Wagamama CEO Emma Woods is stepping down and handing over to her internally appointed successor, Thomas Heier.

The move will see Heier, the current chief experience officer, start the role from June 1, by which point restaurants will be fully open, as per government guidelines.

Woods will then continue to support the brand through its next phase of growth as an inaugural member of its brand board.

The Retailers’ Retailer of the Year winner joined Wagamama as customer director at the start of 2017 and was later promoted to chief growth officer and then CEO at the time of acquisition by The Restaurant Group in 2018.

Leading significant growth at the brand in 2019, she helped ensure the brand’s continued success through the pandemic.

Outside of Wagamama she has been a non-executive director of the low cost gym chain TheGymGroup = since 2016 and is taking on its senior independent director and chair of remco responsibilities in May.

She 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. I am delighted to be able to continue to support Wagamama as I develop a wider advisory portfolio.”

Andy Hornby, CEO of The Restaurant Group, said: “The excellent performance of Wagamama under Emma’s leadership speaks for itself. Over the last three years Wagamama has constantly out-performed the market, improved our customer perception scores and shown continual innovation especially around food quality. Perhaps, most importantly, morale levels in the restaurant teams are higher than ever despite the impact of Covid. Emma therefore leaves with all of our thanks and I am delighted that she is staying involved with the business via her membership of the advisory brand board.

“I am especially pleased that succession has been carefully planned and therefore the ‘Wagamama’ culture will be preserved through internal succession. 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. His passion for the Wagamama brand and for our people is plain to see. He inherits an exceptionally strong senior team and I am really looking forward to working with Thomas, Nigel Sherwood, David Di Cello, Steve Mangleshot and the rest of the Wagamama leadership team over the years ahead.”

Thomas Heier joined Wagamama in 2017 as its people director before going on to assume additional responsibility for its US business in 2018.

He was pivotal in leading its turnaround and the subsequent partner selection process which resulted in Wagamama entering into its current joint venture partnership back in January 2020.

Heier took on his current role as chief experience officer last year which saw him gain additional responsibility for the brand’s marketing, insight and customer experience functions.

Previously he was head of HR for Travelodge and Carnival UK (P&O Cruises and Cunard).

He said: “Wagamama is such a special brand underpinned by a meaningful purpose, a strong identity and unique culture. I’m incredibly excited to be given the opportunity to lead a business that’s so close to my heart.”