The improvement was attributed to tax changes, lower product costs and a decrease in legal settlements. However, the company's revenue for the June 30-ended quarter declined 2 percent to $71.2 million on a 4.9-percent drop in systemwide same-store sales.

“Our sales continue to be negatively impacted by the high rate of unemployment in our core markets and the increased frugality we continue to observe among consumers dining out," Carley said. "We expect adverse economic conditions to continue through the second half of 2010 and possibly into 2011.”

At the end of the second quarter, the El Pollo Loco chain included 171 corporate stores and 241 franchised locations.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]