Bojangles’ Restaurants Inc. has named Clifton Rutledge chief executive, effective Jan. 24.
Rutledge, formerly chief operating officer of Whataburger, replaces Randy Kibler, who announced his retirement in September . Kibler will remain chairman of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bojangles’ board of directors.
“Clifton’s proven leadership and broad experience in the quick-service category make him the ideal leader to guide Bojangles’ continued growth.” Kibler said in a press release. “We have the utmost confidence in the wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm he brings to our brand.”
Bojangles’ has also promoted senior vice president of company operations Kenny Avery to chief operations officer.
Rutledge served as Whataburger’s chief operating officer since 2006. Before holding that role, he worked in both company and franchise operations for TCBY and KFC. Rutledge will relocate to Charlotte with his wife Christy and daughters Caitlyn, Chandler and Carley.
“I am proud to join the Bojangles’ team on the heels of many recent successes which have contributed to this company’s tremendous growth potential,” Rutledge said. “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Bojangles’ leadership, and it is an honor to be part of the team. We will remain committed to the brand’s vision of growth and look forward to taking Bojangles’ to the next level.”
Bojangles’, which is controlled by private-equity fund Advent International, said Rutledge would lead the quick-service chicken chain’s ongoing expansion in its core markets in the Southeast, as well as continuing to grow same-store sales.
“We are confident that by bringing on a new CEO with a track record of positive results, as well as transitioning two of the company’s key executives into new leading roles, Bojangles’ has strengthened its leadership team while also ensuring continuity,” said Andrew Crawford, a principal at Advent, which bought a controlling interest in Bojangles’ in 2011 . “It is an exciting time for Bojangles’ with a promising team in place to propel the company into the future.”
In last year’s Nation’s Restaurant News Top 100  census, Bojangles’ ranked No. 19 in U.S. systemwide sales growth, rising from No. 29 in the prior year. Sales grew to $864.5 million for the year ended December 2012, an increase of 12.65 percent from the prior-year figure of $767.4 million. Its estimated sales per unit rose by 7 percent, from $1.55 million to $1.66 million. Bojangles’ operates and franchises 574 restaurants in 10 states, as well as three restaurants in Honduras.
Whataburger president and chief executive Preston Atkinson said he planned to announce Rutledge's successor "in the coming weeks."
"We appreciate Clifton's service to our company and wish him and his family all the best in his next endeavor. Whataburger's focus remains on creating the best experience for our customers and building the best team and systems to accomplish that goal," he said.
Whataburger, a 740-unit burger chain based in San Antonio, Texas, was ranked right behind Bojangles’, at No. 20 in systemwide sales growth, a jump from 36th a year earlier. Systemwide sales grew by 12.63 percent, to $1.48 billion from $1.31 billion, and estimated sales per unit rose 10.87 percent, from $1.81 million to $2.01 million.
This story has been revised to reflect the following update:
Update: January 8 2014 This story has been updated with a comment from Whataburger's chief executive.