BIRTH DATE: May 30, 1945, Chicago. FAMILY: Married to Karen; children Amber, 15; Crystal, 12; Jasmin, 9; Arielle, 8; Cody, 6. EDUCATION: attended University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Rapids. CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: President, chairman and CEO, GB Foods, Anaheim, Calif., since 1992; founded Godfather's Pizza, Omaha, 1973; served as president-CEO through 1983. HOBBIES: Helicopter flying, motorcycles, weight lifting. THEISEN THINKS '90S LIFE AFTER GODFATHER'S AT GREEN BURRITO

By Published on .

The Godfather has spoken: Down with mozzarella; up with salsa.

Willie Theisen, the founder of Godfather's Pizza, has found his second wind in Green Burrito. In June, the Mexican food chain made news when it signed a deal with CKE Restaurants, agreeing to sell Green Burrito products at a dozen Carl's Jr. restaurants in California.

Mr. Theisen, 49, says Mexican food is the wave of the '90s; Green Burrito hopes to set itself apart with bigger portions and higher prices than other Mexican chains.

"Everyone else is doing cheap prices well," Mr. Theisen says.

Mr. Theisen, president, chairman and CEO of Green Burrito parent GB Foods, Anaheim, Calif., commutes to work from his Omaha home.

Omaha is the birthplace of Godfather's, the 525-unit chain Mr. Theisen founded in 1973 and sold to Diversifoods in 1983. Once a hot chain with 900 stores, Godfather's has changed ownership several times during the last decade and suffered in the intensely competitive pizza market.

Some fault Mr. Theisen for growing the chain haphazardly, opening too few restaurants in too many states. Even now, Godfather's 525 stores are spread out in 38 states.

Mr. Theisen and CKE Enterprises are moving slowly with their dual-branding venture, hoping the initial test will prove as successful for Carl's Jr. as it has for Arby's; two Arby's units testing Green Burrito products saw a 90% increase in total sales in the first year, with second-year sales up another 12%, Mr. Theisen says.

The animated Mr. Theisen and his family will move closer to GB Foods this fall, settling on a ranch in the desert town of La Quinta, Calif. Mr. Theisen says he will miss Omaha, where his mother still lives and where he serves as chairman of the Omaha Airport Authority.

His family, all expert horseback riders, owns 75 horses and travels cross country to compete in riding events.

The fast-food executive also is fascinated by speed. He is the proud owner of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and five Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He rarely has more than 10 minutes to spare on the phone.

"OK. Are those all the questions? I've got to go," is a typical parting shot from the high-strung entrepreneur.

Mr. Theisen also is working hard to prevent Green Burrito products from slowing operations at Carl's Jr. restaurants. CKE executives debated adding Green Burrito to the menu, some arguing the potential damage to speed of service isn't worth the profits Mr. Theisen promises. But Green Burrito has always had the support of Carl N. Karcher, founder of Carl's Jr. and current chairman emeritus. And Mr. Theisen says the company's board voted unanimously to incorporate the Mexican menu.

"We're going to prove to customers that Carl's is more than just a sandwich venue," Mr. Theisen says.M

Most Popular
In this article: