What Baton Rouge can learn from Walk-On’s moving its headquarters to Atlanta

It’s been nearly a week and a half since news broke that Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux would be moving its headquarters from Baton Rouge to Atlanta.

While the news of the move did not come as a surprise to those familiar with the company’s growing ties to Atlanta over the last four years, the move does raise larger questions about how the Capital Region can continue to retain companies amid growing competition from other Southern markets. Walk-On’s joins a list of several companies who first planted roots in Baton Rouge and seemingly outgrew the Capital Region. For example, Republic Finance two years ago moved its offices to Texas after 70 years in Baton Rouge and Albemarle moved its corporate headquarters to North Carolina in 2015.

Walk-On’s founder and Chair Brandon Landry is supportive of his hometown of Baton Rouge—he was born and raised here and attended LSU where he played basketball—and says the company could not have grown into a household name without its Capital Region roots. The move to Atlanta, he says, is about positioning the company in a place where it can attract talent to keep growing.

“We tried here first for three years to attract C-level talent,” Landry says. “We spent 11 to 12 months getting no traction [for potential workers to] relocate here. In Atlanta, we were able to fill the positions in less than 30 days—because they already live there.”

Chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and chief development officer are three of the executive-suite positions he says Walk-On’s had trouble hiring for in Baton Rouge, in addition to certain junior positions. He points to Baton Rouge’s crime rate and school system as barriers to recruitment.

It’s been a whirlwind for Walk-On’s since 2019, the last year the company was an investor in the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. The company began 2020 with ambitious growth plans—15 new restaurants slated to open that year and another 150 in the pipeline for the next five years—and that fall announced it received a significant investment from Atlanta-based 10 Point Capital.

The partnership with 10 Point Capital did not put pressure on Walk-On’s to move to Atlanta, Landry says, and that the company also considered Dallas as a future home. Atlanta and Dallas are the leading markets in the country for restaurants, he says, and Atlanta is home to several franchise brands that have grown—including Landry’s Small Sliders. Landry stepped down as Walk-On’s CEO in January 2023 to focus on Small Sliders and the Supper Club, his fine-dining concept in Baton Rouge.

Landry says the decision to not be an investor in BRAC was accidental, saying that “a lot of stuff happened in the restaurant industry in 2020.”

In a prepared statement to Daily Report, BRAC representatives echoed that the Walk-On’s announcement was bittersweet, as the company’s growth and success were undoubtedly supported by Baton Rouge’s economic and entrepreneurial landscape.

“As a regional economic development organization, BRAC’s primary focus is to foster a resilient and dynamic local economy and we remain committed to supporting existing businesses and attracting new investments that will contribute to our region’s growth,” the statement reads. “Our community was able to support the rapid growth of Walk-On’s for years, but to maintain that competitive edge against major markets, such as Atlanta, our region must take bold actions to diversify our industry base and enhance our region’s livability.”

This story originally appeared in a Feb. 19 issue of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.