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Ignite Restaurant Group names Robert Merritt CEO

Raymond Blanchette leaves parent of Joe’s Crab Shack, Brick House

Ignite Restaurant Group Inc. has named board member Robert S. Merritt CEO, the company said Tuesday.

Merritt succeeds Raymond Blanchette, who has left the casual-dining parent to Joe’s Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern + Tap. Merritt’s appointment at the Houston-based Ignite was effective immediately, the company said, and Blanchette left “to pursue other opportunities.”

Paul R. Vigano, Ignite’s chairman, said in a statement, “Bob is one of the true pioneers in the casual-dining industry, and we are excited by the vast experience, vision and leadership that he brings to this new role.”

Merritt has been a member of Ignite’s board since last year, the company said. He was an original member of Outback Steakhouse Inc.’s original management team, before it became Bloomin’ Brands Inc., and oversaw that company’s initial public offering.

Vigano thanked Blanchette for his work at Ignite, adding, “He has provided thoughtful leadership during his tenure and we wish him much success in his future endeavors.”

Blanchette, who joined Joe’s Crab Shack as CEO in May 2007, in the statement said, “Ignite Restaurant Group is a special place with incredible people and brands. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead this company.”

Ignite has struggled over the past several years. In March, it agreed to sell the Romano’s Macaroni Grill division to Redrock Partners LLC for about $8 million. It had acquired Macaroni Grill in April 2013 for $55 million.

Merritt retired from Outback Steakhouse in 2005. He served as president and CEO of Benjamin Moore & Co., a producer of paints and finishes, from June 2012 until September 2013.

Ignite on Nov. 5 said it had closed seven Joe’s Crab Shack locations in the third quarter ended Sept. 28, as same-store sales at the seafood chain fell 6.6 percent in period. The company has 131 Joe’s locations.

Two of the closed Joe’s locations were to be converted to Brick House Tavern + Tap restaurants, the 23-unit chain that reported a 0.7-percent decline in same-store sales.

Ignite reported a wider loss from continuing operations in the third quarter of $4.3 million, or 17 cents per share, from $2.4 million or 9 cents in the same period a year ago. Revenues fell 4.2 percent to $133.4 million from $139.3 million.

Ignite in its statement Tuesday that Merritt would remain on Ignite’s board, but he would step down from the audit and the nominating and corporate governance committees because he no longer qualified as an independent director under Nasdaq listing standards.

The board has appointed Shauna R. King as chair of the company’s audit committee and Ann Iverson as a member of the audit committee.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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