President & Chief Executive Officer
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Industry: Restaurant and Food and Beverage
Sal Melilli started at Hooters as a dishwasher while pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Florida. Since that first position, he’s risen through the company’s ranks, working 26 years at Hooters Management Corporation before joining HOA Brands — the Hooters brand franchisor — in 2018.
Melilli actively draws from his decades of experience leading restaurant site selection, franchising, budgeting, operations, and marketing to inform his work as HOA president and CEO. In his current position, he oversees revenues of $500 million and a staff of 10,000 at 400 restaurants worldwide.
“From building Hooters’ number one market in Chicago from the ground up to reinvigorating a Hooters location in one of the most recognizable intersections in the world, Sal has overseen and ushered in unprecedented success during his tenure at HOA Brands,” said his team.
Under Melilli’s leadership, HOA Brands has expanded its annual breast cancer awareness fundraiser, resigned NASCAR driver Chase Elliott as a partner, and launched new fast-casual spinoffs hoots wings and Chase Elliott’s Chicken Tenders. Working with HOA Brands’ chief marketing officer Bruce Skala, Melilli has signed legendary golfer John Daly and his son, John Daly II — a golfer at the University of Arkansas — as brand ambassadors, along with several football players from universities across the country.
In short, his work has been instrumental in increasing Hooters’ brand visibility and growing its dedicated customer base. “These partnerships caused Hooters to go viral on the internet, trend on social media and generate buzz and intrigue from the general public and diehard and casual customers,” Melilli’s team said. Sports Illustrated named the Hooters deal with both Dalys as the Best NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) Food Deal in the U.S. in 2022.
Melilli’s team also helped Hooters successfully navigate pandemic disruptions by pivoting to position the brand as an in-demand to-go location when dine-in options were closed. Thanks to their work to incorporate efficient drive-through lines and safety measures for the protection of staff and customers, 2020 became one of Hooters’ most successful years to date.
Finding inspiration in his own rise within the company, Melilli believes in a people-first mantra. He is proud that Hooters is known for encouraging upward mobility for its employees. To support staff career promotion, he plans to further invest in the company’s long-standing college tuition reimbursement programs.
“Sal remains a steadfast advocate for all his colleagues, including the Heart of House employees,” said his team. “He has seen firsthand how Hooters empowers employees and teaches them skills transferable across industries.”
Melilli is an in-demand public speaker and has given talks on brand innovation with, among others, Wharton University, Nation’s Restaurant News, Bloomberg News.
Sal is married with a college-age son and daughter and personally loves to cook for his family, with some of his favorite culinary creations including homemade pizza, homemade pasta, chicken piccata and meatballs with sauce.