G.J. Hart is the CEO at Torchy’s Tacos, a fast-casual restaurant concept that serves Damn Good tacos to guests in a fun, unique atmosphere at more than 60 locations in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Torchy’s Tacos was founded in Austin, TX in 2006 by a Mike Rypka – a chef with a passion for unique and innovative tacos, a mobile trailer and a red Vespa to deliver Damn Good tacos to the people of Austin.
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 initial inductee in 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 while leading 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.