- Torchy's Tacos named founder Mike Rypka CEO on Thursday. Rypka previously led the company as CEO between its founding in 2006 and 2018, and has served as interim CEO for the chain since former CEO GJ Hart retired in November.
- Prior to the creation of Torchy's, Rypka worked as a corporate chef for companies including World Bank, MTV Studios, Disney Animation and Dell.
- Rypka is the second restaurant company founder to return to the CEO role this week. On Wednesday, Starbucks announced that founder Howard Schultz will take the helm as interim CEO next month when current CEO Kevin Johnson retires.
Rypka takes the leadership baton after a strong growth period for Torchy's under Hart. Between 2018 and 2021, the chain grew from 45 restaurants to 96 locations in 10 states, opening 26 units in 2020 and 2021 despite pandemic pressure.
Now, the chain spans more than 100 units in 11 states, and Rypka has his eye on further expansion and menu innovation, according to the company's release.
"While I've always been involved behind the scenes, I am excited to serve as CEO as we work to bring Torchy's to more communities so that everyone can experience our passion for made-from-scratch Damn Good Food," he said in a statement.
Rypka reenters the CEO post as the fast casual category experiences rapid expansion as the pandemic ebbs. Thirty-nine percent of fast casual operators believe business will return to normal in more than a year, and 17% report that current business is close to normal levels, according to the National Restaurant Association's State of the Industry 2022 report. Forty-eight percent of fast casual operators also expect higher sales volumes in 2022 than in 2021, and franchisees have been flocking to the segment thanks to its digital offerings and high-quality menus.
This time last year, Torchy's was reportedly exploring an IPO of $300 million to reach a $1 billion valuation. The company has recently attracted significant investment, selling a stake to growth investor General Atlantic for around $400 million in 2020. The taco chain initially entered a strategic partnership with General Atlantic in 2017. The chain reported sales of $291 million in 2021, according to Technomic data, a 7% increase over 2020.