Episode 299: The Role of the CHRO in the Restaurant Industry

Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO (sometimes called SVP of HR or Chief People Officer) is an executive-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. I want aspiring CHRO’s to know what type of skills and experiences they need to grow into a future CHRO role along with hearing from senior HR leadership how they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. 

Episode 299: The Role of the CHRO in the Restaurant Industry with Elizabeth Baxter


I spoke to Elizabeth Baxter, Chief People Officer with Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas. Torchy’s began in Austin in 2006 with a food truck and now has dozens of locations in multiple states. Prior to her time at Torchy’s Tacos, Elizabeth led a successful career in human resources at Walmart, starting with them as an Associate Relations Manager and quickly progressing within seven years as their Sr. Director, Performance Management & Global COE. 

Elizabeth has been an entrepreneur, worked in retail, and was in various leadership roles in HR at Walmart. I asked Elizabeth about how she began working in HR. “I have a degree in advertising, marketing and PR from Wichita State, but I have always migrated to roles working with people…all of these jobs taught me how to work with people and be a better leader.” 

“I remember interviewing for the HR Director position at Torchy’s and being asked about not having restaurant experience. But what I did know is that people want to be treated the best way they can, from guests to team members. They want to be treated with respect and work in a great environment. I think there is a lot of scrutiny when people move from one industry to another, but some skills translate particularly well. Having a more flexible point of view, especially after a year in a global pandemic, it’s important to be able to see all sides of what is meaningful for people.”

“If you’re going to be in HR, you have to have a love for people.” - Elizabeth Baxter, Chief People Officer, @torchystacos #WorkologyPodcast #CHRO Click To Tweet

“I talk to a lot of students – we started an internship program last summer. I think it’s important to have a passion for people and a willingness to understand their hopes and dreams. If you’re going to be in HR, you have to have a love for people.” 

Supporting a Stellar Employer Brand in the Restaurant Space 

Torchy’s is such a well-known brand in Austin and it’s known for its amazing customer service, it’s very long drive through lines (worth the wait!) and many Austinites have fond memories of the amazing food. I asked Elizabeth what the company went through in the early days of the pandemic. “In March of 2020, it felt like everything changed overnight. Nothing was the same. I remember everyone coming together around my kitchen table and trying to make some really tough decisions. We knew that if we said we would put our people first, we would come out stronger than we were before.”

“Luckily, we had been partnering and preparing to partner with delivery services. We had to change our offerings overnight to family packs and at-home margarita kits to be able to deliver damn good tacos that were in line with the Torchy’s experience that people have come to expect from us. It really resonated with our core demographic. We started as a food truck and we were able to use those skills for curbside pickup and delivery, to create events around neighborhood pickup, and adjusting to what people wanted.”

“We did furlough some team members early on, but brought them back in a matter of weeks and continued benefits during that time. We had a good procedure for safety for our team members, and it translated into creating a safe space for our guests. There are so many things looking back that I feel very proud of. We opened 20 restaurants in three new states when many restaurants were on the verge of closing altogether.”

“Being supported by leadership to put our people first...not all people in my position can say the same.” Elizabeth Baxter, Chief People Officer, @torchystacos #WorkologyPodcast #CHRO Click To Tweet

I asked Elizabeth about the training program Torchy’s created for managers. “We had a training program when I started but I knew we needed to overhaul it. Right before COVID we had put a training team in place and they were concerned about their jobs. Our CEO and leadership team agreed that we would keep this program going, and in fact, we had more time to work on it. Our manager training program would have taken us two years to complete; because we had time we did it in just under a year.”

“The Torchy’s manager training program is geared towards customized training based on a candidate’s previous experience, it’s all electronic and the participants use QR codes to get assignments for the day as they go through the ten-week program. There are checks along the way with different leaders within our company from all areas of service. We’re getting great success from manager training and have begun to tweak it into a supervisor level program as well. Finding leaders among our employees and training them on our really unique brand and service is such a great investment. Out of a year’s worth of graduates of the program, we’ve only had one person who wasn’t a good fit.”

It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like CHRO whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business works with the rest of a company leadership team, especially around people management in a high-growth environment. I appreciate Elizabeth taking the time to share her knowledge with us on today’s podcast.

Listen to the full podcast for more, including how Elizabeth and her team invest in their people, why Torchy’s staff turnover is so low, and how the company delivers a “people-first” employee experience.

Connect with Elizabeth Baxter.



– Elizabeth Baxter on LinkedIn

– Torchy’s Career Website

– CHRO Job Description

– Episode 297: CHRO Series – How Did You Start Your Career in HR?

– Episode 293: HRetreat’s CHRO Panel Highlight

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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