Fazoli's restaurants name new CEO

Carl Howard, the new CEO of Lexington-based Fazoli's “fast Italian” restaurants, has hit the ground running.

Beginning last week, the 42-year-old executive has met with the corporate staff, worked day and evening shifts in the company's restaurants, and is about to start a series of meetings with Fazoli's franchise owners.

The ultimate goal, Howard said in an interview Tuesday, is to get Fazoli's back on track as a growing company.

“You know the old statement, ‘if you are not growing, you are either dying on the vine or dead on the ground.' We are going to come in and just work on doing some polishing of the brand and start to grow the concept,” Howard said.

He also emphasized that “this isn't a complete turnaround situation.”

Fazoli's, which is privately owned, has 286 restaurants in 26 states, with annual sales of about $300 million, Howard said. The brand is strong, the quality is good and “we provide a great product at a great price.

“We just need to adapt with the changing consumer,” he said.

A company that five years ago had more than 400 restaurants and $394 million in annual sales plans to take the offensive with menu changes, “all day, everyday” price discounts on selected items, new restaurants in some areas and remodeled ones in others, Howard said.

“We would like to grow our territory closest to our home base of Lexington, Ky., and work our way out the circle from there,” he said.

Howard came to Fazoli's from Damon's International, a restaurant chain based in Columbus, Ohio, where he was president and CEO until December.

He succeeds Bob Weissmueller, who recently retired from Fazoli's.

A 35-year veteran of McDonald's Restaurants, Weissmueller was nearing retirement in 2006 when the Sun Capital Partners investment-banking firm bought Fazoli's and offered him a chance to end his career as a CEO.

Howard began his career at Damon's in 1990 and was a general manager, regional manager and franchisee before leaving for about a year in the mid-1990s to head bd's Mongolian Grill, which has a restaurant in Lexington.

He was recalled by the board of directors to be president and CEO of Damon's, according to the trade publication, Nation's Restaurant News.

Howard left Damon's in December because his wife, Rocchina -- whom he met while working at her parents' restaurant in Columbus while earning a degree at Ohio State University -- had contracted a very serious form of pneumonia.

“My obligation is to my wife,” he told Business First of Columbus at the time. “I need to be with her.”

After four surgeries and other treatments she is now “about 90 percent” cured, Howard said Tuesday.

Fazoli's was launched in the 1980s by Jerrico Inc., the former parent company of Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes.

There were five Fazoli's in 1990 when the company was sold to entrepreneur Kuni Toyoda, who built the chain to 319 restaurants in 32 states by 2006 when he sold Fazoli's to Sun Capital.