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Steve Easterbrook leaves Pizza Express to join Wagamama

By Luke Nicholls , 02-Aug-2012
Last updated on 02-Aug-2012 at 11:51 GMT2012-08-02T11:51:44Z

Steve Easterbrook has been appointed chief executive of Wagamama as it outlines a period of 'significant' global expansion

Steve Easterbrook has been appointed chief executive of Wagamama as it outlines a period of 'significant' global expansion

Steve Easterbrook has left Pizza Express after less than a year as chief executive, joining fast-casual noodle chain Wagamama as successor to Steve Hill. 

Easterbrook, 44, took on his role at Pizza Express in September 2011, having departed from his position as president of McDonald’s two months earlier. Hill left Wagamama in June of this year, after six years as chief executive.

The noodle chain, which operates 81 restaurants in the UK and three in the US along with a further 35 sites operated under franchise globally, has appointed Easterbrook as it announces a period of ‘significant expansion of the international business’ and outlines plans to open 15 new UK restaurants in the next 12 months.

“Wagamama is a great business with huge potential both here in the UK and further afield,” said Easterbrook. “I am looking forward to working with the team, Duke Street and Hutton Collins in realising the full potential of this exciting and formidable brand.”

David Williams, chairman of Wagamama, added: “Steve Easterbrook will be a terrific addition to an already strong team. I have admired what he has done in his previous roles and I and the rest of the Board are delighted that he is joining to help us in our next phase of development.”

Steve Easterbrook: Career highlights

  • Having trained as an accountant at Price Waterhouse, Easterbrook joined McDonald’s in 1993 and during the following 18 years held senior management positions at its corporate headquarters in Chicago, as UK chief executive, and in operations and finance.
  • He was credited with turning around the McDonald’s UK business. His wide-ranging strategy at the fast-food chain included a major restaurant re-design and re-imaging programme, as well as menu innovation and significant investment in employee training, talent and education programmes for the business’ 85,000 staff.
  • Upon his departure from McDonald’s, Easterbrook said: “In this time we have made many changes to our business that are clearly appreciated by our customers and staff. I leave knowing that this work will continue and I wish my colleagues every success.”
  • Having replaced Mark Angela at Pizza Express last year, Easterbrook was brought in to help with the brands expansion plans both in the UK and overseas. In his 10 months with the business, he oversaw the ‘biggest rebrand’ in the company’s 46-year history, paying homage to its ‘pizzaiolos’ and their striped shirts.
  • Easterbrook also began targeting the corporate sector by introducing a new business incentive scheme which allowed companies to buy restaurant vouchers as rewards for their employees.
  • One of the major challenges Easterbrook faced at the Gondola-owned business was in attempting to break the brand free of the discounting bind.

Wagamama’s plans...

Japanese restaurant chain Wagamama has itself undergone a period of international expansion and changes over the past few years.

  • Following its takeover by Duke Street Capital in March 2011 for around £215m, the group announced plans to ramp up its expansion within the UK to 300 sites at a rate of 20 per year, focusing mainly on London and the South East.
  • More recently, the brand has mounted a major challenge against Yo! Sushi’s status as the UK’s only national branded sushi operator, after deciding to serve sushi in all of its restaurants.
  • The brand opened its largest UK restaurant in Lemington Spa In June – the first branch outside of London to offer its full sushi menu.
  • Wagamama has also recently launched a new kids offering, with new restaurant designs and ‘mini-menus' from independent arts and science children’s magazine, Okido.
  • In a statement released today upon Easterbrook’s appointment, Wagamama said it will ‘open 15 restaurants a year in the UK, alongside significant expansion of the international business.’

The news of Easterbrook’s departure from Pizza Express comes less than a month after Helen Jones, managing director of Gondola’s Zizzi restaurant chain, announced she is to join Caffe Nero before the end of the year. 

Wagamama is currently hiring a number of jobs on our sister site BigHospitality Jobs, ranging from front-of-house managers to sous chefs. Click here to view all of Wagamama's job listings.