Nation’s Restaurant News recognized Brinker International and its virtual brand It’s Just Wings as the winner of the first CREATOR of the Year award.
The CREATOR of the Year was chosen from the six winners of the 2021 CREATORS Awards, a new program from NRN that recognizes innovation in the restaurant industry.
Brinker International/It’s Just Wings, which was recognized as a CREATOR in the large brand category (200 units or more), stood out for the rapid development of the chicken wing-focused virtual brand, which launched in 2020 and quickly grew to more than 1,000 locations and $170 million in sales.
“We are thrilled to honor Brinker and It’s Just Wings with the first CREATOR of the Year award,” said Nation’s Restaurant News editor-in-chief Sam Oches. “The last year and a half have been marked by bold moves throughout the industry, but Brinker’s launch of It’s Just Wings stands out as one of the biggest.
“The speed and scale with which Brinker launched It’s Just Wings epitomizes not only the grit and perseverance of full-service restaurants, but also the creativity and forward thinking that will drive the industry’s recovery,” he added.
In addition to Brinker International/It’s Just Wings, the other winners of the 2021 CREATORS Awards and their respective categories are:
- Portillo’s (Brand CREATOR — 200 units or less), an Oak Brook, Ill.-based hot dog and sandwich brand honored for how it reimagined its delivery model to streamline operations and keep its high-volume stores humming.
- Big Red F (Independent CREATOR), a Boulder, Colo.-based restaurant group that won for its commitment to keeping workers employed and engaged, through in-house delivery, virtual brands, pop-up events, tip-sharing and improved benefits.
- Virtual Dining Concepts (Marketing CREATOR), a company co-founded by industry veteran Robert Earl, honored for its innovation in the virtual brand space, particularly its unique ability to create viral, celebrity-inspired brands.
- Scott Boatwright, chief restaurant officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill (Operations CREATOR), who was behind several key technology plays as Chipotle’s digital sales soared during the pandemic, including the off-premises-only Chipotle Digital Kitchen and the expansion of mobile pickup and carside options.
- James Fripp, chief equity and inclusion officer, Yum Brands Inc. (Leadership CREATOR), the Yum! Brands veteran honored for his longtime leadership on diversity and inclusion issues and for pioneering creative ways to fix the broken leadership pipeline that often prevents women and people of color from reaching leadership positions.
The CREATOR of the Year was announced Tuesday at a cocktail reception during the inaugural CREATE: The Future of Foodservice, a new event from NRN held Oct. 4-6 in Denver. Wade Allen, senior vice president and head of innovation for Brinker International, accepted the award on behalf of Brinker and It’s Just Wings.