Real Mex Announces Leadership Appointments

Real Mex Restaurants, the largest full service, casual dining Mexican restaurant chain in the United States, today announced the following appointments: Blake Barnett to Chief Financial Officer; Rio Gueli to Executive Vice President of Operations; Mark Bartholomay to Executive Vice President of Operations; Jared Dougherty to Senior Vice President of Marketing; Thanh Ninh to Senior Vice President of Human Resources; Andy Mai to Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer.

“I am excited about the new additions to Real Mex, which will significantly strengthen our leadership team and add to the current momentum we are experiencing to transform the Real Mex brands and reconnect to our customers,” said Charly Robinson, President and CEO of Real Mex. “Each of these individuals brings diverse and proven capabilities in the areas of operations and business development and has extensive leadership experience. I am confident that their collective skills will support our turnaround strategy and enhance our ability to capitalize on emerging opportunities, pursue growth initiatives and improve revenues.”

Real Mex is a portfolio company of Z Capital Partners, L.L.C. and Tennenbaum Capital Partners.

Blake Barnett

Blake Barnett joins Real Mex Restaurants from Kraco Enterprises, where he served as Chief Financial Officer since 2012. Prior to Kraco, Blake was Principal Consultant at B&B Consulting for two years, where he developed financial and strategic plans and evaluated alternative business opportunities to drive sales and earnings for his clients, including a $1.5 billion public firm.  Before B&B Consulting, Blake served as Chief Financial Officer at Ambassadors International (AMIE) and from 2007-2008.

Blake also has extensive experience in the food and restaurant business, having served as Chief Financial Officer at Albertsons from 2004-2006 and Divisional Chief Executive Officer for YUM Brands from 2002-2004.

Blake earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and his Masters of Business Administration from the University of California at Irvine.

Rio Gueli

Rio Gueli comes to Real Mex Restaurants with over 20 years’ experience in the area of restaurant operations and development.  As EVP of Operations, he oversees half of the chains restaurant operations, which includes El Torito, Las Brisas and Who Song & Larry.  Rio also oversees the Manager in Training program as well as non-exempt team member training programs.

Rio most recently served as Director of Food and Beverage at Bass Pro Group.  Prior to that he was Director of Operations at Houston based Landry’s Restaurants, focusing on West Coast Operations for the Joe’s Crab Shack Chain.

Rio earned his Bachelor of Science Degree Political Science from Illinois State University and obtained his MBA with an emphasis in accounting from Roosevelt University.

Mark Bartholomay

Mark Bartholomay comes to Real Mex Restaurants with over 17 years’ experience in the area of restaurant operations and development.  As EVP of Operations, he oversees half of the chains restaurant operations, which includes Chevy’s, Acapulco, El Torito Grill, Sinigual and El Paso Cantina.  He also oversees Banquet/Catering, Beverage development, Construction and Facilities.

Prior to joining Real Mex, Mark served as the Chief Development Officer at Hurricane Grill and Wings, COO at Kona Grill Corporation, VP of Business Development at Famous Dave’s of America, and SVP of International Development and Operations at Rainforest Café.  Throughout his tenure in the restaurant industry he has been an integral part of business growth through unit and franchise expansion while developing and enhancing the company’s strategy and development programs. Prior to getting into the restaurant business Mark practiced public accounting and was an investment banker assisting in the funding of over $400 million of equity and debt transactions.

Mark earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from the University of North Dakota and was a Cum Laude Graduate.

Jared Dougherty

Jared Dougherty joins Real Mex Restaurants from Playboy Enterprises where he last served as SVP of Global Brand Management. As the SVP of Marketing at Real Mex Restaurants, Jared will oversee the Marketing, PR and National Sales aspect for the company.

While at Playboy, Jared was responsible for Marketing, PR and Licensing Operations, and he managed the brand’s $1 billion consumer products business around the world as well as the re-launch of the Playboy branded Clubs and Casinos.  During his tenure at Playboy, Jared was part of the core team that lead the operational transition from a public company to a Private Equity funded organization.  Prior to Playboy, Jared was with the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo where he managed media relations, product publicity, crisis management, executive visibility and cross-corporate communications.  He also played a key role in the company’s successful re-launch of the Doritos brand.   Jared began his career at Ketchum Public Relations working on global brands including Levi Strauss & Co. and ABSOLUT vodka, as well as tour publicist for music acts including Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray, and The Roots.

Jared has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from Hofstra University.

Thanh Ninh

Thanh Ninh recently joined Real Mex Restaurants with over 15 years’ experience in the area of Human Resources.  Thanh’s expertise includes change management, organizational development, employee relations and total rewards.  As the SVP of Human Resources he will oversee and drive the Company’s cultural diversity, talent acquisition, human capital and total rewards initiatives.

Thanh started his HR career as a generalist for Video City and eventually moved into a total rewards role for an internet startup and business services company.  He then spent two years at AT&T/Cingular Wireless where he was as a HR Business Partner managing two call centers that eventually moved to a union environment.  In his latest position, where he was VPHR for Yard House Restaurants, he built the HR department during his 7 year tenure.  He was instrumental in growing the chain from 15 locations to 44 locations which resulted in the chain being acquired by Darden for $585mil.

Thanh earned his Bachelor of Science and Master Degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.

Andy Mai

Andy Mai comes to Real Mex Restaurants with over 19 years’ experience in the area of technology and information systems. As the SVP/CIO, he is responsible for developing and deploying innovative solutions to improve cost efficiencies and drive sales and will work to elevate and increase Real Mex’s competitiveness in the casual dining segment through intelligent technology offerings.

Prior to joining Real Mex, Andy held EVP positions for Elephant Bar Restaurant, Director Information Technology for Edwards Theatre Circuit and various technical and leadership positions in the insurance and petroleum industries.

Andy holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University California at Irvine.

Headquartered in Cypress, California, Real Mex Restaurants is the largest full-service, casual dining Mexican restaurant chain operator in the United States with 125 company owned and operated restaurants, as well as 15 franchised restaurants. Our brands include El Torito Restaurants, Acapulco Mexican Restaurants, Chevys Fresh Mex Restaurants, El Torito Grill Restaurants, Las Brisas Restaurant in Laguna Beach, Sinigual Restaurant in New York City, Who Song and Larry’s in Vancouver, WA, and El Paso Cantina in Torrance, CA. In addition, our Real Mex Foods division is a custom manufacturer of foodservice and private label products in addition to co-packing for other manufacturers.

Z Capital Partners, L.L.C. is a leading private equity firm with approximately $1.1 billion regulatory assets and committed capital under management that makes constructive, control investments in distressed middle-market companies that require turnaround, restructuring, or bankruptcy or are otherwise special situations. Z Capital invests in companies challenged by the need to effect immediate changes to their financial structure and or business model.

Z Capital’s Investment team has more than a sixteen year track record investing in distressed private equity and credit related strategies and in excess of 200 years combined experience. Industries in which the principals of Z Capital have invested include consumer products, steel, steel processors, agriculture, gaming, leisure – real estate, manufacturing, specialty services and automotive.

Z Capital portfolio companies currently have aggregate worldwide annual revenues of approximately $3 billion, sell products in 98 countries, and employ 26,000 associates directly and through joint ventures.

Z Capital specializes in managing assets in the distressed private equity / special situations and leveraged finance universe.

Z Capital’s investors include prominent global endowments, pension funds, insurance companies, foundations, family offices, wealth management firms and other financial institutions. For more information, please visit

Tennenbaum Capital Partners (“TCP”) is a Los Angeles based, alternative investment management firm focused primarily on middle-market credit opportunities. The firm’s investment professionals use their extensive expertise in industry, legal, operational and financial disciplines to successfully execute TCP’s investment strategies. Since its founding, TCP has invested more than $10 billion in over 200 companies. For more, please visit: