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Mooyah names Tony Darden president, operations chief

Industry veteran has worked with Taco Bueno, Panera

Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes has named Tony Darden as president and chief operating officer of mostly franchised brand, the company said this week.

Mooyah_Tony-Darden.gifDarden, left, assumed the post at the Plano, Texas-based fast-casual company April 15, succeeding Michael Mabry, who left earlier this year to take the chief development officer position at Fort Worth, Texas-based Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

“I’ve been a fan of Mooyah for 10 years,” Darden said in an interview earlier this week, “including the food quality, the product and presentation as well as the culture of the brand.”

Darden most recently served as chief operating officer for Taco Bueno Restaurants and its Dallas-based parent, Sun Holdings Inc. Prior to his nearly two years at Taco Bueno, Darden worked more than 10 years with Panera Bread Co. and previously with the casual-dining Bennigan’s brand.

“The biggest challenge for us, being a smaller and predominantly franchised brand, is going to be to create a consistently great experience across the system,” Darden said. “We need to be consistently great at the customer experience we provide but at the same time we’ve got to provide a great franchise experience and a great team member experience.”

Anand Gala, CEO and chairman of Mooyah, said the company was looking for a leader who “embraced and exuded the values and the personality that would be appropriate for the brand and what the brand stands for.”

Gala, whose Gala Capital Partners LLC acquired Mooyah in May 2017, said Darden “has a background of experiences that we thought could really be beneficial to the organization,” including growth at brands like Panera Bread Co. and franchisor companies like Taco Bueno.

Gala added that the company has been working on the Mooyah brand for the past two years. Earlier this year, Mooyah made three executive changes: It hired John Hunter, formerly of Zoe’s Kitchen Inc., as its new director of supply chain; Scott Haehnel, formerly of Papa John's and Firehouse Subs, as real estate and development manager; and Coleman Williams, also previously of Zoe’s, as construction project manager.

“There were a number of things we needed to put into place when we originally took ownership of the brand, and that took us a little bit of time,” Gala said. “In some cases, it was people; in many cases, it was process and discipline. And in other cases, it was just systems and tools. We’ve spent the past two years getting those pieces right.”

The organization is now focused on “servant leadership,” Gala said.

“We see the franchisees as our customer,” he added.

Darden added that “there’s a tremendous upside for the brand. It has a tremendous product, a tremendous culture and tremendous team members and franchisees. It’s about being consistent with that and ensuring we partner with the right folks going forward.”

Mooyah has 93 units with 70 of those domestic and the remainder international. The brand has one company-owned restaurant.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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