Andy Puzder is one reason that some restaurant CEOs are 'cautiously optimistic' about 2017

Fast food CEOs talk turkey
Fast food CEOs talk turkey

Restaurant executives have quite a few reasons to be optimistic about 2017, but Andy Puzder could be the biggest one, they say.

Puzder, who heads CKE Restaurants, the California-based parent of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, was tapped in December to take the position of Labor Secretary for President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet.

"I think everyone is cautiously optimistic, especially with appointments like Puzder," Steve Sather, CEO of El Pollo Loco, said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Tuesday.

Speaking from the ICR Conference in Orlando, Florida, Sather noted that Puzder's industry experience, view on minimum wage increases and knowledge of regulation challenges will be a boon for restaurants.

"I think having someone like Andy as an advocate for not only restaurants but small business is a good thing," Russ Bendel, Habit Restaurant's CEO, said during a restaurant roundtable at the ICR Conference.

Puzder, a former lawyer, took over CKE Restaurants when it was nearly bankrupt 15 years ago and rebuilt the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. brands into an empire with more than 3,600 locations.

Before Puzder took the helm, CKE Restaurants was saddled with more than $700 million in debt and a market capitalization that had fallen to around $200,000. His private company now generates about $1.3 billion in annual revenue and employs around 70,000 people.

"I think it's a win," Michael Mabry, chief operating officer of Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes, told CNBC. "He understands what it takes to run an organization while satisfying investors, the board of directors and team members."

Pudzer has yet to be confirmed as Labor Secretary. His hearing, which was scheduled for Jan. 17, has been postponed by the Senate leadership and may not be rescheduled until February, according to an aide of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Critics are expected in a hearing to point out Puzder's record of not supporting blanket minimum wage increases and his crass comments about women. His company's ads often depict women dressed scantily.

—CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.