Nick Sarillo

Founder, CEO & Author | Nick’s Pizza & Pub and Nick’s University

Nick Sarillo is Founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub and Nick’s University and author of the book, A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business. Nick’s Pizza & Pub is one of the top ten busiest independent pizza companies in per-store sales in the United States. He credits his company’s success to his purpose-driven culture, which is the focus of his book. Nick’s profile and insights have been featured in The New York Times, The Economist, Inc Magazine, Fast Company, Newsweek, Investor’s Business Daily, American Express Open Forum and more. He also appeared on NBC Nightly News when they featured Nick’s very own “It’s a Wonderful Life” story. Nick’s restaurants have won the National Restaurant Association/American Express “Good Neighbor Award” four times and have been featured in Chicago Best as “Great Pizza and Company.”

Jeff Sinelli

CEO and Founder | Which Wich

Jeff Sinelli grew up in Detroit, and after achieving a BA at a Michigan State and an MBA from City University, Sinelli headed west to exercise his entrepreneurial spirit in Dallas. In the mid ‘90s he developed several independent restaurants and nightclubs before focusing on building multiunit concepts. In 1998, Sinelli created Genghis Grill, a Mongolian Barbecue restaurant, which he grew to 11 units in five states. It was awarded the prestigious Hot Concept! Award by Nations Restaurant News in 2002. Sinelli sold the concept in 2003, and set to work on filling what he felt was a void in the sandwich arena. Sinelli created Which Wich in 2003, prompting QSR Magazine to refer to him as a “branding phenom” upon its launch. By 2013, Which Wich has expanded throughout the United States, and has opened locations in Mexico, Panama, Qatar, and Dubai, with over 100 more locations in development. In October 2013, Which Wich launched Project PB&J, a charitable endeavor that donates PB&J sandwiches to people in need. The goal of the project is to “spread the love,” one PB&J at a time. Projectpbj.com


Aurelia Almanza

Franchise Account Manager | Cockrell Enovation

As a Franchise Account Manager with Cockrell Enovation, Aurelia takes advantage of the analytical skills she developed over years of professional experience in the travel and hospitality sector. Aurelia enjoys working with brands at all life cycle stages, and enjoys being a trusted brand advisor helping franchise organizations solve challenges related to brand consistency, visual appearance and scale. Aurelia holds a degree in business leadership with a Spanish concentration from the University of Dallas. In her down time, she enjoys traveling, reading and cooking.

Natalie Anderson Liu

Vice President | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes

Natalie Anderson Liu is Vice President of Marketing at MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes. She leads all marketing and communication efforts for the MOOYAH brand, including strategic planning, branding and consumer insights, while supporting franchisees in their local efforts. A proven thought-leader, Natalie is recognized for providing innovative and effective strategies to drive the business forward. Prior to MOOYAH, Natalie worked for The Richards Group as Brand Planner and then spent five years with TracyLocke as Senior Strategic Planner where she worked with such brands as Pizza Hut, Nokia, Zales and Fruit of the Loom.

Mary Barker

VP of Human Resources | Rave Restaurant Group

Mary Barker is Vice President of Human Resources for Rave Restaurant Group, Inc., she brings over 30 years of human resources and store operations experience to her charge of creating exceptional experiences for both customers and team members. Previous roles include senior human resources roles with Erdos at Home, Fossil and Starbucks Coffee Company.

Liz Bazner

Digital Manager | A&W Restaurants, Inc.

Liz Bazner is a self-proclaimed foodie who currently serves as Digital Manager for A&W Restaurants, the nation’s oldest franchised restaurant chain. Liz leads the development of digital & social campaigns to increase brand awareness & positive online sentiment, as well as overseeing the consumer-facing website & email marketing program. After graduating from Vanderbilt University with a degree in political science & public policy, Liz worked for a variety of public officials doing PR & campaign management work before joining the A&W team.

Shawnon Bellah

COO | Crest Foods, Inc. (Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip)

Shawnon Bellah is Chief Operating Officer of Crest Foods Inc., franchisor of Nestlé® Toll House® Café by Chip®. Bellah began her career in the hospitality industry with Razzoo’s Cajun Café before moving to Metromedia Restaurant Group in 2001. She worked in Bennigan’s franchise operations until 2008, when she was hired as Director of Training and Menu Development for NTHC. Bellah was promoted to VP, Operations in January 2009, to SVP of Global Operations in 2010, and to her current position in 2015. Under her direction, AUV has continued positive sales growth and café counts have continuously grown.

Emily Bennett

Vice President of Regional Marketing | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

As Dickey’s Vice President of Regional Marketing, Emily Bennett has led the nation’s largest barbecue chain into an era of technology-based marketing solutions. She has spearheaded Dickey’s updated loyalty program and managed partnerships to grow the barbecue brand’s loyal guest base exponentially. A ten-year veteran of marketing for large entertainment brands, Bennett has used big data gathered in marketing initiatives to identify Dickey’s heaviest users and how to reach them. She holds a degree in Entrepreneurial Management from TCU and is probably the Texas Rangers’ most loyal fan.

Michael Berger

Founding Partner | Elevation Burger and Pupatella

Michael Berger is a Founding Partner and VP of Supply Chain with Elevation Franchise Ventures, franchisor of Elevation Burger. As one of the founding partners of the Elevation Burger franchise company, Michael has lead the company’s growth from a single restaurant to a chain of over 60 restaurants in seven countries. Under Michael’s supply chain leadership, Elevation Burger’s purchases of certified organic, grass-fed beef have grown into one of the largest certified organic beef purchasing programs in the United States and the largest such program of any restaurant group in the US.

Kimberly Brastad

Director, Global Curriculum/Training | Dairy Queen

Kimberly Brastad, Director of Global Curriculum/Training at American Dairy Queen, has over 20 years’ experience in training and education. She has developed learning strategies, training programs, professional service offerings, and a wide range of curricula based on identified learners’ needs within their respective roles and organizations. At Dairy Queen’s Global Franchisee Support Center in Minnesota, Kimberly leads a team responsible for the design, development, and delivery of curricula for the DQ Franchise System. Having recently implemented a new learning management system, she is currently working on long-term, integrated strategies to improve employee satisfaction and success through sustained engagement with training.

Adam Bricker

Vice President, Technology Innovation | Steak n Shake

Adam began his career as an aerospace engineer at General Dynamics working on cruise missiles, the Space Shuttle, and hypersonic missiles. Next he worked at Southwest Airlines as Director of Purchasing and then as Director of Information Systems. Later, he worked for Yum! as VP of IT. In 2000 he joined KPMG as Partner/Managing Director. Adam joined World Vision in 2006 as the global CIO with over 900 staff in 100 countries. Having lived and worked in over 55 countries, he is currently VP of Innovation at Steak ‘n Shake designing and delivering digital marketing solutions, food production automation, and innovative guest experiences.

Cherryh Cansler

Director of Editorial | Networld Media Group

Before joining Networld Media Group as Director of Editorial, where she oversees NetWorld Media Group’s nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

Bo Davis

COO | US Beef (Arby’s)

Bo Davis is Chief Operating Officer for United States Beef Corporation (US Beef), a privately held corporation owned by the Davis family. US Beef is the largest Arby’s roast beef restaurant franchisee in the world, with over 335 Arby’s restaurants located in eight states. Bo began his career as a crew member for Arby’s during his high school years, and after completing college, returned to Arby’s as an Assistant Manager, earning consistent promotions before his current assignment as COO, where he is responsible for directing and coordinating the training, development, evaluation and advancement of the 7,500 US Beef employees working in restaurant operations.

Travis Edmondson

VP Franchise Sales & Development | Marco’s Pizza

Travis Edmondson is currently Vice President of Franchise Sales and Development for Marco’s Pizza. He is a former multi-unit franchisee and has worked as an executive at both regional and international brands focusing on formulating and executing strategies to increase growth in underdeveloped areas. Travis is a restaurant executive with a broad base of experience that offers a unique approach in maximizing growth and revenue.

Rafik Farouk

VP, Franchise Development and Operations | Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Inc.

Rafik Farouk has served as CRO’s Vice President of Franchise Development and Operations since February 2005. He has worked with restaurant brands that include Chili’s Grill & Bar, El Chico, Cantina Laredo, III Forks Prime Steakhouse, Silver Fox Steakhouse, Cool River, Champs Americana, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Seattle’s Best Coffee, specifically in the Middle East. Rafik specializes in global restaurant operations, sourcing for international and domestic clients, and positioning brands for international and domestic growth. He has successfully leveraged his knowledge of two cultures to unite business leaders to develop and grow a variety of businesses.

Tom Gordon

CEO & Founder | Slim Chickens

Providing personal and tailored support for franchisees in a rapidly-growing system, co-founder and Slim Chickens CEO, Tom Gordon is the driving leader behind the brand’s goal to have a 600-unit footprint by 2025, and unlike many brands that release large growth numbers, Tom is leading the team in a manner that makes this goal more attainable with each passing month. Tom & co-founder Greg Smart concocted the idea for the fast-casual chicken concept in Greg Smart’s garage, focusing not on the cost of the food but the quality. Tom started his restaurant career at Brinker flagged Romano’s Macaroni Grill after graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.S. in Finance.

Ellen Hartman

President & CEO | Hartman Public Relations

Ellen Hartman, President and CEO of Hartman Public Relations has more than 30 years of experience in building strategic communications campaigns for some of the world’s most well-known brands including Coca-Cola, National Restaurant Association, Olive Garden, Popeyes, Church’s Chicken and Arby’s, to name a few. Prior to forming her own company, Ellen was President of the Atlanta office of Weber Shandwick and Fitzgerald PR, both units of the Inter Public Group (IPG), one the largest communication companies in the world. In addition to consumer and business to business communications, she has expertise in corporate communications, social responsibility, media relations and crisis management.

Keith Hill

Co-Founder | I Love Bacon

Keith Hill’s first job 22 years ago, was in fast casual dining as a teenager. As he came of age, he soon moved into the challenging bar and nightclub business. He cut his teeth there, opening and helping build several very successful companies. I Love Bacon Food Truck burst onto the scene in the 1st quarter of 2014 and immediately gained notoriety with 4 “Best Food Truck In The City” awards from different organizations. ILB is currently moving into the brick & mortar business as well as adding more trucks to the fleet.

Kyle Hollenbeck

Owner | Aioli Gourmet Burgers & Catering

Kyle Hollenbeck is one of three partners with Aioli Gourmet Burgers, Aioli Gourmet Catering, Modern Tortilla and Left Coast Burrito Co. Kyle comes from a family that has been in the restaurant business since he was born. Kyle’s background is in sales and marketing for companies such as Yelp and LivingSocial which is what helped his companies grow from one truck to five and a restaurant. He is passionate about food trucks but more importantly the experience they provide. Kyle believes success comes from the surrounding yourself with the right people and, most importantly, with whom you form partnerships.

Josh Kern

Chief Marketing Officer | T-Bird Restaurant Group

Josh Kern is the Chief Marketing Officer of T-Bird Restaurant Group. Based in La Jolla, California, T-Bird Restaurant Group is the exclusive California franchisee of Outback Steakhouse. Currently, T-Bird owns and operates over 60 Outback Steakhouse locations in California. Previously, Josh was the CMO for Smashburger, a 377 unit with annual revenues of $300 million and based in Denver. In 2012, he was approached to help Consumer Capital Partners launch two new restaurant concepts: Tom’s Urban and Live Basil Pizza. Previously, Josh served as CMO at American Blue Ribbon Holdings and was VP of Marketing at Quiznos.

Leejon Killingsworth

Director of Media & Retail | Coyote Ugly Saloon

Leejon Killingsworth is one of four partners in the world-famous Coyote Ugly Saloon chain. He has 35+ years extensive experience in graphic design, marketing and promotions, including 20+ years of extensive experience in the nightclub, bar and restaurant industry. He and his team has operations in many major markets in the US plus several international countries like Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Japan, UK and Germany. Most of his experience comes from the highly competitive Las Vegas hospitality market. In addition to these responsibilities, he also heads up the entire retail line for Coyote Ugly Saloon, negotiates 3rd party partnerships and evaluates nightlife districts and real estate decisions.

Jae Kim

Founder | Chi’Lantro

Jae Kim is the Founder of Chi’Lantro, an award-winning Korean BBQ-inspired restaurant, mobile food truck and full-service catering company. Born in Seoul, Korea, Jae moved to the United States when he was 12 years old and grew up in California. As an immigrant raised by a single mother, Jae overcame challenges throughout his life to achieve his dream of owning a successful business. Using everything he had, Jae maxed out his credit cards and used his entire savings to create the successful multi-location business that is now Chi’Lantro. Jae is a proud member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and recently landed a deal on ABC’s “Shark Tank” with real estate mogul and business expert, Barbara Corcoran.

Kevin King

Chief Development Officer | Smoothie King

Kevin King has been Smoothie King’s Chief Development Officer since May of 2016. Prior to joining Smoothie King he was the managing member of Project Pie, LLC in Carlsbad, CA from June of 2015 to May of 2016. Kevin was Chief Development Officer of Papa Murphy’s in Vancouver Washington from 2011-2015. Before that he held senior positions in operations and development since 2005. Kevin has also had senior level positions with Chase and Donatos Pizza.

Eleni Kouvatsos

Public Relations and Communications Manager | First Watch Restaurants

Eleni Kouvatsos joined the First Watch team in January 2015 after graduating from the University of Florida in 2014. As the company’s public relations and communications manager, she manages all public relations functions for the 300-restaurant entity including publicity and media relations, community involvement, sponsorships and events, customer service, social media, branding projects and more.

Sharon Koval

Digital Marketing Manager | Pei Wei

Sharon Koval is Pei Wei’s digital identity by being the company’s website and mobile app visionary, social media guru and loyalty fanatic in her role as assistant digital marketing manager. Pei Wei, a leading Asian-inspired fast casual brand with more than 200 locations in 24 states, has nearly 400,000 followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter combined. Prior to joining Pei Wei in 2015, Koval served as a marketing coordinator at ECOtality, a leader in clean electric transportation and storage technologies, and as a recognition specialist at international health and wellness company Isagenix, where she developed digital communication strategies and loyalty programs.

Paul Macaluso

President | McAlister’s Deli

Paul Macaluso is President of McAlister’s Deli, an award-winning fast-casual restaurant chain. His background includes more than 20 years of operations, franchising and marketing experience with some of the most prominent brands in the foodservice industry, including Moe’s Southwest Grill, Taco Bell, Burger King and Sonic Drive-Ins. Before leading McAlister’s, Paul served as SVP of Brand Marketing Strategy for FOCUS Brands, where he led the collective marketing capabilities for Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, McAlister’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Schlotzsky’s, developing a long-term, consumer-driven, strategic planning process, creating a marketing center of excellence for creative services, social media and PR and building a digital roadmap across the enterprise.

Paul Mangiamele

Chairman & CEO | Bennigan’s

Since taking the helm at Bennigan’s in 2011, Paul Mangiamele has championed several game-changing initiatives aimed at revolutionizing the casual dining category and bringing the iconic brand back to its legendary status. In February 2015, Paul and his wife, Gwen, purchased the company. Paul’s background includes operations, marketing, franchise development and broker and distributor networks, as well as building and leading teams in start-up, growth and Fortune 500 environments. During his 30-year career, he has served as President & CEO of Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina; President & CEO of Dalts Classic American Grill; Vice President of Business Development for Carlson Companies; and Executive Vice President and COO at Sport Clips.

Lee McNiel

Founder & CEO | ReviewPush

Lee McNiel is Founder and CEO of ReviewPush, which is a five year old bootstrapped technology company. The ReviewPush system helps restaurants monitor, manage and improve their online reviews from across the web. ReviewPush also helps restaurants convert more satisfied customers into positive web reviews through POS, CRM and mobile app integrations. More than 15,000 businesses currently leverage the ReviewPush system today to help improve their online reputation.

Sheri Miksa

President & CEO | Mazzio’s

Sheri Miksa is the President and CEO of Mazzio’s LLC, Owner/Operator of the Mazzio’s Italian Eatery and Oliveto Italian Bistro brands, a role she has held since January, 2014. Sheri has over 30 years in the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industries. Previous CEO roles include leading the 150-unit fast-casual Rubio’s Restaurants chain and the 140-unit Robeks Juice brand. At Robeks, the number of restaurants increased by 50 percent during her tenure. She was also CEO of Boneheads Grilled Fish & Piri Chicken and held operations executive roles with AFC Enterprises’ Seattle Coffee Co., Taco Bell and LSG Sky Chefs.

Katie Milligan

Manager of Guest Services | Firehouse Subs

Katie Milligan is Manager of Guest Services for Firehouse Subs. On a daily basis, she leads the strategic direction of the internal call center, social media platforms and review sites for the brand that now has over 1,000 restaurant locations in the United States and Canada. Katie has been with Firehouse Subs for six years. She began her career with Firehouse Subs in operations at the brand’s company-owned restaurants. She left her general manager position to lead the guest relations department at headquarters.

James Park

CEO | Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh

James Park is CEO of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, the leader in fast casual authentic Mediterranean cuisine. James is a savvy marketing and operations executive who champions and activates all things brand. He excels at transformational leadership by humanizing the intangibles and developing programs that are purposeful and lasting. For the past 10 years, James has served in executive leadership roles for some of the most well-established and fastest-growing concepts in the fast casual, QSR and retail environments: Which Wich, 7-Eleven and Charley’s. In addition, James’ international experience includes substantive contributions in Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Venezuela and Brazil.

Keith Peterson

VP of Marketing | VERTS Mediterranean Grill

In his current role of VP of Marketing for VERTS Mediterranean Grill, Keith Peterson is primarily responsible for growing the VERTS brand as it emerges as a national chain and accelerating marketing programming to scale the company to 200 locations by 2020. Prior to joining VERTS, Keith worked for Red Bull for eight years in field marketing, consumer collecting and brand management. He led strategic direction for Red Bull’s direct-to-consumer marketing programs in the Southeast United States in 2011. In his role of Red Bull Global Brand Integration Manager from 2012-2015, he oversaw international integrated marketing for the branded record label Red Bull Records and its artists.

Dan Roarty

Senior Vice President of Restaurants | Groupon

As Senior Vice President of Restaurants at Groupon, Dan is responsible for Groupon’s local restaurant marketplace and marketing solutions, Groupon’s new delivery service Groupon to Go and all aspects of helping great restaurants connect with hungry customers. Prior to Groupon, Dan was Chief Marketing Officer of Vast, Inc., a search technology company that operates search platforms on behalf of clients, including Southwest Airlines, Kelly Blue Book, Yahoo! and AOL. Dan’s other previous roles include GVP of Alliance Marketing for Orbitz Worldwide and Director of Solutions Marketing for the automotive group at Texas-based Trilogy Software, Inc.

Steve Rothenstein

Senior Director of Franchising | Dippin’ Dots

Steve Rothenstein is the Senior Director of Franchising for Dippin’ Dots & Doc Popcorn. He leads all franchise development and operations efforts for both brands. From 2008-2012, Rothenstein oversaw domestic and international franchisees as Director of Franchise Operations for Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie. Before that, he was both a franchise business coach and a franchisee owning his own Cold Stone Creamery. Rothenstein spent the first 10 years of his career with Taco Bell. His robust franchising background equipped him to lead Dippin’ Dots franchisees to double-digit growth each of the last four years with an aggregate growth rate of more than 90 percent.

Anthony Russo

CEO & Founder | Russo’s Restaurants

Chef Anthony Russo, founder and CEO of Russo’s New York Pizzeria and Russo’s Coal Fired Italian Kitchen, was born into the restaurant business as the son of fine dining Italian restaurateurs. In 1992, Anthony created a concept in Houston that would ultimately become Russo’s New York Pizzeria, which opened to rave reviews and became a dining sanctuary for a number of transplanted New Yorkers living in Houston. By 1994, he began franchising the Russo’s New York Pizzeria concept, and in 2008, Russo introduced a second concept, Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, which extends the Russo’s experience with a more in-depth Italian menu prepared in authentic coal-fired ovens and a broader selection of wines. Today, the two brands have a combined 40+ locations in the U.S. and Middle East.

Bruce Schroder

President | Moe’s Southwest Grill

Bruce Schroder is President of Moe’s Southwest Grill; a leading fast casual chain approaching 700 restaurants in 38 states. Moe’s was named Brand of the Year, Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant, in The Harris Poll annual awards for 2016 and is part of Focus Brands. Bruce’s prior restaurant experience includes Chief Operating Officer and President of Stores for Jamba Juice, VP/GM for Peet’s Coffee & Tea and VP/GM of Taco Bell Express. In addition to his restaurant experience, Bruce also led consumer products development and growth for great brands like Pepsi, Starbucks, and SoBe during his 16 years with PepsiCo.

Bobby Shaw

CEO | Salad and Go

Recently recognized by FastCasual.com in their annual Top 100 report as a Top 25 Executive, Bobby Shaw joined Salad and Go in September 2016 as CEO. Prior to joining Salad and Go, Bobby, along with the leadership team he assembled, charted a road map for Freebirds World Burrito that continued the evolution of the legacy brand. Bobby got his start at McDonald’s where he spent 17 years, working his way up to a successful multi-unit leader. In 2002, Bobby joined Chipotle Mexican Grill as an Area Manager and held various roles in the organization ascending to Executive Regional Director in 2008 for the South Region.

Matt Silk

Head of Strategy | Waterfall

As Head of Strategy at Waterfall, Matt Silk drives innovative mobile marketing programs for restaurants serving to increase consumer engagement, generate revenue and expand the brand’s footprint. These marketing programs integrate traditional marketing channels with the new and emerging technologies of today. Prior to Waterfall, Matt held senior positions with E*TRADE Financial including Director of Retail Product Management, where he was responsible for web brokerage and core user experience. He began his career at the Wharton Small Business Development Center, where he managed a portfolio of clients and provided one-on-one management consulting to entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia region.

Richard Simtob

President/Partner | Zoup!

Richard Simtob, President/Partner of Zoup! Fresh Soup Company has taken on the challenges of a myriad of roles over his career, including but not limited to: Founder of Talking Book World Corporation, COO/Owner of Wireless Toyz, Co-Founder of FranchisesforSale.com and a commercial real estate investor. He has been an active member of the Jewish Entrepreneurs Network and the Entrepreneurs Network of Michigan and is Past-President of Yad Ezra, a non-profit food bank. Richard’s companies have been recognized annually in Entrepreneur’s list of top 500 franchises. His consistent and steady progress is a model for anyone looking to envision and embrace progress on personal and professional levels alike.

Doug Sutton

President, U.S. Brand Standards | Steritech

As President of Steritech’s Brand Standards Business, Doug Sutton is responsible for leading this growing business unit, shaping both the vision and strategy. Doug joined Steritech in January 2014 after spending 17 years with Kimberly-Clark, where he held key roles in marketing, sales, operations and general management. His most recent role was developing and leading strategy to accelerate growth in emerging international markets for well-known global brands including Kleenex, Huggies, Kotex and Depend.

Jim Thompson

VP of Operations | Chicken Salad Chick

Jim Thompson, VP of Operations at Chicken Salad Chick, has over 25 years of leading operations teams that also includes Wendy’s, Kings Family Restaurants, Papa Gino’s and D’Angelo. At Chicken Salad Chick, Jim has built operations, training and management systems from the ground up that have been integral to Chicken Salad Chick’s growth from six locations to over 65 in just three and half years. Chicken Salad Chick has earned recognition for its successful growth including being named one of Nation’s Restaurant News “Hot Concepts”, Fast Casual Magazines Top 100 in 2015 and #37 among Inc. Magazines Top 500 fastest growing US companies in 2016.

James Vitrano

General Counsel and VP of Global Franchise DevOps | Ruby Tuesday

James Vitrano is General Counsel and Vice President of Global Franchise Development and Operations for Ruby Tuesday. In his role, James leads a team of legal, ER, risk and franchise professionals who work tirelessly for Ruby Tuesday’s 27,000 employees and franchise operations on five continents. James spearheads the franchise development decision process, actively seeking out qualified leads to join the brand’s franchise system. Prior to Ruby Tuesday, James served as General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Einstein Noah Restaurant Group. With over 700 restaurants in 39 states and nearly 8,000 employees, James was responsible for all legal aspects of the publicly traded company and its three brands.

Billie Jo Waara

CMO | Taco John’s

Billie Jo Waara is Chief Marketing Officer for Taco John’s International. Her focus is marketing strategy, innovation and menu development for the chain’s 400 restaurants. To grow sales and customer transactions, Billie Jo believes marketing must be based on understanding the consumer from a 360-degree view. Billie Jo has spent over a decade leading innovative consumer initiatives across several industry categories such as hospitality, quick service restaurants, travel, tourism and retail.


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