- Uncle Julio’s, a full-service Mexican restaurant with about 40 locations, has hired Scott Lawton as CEO and RJ Thomas as president and COO, the company said in a Monday press release.
- Lawton and Thomas have over 20 years of restaurant industry experience each. The two replace Tom Vogel, who served as CEO since 2013 and as CEO and president since 2021.
- Both leaders will aim to accelerate growth at the chain, which has had the same number of units since 2020, per Restaurant Business’s Top 500 data.
Lawton co-founded Bartaco in 2011 and served as president and COO of Barteca Restaurant Group, holding company of Barcelona Wine Bar and Bartaco, until it was sold to Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group in 2018. Since 2011, Bartaco grew to 29 locations across 13 states.
Lawton rejoined Bartaco as CEO after Del Frisco’s was acquired by L Catterton in 2019 and will maintain his post there in addition to becoming CEO at Uncle Julio’s. L Catterton also owns Uncle Julio’s. Prior to joining Barteca in 2007, Lawton served as COO at Big Time Restaurant Group from 2000 to 2006.
As Bartaco CEO, Lawton retooled its front-of-house staff after COVID-19 dining room restrictions lifted in 2020. Now, newly appointed service leaders manage zones of customers instead of individual tables as traditional waitstaff do. Customers are encouraged to order via QR codes and pay and check out digitally. The company also pools tips so that all hourly employees, including back-of-house workers receive a share, reducing the impact of staffing shortages. Average wages across the company are $23 per hour.
Thomas most recently served as president and COO of King’s Seafood Company, where he oversaw operations at 24 locations. In this position, he implemented several restaurant concepts, including a steakhouse restaurant that generated $13 million in sales during its first year. He also reconceptualized the Water Grill brand, which opened six new locations and generated $100 million in revenue.
“I’ve seen firsthand the success Scott has had at Bartaco, where he has elevated the brand, re-imaged the customer experience, and instilled a culture of excellence,” Andrew C. Taub, a managing partner in L Catterton's Buyout Fund, said in a statement. “Similarly, RJ has a tremendous track record introducing new concepts and innovating restaurant brands to support growth, while holding his team to the highest standards. We are confident that Scott and RJ will create a new and exciting chapter in the Uncle Julio’s story.”