Word of Mouth

Former El Pollo Loco CEO Stephen Carley takes the reins of Red Robin

Red Robin may have been pegged by Zagat as one of the country's best full-service chains, but the Greenwood Village-based restaurant company slipped in second-quarter earnings, and the major investors sacked the CEO, Dennis Mullen.

Taking the reins of the bottomless fry-hawking joint is Stephen Carley, formerly CEO of another chain, El Pollo Loco.

Carley joined El Pollo Loco in 2001. Under his rule, the chain saw explosive growth because of creative marketing stunts like a promotion that pitted a soft chicken taco and a crispy chicken taco against one another -- and increased sales of both. The food of El Pollo Loco made debuts at Universal Studios and on TV, on an episode of The Apprentice. And the brand also revamped the look of its restaurants, updating the interior to feature "contemporary Mexican design with multiple textures, geometric shapes, natural wood and Aztec design elements," which sounds suspiciously like changing the restaurant to make it look more like Chipotle. But, hey, if it puts money in the bank and hands of investors, that's what counts.

Carley takes control of Red Robin on September 13.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk