Salad chain Sweetgreen tapped former Starbucks executive Wouleta Ayele to become its new CTO, the company announced Monday. Ayele will report directly to CEO Jonathan Neman, and is replacing former CTO Paul Horvath who joined direct-to-consumer beauty brand Beautycounter.
Ayele previously served as senior vice president of Starbucks Technology Services, overseeing technology areas including business intelligence and data services, enterprise architecture and emerging technologies for the coffee chain. Ayele will start at Sweetgreen Tuesday.
Ayele will lead Sweetgreen's technology teams, "allowing them to scale their supply chain model, advance restaurant operations, acquire new talent, and develop their digital platforms," according to the announcement.
The restaurant industry is linking technology with core services to increase efficiency and customer support.
With Ayele as CTO, Sweetgreen expects technology teams can support the organization by improving the supply chain and building digital platforms. Digital orders are projected to make up over half of sales in the quick service restaurant sector by 2025.
In 2019, Sweetgreen added big tech insight to its leadership team when it enlisted executive Paul Horvath as CTO. Horvath previously spent a decade at Amazon, serving in leadership positions at AWS, AmazonFresh and PrimeNow.
Ayele — who also held leadership roles at The Coca Cola Company prior to joining Starbucks— brings "experience, savviness and leadership" to improve guest experience and create efficiencies, according to CEO Jonathan Neman, in a release.
Given her 16-year tenure at Starbucks, Ayele will bring insight on creating custom digital products and supporting customer experience through technology. The chain had been working for years, through acquisitions and in-house builds, to link business and technology together.
Starbucks sits at a privileged position when it comes to technology, according to Aaron Allen, global restaurant consultant.
"They're so far ahead of just about everybody else in the world of food service," Allen told CIO Dive. "A lot of it is the simplicity, the convenience, and the fact that it's so frictionless. You almost don't even notice that it's there anymore."
At Sweetgreen, Ayele will help prioritize where technology can support or enhance critical business processes.
"It would be natural that there would be more things on the list that they want to get done, than they can get done," said Allen. The mission, then, will be to prioritize and calibrate projects according to the company's size and budget availability.