Keynote Interview: GJ Hart, Torchy's Tacos
From launching more than a decade ago in an old food truck to now operating 64 stores in 16 cities, Torchy's Tacos has made itself a beloved brand by its particular flavor of fun and colorful irreverence.
Don't miss what is sure to be a fascinating conversation on leadership culture, smart growth tactics, and staying true to your brand when expanding rapidly.
G.J. Hart is the CEO at Torchy’s Tacos, a fast-casual restaurant concept that serves innovative, inspired tacos in a unique dining environment. Torchy’s Tacos started in 2006 with a mobile trailer, a little red Vespa, and a man with a passion for good food. Today Torchy’s Tacos operates over 50 locations throughout Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma.
A highly respected industry leader with 36 years of foodservice operations and management experience, G.J. has a proven track record of growing casual dining concepts. Prior to joining Torchy’s, he served as Executive Chairman and CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, the pioneer of creative dining with a California vibe. Prior to CPK, he served as President and CEO of Louisville-based Texas Roadhouse restaurants where he expanded the brand to more than 450 restaurants in 49 states and two international markets.
In 2012, G.J. was the first to be named into the James Madison University Hospitality School Hall of Fame. In 2015, he and his wife Heather Hart jointly announced a $3 million gift commitment to JMU resulting in the newly renamed Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management. The intention of this gift is to help young people to be successful in work that emphasizes the importance of serving the public through a career in hospitality.
He is on the National Board of Directors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and serves advisory board memberships with the following organizations: Advisory Board at James Madison University Business School, Thornton Oil, Portillo’s and University of Louisville’s College of Business and Public Administration. He has been an active member of Habitat for Humanity, Volunteers of America, the Special Olympics, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America and was the Founder of the Louisville Metro Police Foundation.
G.J. is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and was named a Top CEO for investor relations by IR Magazine. G.J. has been recognized for his entrepreneurial vision and leadership of California Pizza Kitchen’s Next Chapter as a finalist of EY’s prestigious 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Los Angeles and as the recipient of one of the industry’s highest honors, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association’s 2017 Silver Plate Award in the Chain Full Service category.
G.J. was born Gerard Johan Hart in the Netherlands. He and his family immigrated to the US when he was five years old. As a student at James Madison University, Hart worked full-time at the Shenandoah Valley Poultry Company in Bridgewater, VA, to put himself through college and help pay the bills at home. G.J. calls the experience “far from glamorous,” but, he said, it was during those years toiling in the poultry plant that he learned many of the leadership lessons he has followed throughout his successful career in the hospitality industry.
As Chief Customer Officer, David is responsible for sales and building and maintaining strong relationships with customers by engaging with them at all levels to collect and disseminate customer feedback throughout the company. Prior to becoming CCO, David was the vice president of Business Development and co-founder of HotSchedules, Inc. Through his leadership, HotSchedules repeatedly achieved more than 40 percent annual growth goals and was consistently recognized on the Inc. 5000 and Austin Business Journal’s Fast 50 growth indexes.
David’s 17+ years of restaurant operations experience have contributed to HotSchedules’ product development and innovative solutions to improve restaurant operations scheduling efficiencies, labor management, and increased employee engagement. David attended the University of Texas at San Antonio. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and three children. He is an active member of Vistage International, an executive peer advisory program, and enjoys running, fishing, water sports, volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Texas and escaping to the wine country or beach whenever possible.