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Barry McGowan, CEO of Fogo de Chão, on how the steakhouse has weathered the coronavirus crisis and is looking forward.

Fogo de Chão’s CEO Barry McGowan on how to transition from fine dining to off-premise in the middle of a pandemic

The Brazilian steakhouse chain was hit hard during the coronavirus crisis but continued to feed staff and front line workers

Barry McGowan has been CEO at Fogo de Chão since December 2018 and was a big part of the steakhouse chain’s effort to market to Millennials, but fine dining has taken a huge hit during COVID-19, and Fogo de Chão is no exception. The Plano, Texas-based fine-dining chain focused around churrascaria currently has 57 units and was elibible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $20 million which it did not accept.

Despite the challenges of furloughs and a loss of business, McGowan and his staff fed first responders, transitioned to an off-premise strategy and are still looking to the future. Here’s his story:

“I have worked in the restaurant industry for my entire professional career – nearly 40 years, in fact. I started working behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant as a teenager, studied hotel and restaurant management as an undergraduate, and received a graduate certificate in finance. Restaurants have been and continue to be my life ever since.  

The pandemic has been a challenging and trying moment in history for us all. My main concern – and I speak for the whole leadership team here at Fogo – is the health and safety of our teams and our guests. As we started to understand the gravity of the situation, we mobilized to continue business in every capacity we could, while still helping others and our own. 

People in the restaurant profession are resilient, entrepreneurial and hospitable, and I continue to be amazed by how urgently and selflessly our teams activated to help others amid the pandemic. For example, we committed to feeding all Fogo employees hot meals every day after we had to close dine-in seating and temporarily adjust staffing. Also, we contributed a portion of sales from our newly launched Fogo To-Go platform to longtime partner No Kid Hungry. We knew that as the country began to shut down, children and families would lose access to nutritious meals through their schools. Through this initiative, our guests helped us provide more than 2.6 million meals to kids in need.

I’m so proud of our team given the tireless work they have put in over the last four months, even while working through the challenges of COVID. They delivered hot meals to first responders and medical providers on a weekly basis for months. They continue to work just as hard.  

We have always been committed to providing a safe environment for guests and team members. When the pandemic began, we amplified our efforts with our 12 Safety Promises. These promises, which we display on our website and in a number of highly visible areas around our restaurants, detail the stringent cleaning and service protocols our teams are practicing. Additionally, we launched across all locations Fogo To-Go and Catering to provide ways for people to enjoy a delicious meal comfortably in their home.

Restaurant people are incredibly resilient. We’ll have to be flexible and continue adapting, but we are hopeful for a brighter future.

The Fogo family has been through challenges in our 40-plus years, but we believe we will see this through with drive and ingenuity just as we have the others. We have aggressive expansion plans both domestically and abroad, and while that growth will continue in 2021 and beyond – albeit a bit differently in a post-pandemic world – I’m confident that we’ll be able to hire the best talent and successfully open new restaurants in the best locations, and that the restaurant industry as a whole will emerge stronger than ever. While this time has been challenging, it is exciting to see the entrepreneurial spirit, dedication and innovative drive for which the restaurant industry is known. For example, we continue to see new developments with ghost kitchens, block chain traceability, contactless delivery and pick-up, and technologies that simplify and enhance the safety of dining out for staff and guests alike.”

This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.

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