COSTA MESA, Calif. – El Pollo Loco Inc. has appointed Heather Gardea, a 22-year culinary veteran, to vice president of research and development. She will oversee menu development and the culinary strategy for El Pollo Loco.

Gardea most recently worked as vice president of food and beverage and vice president of marketing at Catalina Restaurant Group Inc., parent company of Coco's Bakery Restaurants and Carrows Restaurants.

In her new role, Gardea will provide leadership to the research and development team, continue to reinforce El Pollo Loco’s commitment to delivering feel-good food with a kick, and ensure the consistent delivery of high-quality and innovative menu items.

“Heather is a results-oriented, passionate executive who possesses the perfect blend of strategic insight, initiative and focus to take our culinary team to the next level,” said Steve Sather, president and CEO of El Pollo Loco Inc.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Gardea lives in Laguna Beach. She is based at El Pollo Loco’s headquarters in Costa Mesa, Calif.