The boss of noodle and katsu chain Wagamama has revealed plans to leave after nearly three years in the role and hand over the reins to an internal successor.
Emma Woods will step down on June 1 – following the Government’s planned reopening of restaurants across the UK on May 17 – to focus on her career as a non-executive director on company boards.
Ms Woods will be replaced by Wagamama’s chief experience officer, Thomas Heier, but she will stay on as an adviser as the inaugural member of the group’s new brand board.
Ms Woods said: “It has been an honour to lead the Wagamama business through the last tumultuous years but, as the business emerges from the pandemic and starts an exciting new chapter, it feels the right time to hand on the chopsticks to someone I know loves the brand as much as I do.”
Mr Heier has been with the company since 2017, first as people director before heading up the US arm in 2018 and then being promoted to his current role last year, heading up marketing, insight and customer experience operations.
The moves comes as Ms Woods is set to take on extra responsibilities in May as senior independent director and chairwoman of the remuneration committee at fitness chain The Gym Group, where she has been a non-executive director since 2016.
Formerly chief growth officer, Ms Woods was promoted to the top job at Wagamama in 2018 at the time of its acquisition by The Restaurant Group (TRG).
She has helped the Asian restaurant chain weather the pandemic so far, with only a handful of sites closing permanently, unlike a number of rivals.
Ms Woods told the PA news agency earlier this year that the group may also seek to take advantage of lower rents across the country by potentially opening new sites.
Andy Hornby, chief executive of Wagamama owner TRG, said: “The excellent performance of Wagamama under Emma’s leadership speaks for itself.
“Over the last three years Wagamama has constantly outperformed the market, improved our customer perception scores and shown continual innovation especially around food quality.”
He added: “Thomas has played a pivotal role in the success of Wagamama as part of Emma’s team and is extremely well qualified to take us forwards.”
Before joining Wagamama, Mr Heier was head of human resources for budget hotel chain Travelodge and P&O Cruises firm Carnival UK.
Wagamama – which was founded in London’s Bloomsbury in 1992 – has around 150 restaurants across the UK.