Geoff Alexander joined Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) in 1993 and following his work on multiple concepts within LEYE’s portfolio, he took over LEYE’s Asian concept, Wow Bao in 2009. A pioneer in both technology and social media, Geoff redefined the fast casual space by implementing mobile ordering, self-ordering kiosks, bicycle delivery and nationwide shipping. Geoff has overseen Wow Bao’s inclusion into airports, major sports stadiums, university campuses, music venues, grocers around the country sell Wow Bao’s frozen retail line. Shortly after being named to both Nation’s Restaurant News’ Power List and Most Influential Restaurant CEOs in the country, Geoff changed the game in the restaurant industry once again by creating Wow Bao Now; launching more than 500 Wow Bao Dark / Virtual Kitchens in more than 400 cities in less than 18 months.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
CEO | Leasecake
After starting as a Big Four CPA, Taj managed more than $2 billion in commercial real estate and new business launches over a decade at Disney Development Company and as an Imagineer launching Disney Cruise Line, and Disney Vacation Club. Transitioning into technology, Taj became an early hire at Channel Intelligence eventually leading business development to launch Channel Intelligence as a SaaS data platform which later was sold to Google for $125 million. Recognizing the opportunity to transform the market where everyone in business owns or leases real estate, Leasecake was born. Tenants, brokers, and landlords desperately needed a way to collaborate, share data, and keep track of business-critical events.
Partner | Brixx Pizza
Afsheen Afshar is a senior business executive and deep technical/AI expert who has extensive experience across a variety of industries and enterprises driving large scale technological transformation associated with hundreds of millions in value. As such, he has held the first executive-level data and analytics role in multiple industries and companies. He regularly advises start-ups, universities, investors, enterprises, and others across the globe on how best to leverage modern technology. He is currently the Founder and Managing Member of Pilot Wave Holdings Management, the first investment firm dedicated to bringing modern technology to small businesses. Its highly differentiated business model involves investing both in operating companies and advanced technology companies.
Market President | Flynn Restaurant Group
Jon Aiello is a Restaurant Industry Veteran with a career spanning 30 years in family dining & QSR. Joining Flynn Restaurant Group in 2018 as Director of Operations for a Midwest Taco Bell Region. Jon led his market to Premier results including system best speed and guest metrics leading to record breaking Sales & Profits. Jon was Promoted to Market President in 2021. Prior to Joining Flynn, Jon was Chief Operating Officer over a privately held franchise group overseeing 140 locations across 11 brands including Subway, WingStop, Dunkin, Fazoli’s Corner Bakery Café, C-Stores, & Hotels where he led all departments.
President & CEO | Checkers & Rally’s Drive-In Restaurants
Frances Allen joined Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. as President and CEO in February of 2020. Frances brought to Checkers & Rally’s a history of success in the restaurant industry and deep expertise across brand strategy, menu and marketing, franchising, restaurant technology and operations, among other disciplines. In her former role as CEO of Boston Market, she implemented a multi-faceted transformation plan setting up the brand for future growth. Prior to Boston Market, Frances served as President of Jack-in-the-Box from 2014 to 2018, generating superior results and upgrading the quality of the menu. Her prior leadership experience includes successful tenures as Chief Brand Officer and CMO at Denny’s Corporation, and as CMO of Dunkin’ Donuts USA.
Co-Founder & CEO | Chick’nCone
Jonathan Almanzar is founder and CEO of Chick'nCone - chicken, fries, shakes, and creator of our Chick'nCoin - a unique NFTproject offering real world utility, presented by Chick'nCone.
VP, Menu & Pricing Analytics | Personica
Ted Babcock’s 40+ years of professional experience within the restaurant industry encompasses a variety of roles as a Consultant, Executive, and Operator. He has coupled a lifelong passion for food and service with a keen understanding of management, finance, marketing, and statistics to enhance execution and profitability in multiple foodservice business formats. Ted currently leads the Menu & Pricing Analytics practice for Personica, developing strategic insights and tactical recommendations that improve menu, marketing, and financial performance for clients including Chipotle, Tropical Smoothie Café, Ruth’s Chris, and many other brands. Before joining Personica, Ted worked with Czar Metrics, leading similar menu and pricing analytics engagements prior to Czar’s acquisition by Personica, (formerly known as Fishbowl).
Director of Marketing | Wing Shack Enterprises
Doug Baker is the Director of Marketing for Wing Shack Enterprises, a nine-unit, fast-casual restaurant with locations in both Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming. From high school until his early twenties, Doug worked at a number of restaurants, with positions ranging from dishwasher to General Manager. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, and following experiences in several marketing positions, Doug joined the Wing Shack team in 2013. Utilizing years of diverse restaurant experience and a knack for digital marketing, Doug has successfully developed and implemented a vision for growth and brand development while simultaneously creating an engaging guest experience both online and off.
Marketing Director | JINYA Holdings
Justin Bartek serves as marketing director for JINYA Holdings, Inc., where he specializes in building brand identities through data-driven decisions and highly valued partnerships and collaboration. As marketing director Bartek has overseen marketing strategies for four different concepts – JINYA Ramen Bar, bushi by JINYA, Robata JINYA and JINYA Ramen Express – as well as helped expand the business with new franchisees and investors. Social media, co-branding partnerships and influencer content are currently Bartek’s biggest strategic marketing focuses. Prior to joining JINYA, Bartek spent 15 years in marketing for various emerging restaurant concepts including The Halal Guys, Veggie Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill.
Founder, Franchisee | Cornbread, IHOP
Adenah Bayoh embodies the American dream. She is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in NJ. Inspired by her grandmother, she is now the owner of 7 restaurants which include 4 IHOP franchises, Cornbread her 1st independent fast casual, soul food restaurant, co-founded w/ fellow entrepreneur, Zadie B. Smith. She currently has two locations in NJ and one opening soon in NY. Adenah’s mission is bringing high quality food & services to urban communities, in July she launched her latest restaurant concept, Urban Vegan, downtown Newark. Adenah is also a very successful real estate developer with a portfolio of several major residential and mixed-use urban redevelopment projects across northern NJ.
Director of Digital | A&W Restaurants
Liz Bazner is a self-proclaimed foodie who currently serves as Director of Digital for A&W Restaurants, the nation’s oldest franchised restaurant chain. Liz leads the development of digital & social campaigns to increase brand awareness & drive measurable traffic to A&W locations across the country, 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.
VP of Sales | SynergySuite
Brett Berger is the vice president of sales at SynergySuite, where he leads customer acquisition and partnerships. Brett has more than 15 years of experience in sales, sales development, banking, and technology, and brings a collaborative perspective to his work. Brett is passionate about driving revenue and profitability for restaurants, and focuses on restaurant needs to understand ways that technology can best help clients meet their goals.
Director, Marketing | Botrista
Jodi Bertram’s career in marketing for the hospitality and restaurant industries has spanned more than 20 years. Her multifaceted experience includes brand marketing (Houlihan’s, Applebee’s), menu strategy (Applebee’s) and account direction at partner agencies for restaurants including Sonic, Raising Cane’s and Denny’s. Her role at Botrista encompasses not only building the Botrista brand but working with restaurant customers to drive revenue.
Director of Growth & Strategy | Voxie
Jeff Bowman is the Director of Growth & Strategy at Voxie, the leader in conversational SMS, purpose built for franchise brands. Voxie is proud to help customers, such as Your Pie, Taziki’s and Buff City Soap, turn conversational SMS into a top three revenue channel for their franchisees. Jeff has a passion for technology and helping customers see meaningful revenue and operational lifts by leveraging cutting-edge software. He holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and an MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory University. He resides in Atlanta with his wife, Ansley.
Senior VP of International & Global Brands | P.F. Chang’s
Vice President of Marketing | ConverseNow
Benjamin Brown serves as Vice President of Marketing at ConverseNow, the leading voice AI platform for quick service restaurants to automate drive-thru and phone orders. Ben’s team is driving thought leadership to shed light on the fast-growing category of voice AI, empowering franchise owners with the tools they need to enhance guest experience and support restaurant staff. Dedicating his career to the intersection of hospitality and technology, Ben has led digital experience at MGM Resorts International and Carnival Corporation, as well as worked with leading restaurant and hotel groups across nearly 60 countries. He currently resides in San Diego, CA.
Director of Channel Partnerships | FSSolutions, a Vault Health Company
Brandon Bulcroft has over 8 years of experience in the HR space. Ranging from Background Screening, I-9, and ATS. He has worked for some of the largest and industry leading CRA, I-9 and immigration, and ATS organizations in the world. He is specialized in the direction of our partnership program. Brandon is PBSA Certified for FCRA compliance and has hours of training on ATS/CRM integrations.
Enterprise Account Executive | Atmosphere
Lucas Burns is a successful enterprise sales executive that has spent the better part of his career helping brands to strategically position themselves to be unified, focused, and impactful. At Atmosphere, a revolutionary streaming TV solution for business, Lucas assists big brands in navigating the ever-changing landscape of customer experience, entertainment and engagement. A graduate of Texas A&M, he spends his down time with his wife and figuring out how to raise his new baby boy.
Vice President of Events | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Events, Cherryh Cansler spent several years as VP of Editorial managing the Networld’s nine B2B publications. Throughout her 20-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.
CEO & Founder | Valyant AI
Rob Carpenter is the CEO and Founder of Valyant AI, the first Artificially Intelligent “Digital Employee” to work directly alongside employees in customer facing roles. Valyant’s AI “Holly” works in quick-serve-restaurants to greet customers at the drive-thru post, answer questions and take food orders. Rob has a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Enterprise Technology Management. He was named one of the top 25 most influential young professionals in Colorado by ColoradoBiz Magazine in 2013 and received the Denver Trailblazer award in 2016. Valyant AI was awarded the Modern Retail Awards’ Best In-Store Tech in 2019 and in 2020 received the ICX Association’s Best Emerging Technology award.
Vice President, Human Resources | Fazoli’s
Dave Craig is Vice President, Human Resources for the 220-unit fast-casual Fazoli’s Italian Restaurant chain. A graduate of Ohio University, Dave has been in the restaurant industry for over 36 years, including 29 years with Fazoli’s, where he has helped guide and evolve the brand’s award-winning culture through five ownership changes. He has earned professional designations including Senior Professional in Human Resources and Certified Fraud Examiner. His HR Team has been recognized for innovation and excellence both regionally and nationally by The University of Kentucky, Coca Cola, Nation’s Restaurant News and The American Business Awards.
Chief Technology Officer | CKE Restaurants
Phil Crawford is currently the CTO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s which operates 4000+ QSR restaurants worldwide. Crawford leads CKE’s Digital and Technology functions and is responsible for building a technology-forward, data-driven company that exceeds consumers/ evolving expectations. Crawford has over 20 years of experience in C-Level Technology rolls. Previous he has served as Global Chief Technology Officer at Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. Prior to that, he served as Chief Information Officer/Head of Technology for Shake Shack, Inc. and Yard House Restaurants, Inc.
Laura Rea Dickey
CEO | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants
Laura Rea Dickey currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Laura has been with the brand since 2009 and most recently served as Chief Information Officer before transitioning to CEO in 2017. As CIO, she implemented a new technology infrastructure for the brand bringing parity and integration to data reporting, information security and all digital sales channels. In her time as CEO, Laura has continued the brands expansion by overseeing the development of the first international locations with restaurants in the UAE and the brand’s first major menu addition in four years debuting six new signature sauces and adding pit-smoked chicken wings to the core menu in 2019.
Sr. Director of Global Business Development | PF Changs
Rafik Farouk is the senior director of Global Business Development for P.F. Chang’s. In his role with the international Asian culinary brand, he helps guide international growth strategy and oversees expansion of a company that has more than 300 restaurants in 23 countries and U.S. airport locations. Prior to P.F. Chang’s Rafik served as the Senior Director of Development and Operations at Bloomin’ Brands Inc., where he managed the international franchisees’ development and supported of the global operations as part of the Global Development Team. During his tenure with Bloomin’ Brands, he worked to launch the Aussie Grill by Outback, the first fast-casual concept in company history.
Chief Development Officer | WOWorks
Brian Farris is the Chief Development Officer of WOWorks. He oversees franchise development, including franchise sales, real estate, design, and construction for all four of WOWorks' restaurants brands: Saladworks, Frutta Bowls, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh and The Simple Greek. Previously he was the President of Intelligent Office where he led the company onto Franchise Business Review’s 2021 “Culture100” list, which recognizes the top 100 franchise brands. Brian has also led teams in Finance, Marketing, Operations and Development for brands including FOCUS Brands, Schlotzsky’s and Boston Market.
VP of Operations | Bonchon
Steve Felson is the Vice President of Operations for Bonchon International with oversight for the brand’s Operations, Training, Food Safety and Restaurant Opening teams. Steve has more than 25 years of experience across multiple restaurant industry segments spanning a number of roles. Prior to joining Bonchon, Steve worked with the fast-casual chain BurgerFi as Executive Vice President leading Operations, Training and Marketing and, prior to that, as the Director of Field Training and Restaurant Openings for Denny’s restaurants. Steve received a B.A. degree in English from Stetson University.
Jocelyn Flojo is the LMS Administrator at Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants. In this role she manages and maintains the LMS platform, strategizes and implements workflow processes for content testing and integration, sets up online courses and learning paths for accessibility and assignments to learners, as well as reports and monitors completions and usage within the LMS. Her previous experience includes working at McDonald’s Corporation for nearly 13 years including roles within the U.S. and Global Training departments.
Director of Operations | I Love Juice Bar
CEO & Founder | Thanx
Zach Goldstein is the CEO and Founder of Thanx. Founded in 2011, Thanx is a leading guest engagement and retention platform helping restaurants and retailers become more digitally agile to maximize customer lifetime value. Prior to earning his MBA from Stanford, Zach honed his experience in the customer loyalty space at Bain & Company, helping companies perfect their retention and reward strategies as early as 2005. He was recognized by Nation’s Restaurant News on it’s 2020 Restaurant Power List and has earned a reputation as a vocal thought leader in the restaurant-tech space through his Food Fighters podcast and authorship such as the widely-revered Four Horsemen of the Restaurant Apocalypse?.
Founder & CEO | PourMyBeer and PourMyBeverage
Josh Goodman grew up in Chester, Virginia. He received a football scholarship to play Linebacker at Shippensburg University, where he set the career solo tackles record. Prior to founding the company in 2009, he worked in Business Development with Modis, an IT Staffing Firm. He was responsible for building the Baltimore Metro market for the company. He landed several blue-chip accounts that took that market from non-existent to top producing market in a matter of 24 months. His wife, Janette (Shippensburg University Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), and their 2 children, Tyler and Brianna, live in Northbrook, Illinois.
CEO | Slim Chickens
Providing personal and tailored support for franchisees in a rapidly-growing system, cofounder and Slim Chickens CEO is the driving leader behind the brand’s goal to have a 600 unit footprint in the next ten years, and unlike many brands that release large growth numbers, Tom Gordon 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. Focusing solely on chicken, Slim Chickens has seen accelerated growth backed by a commitment to serve traditional Southern hospitality within its communities.
CEO | Big Chicken
Josh Halpern is the Chief Executive Officer for Big Chicken. Josh is a dynamic, partnership-focused, thought leader with a robust career in streamlining efficiency, driving innovation, building diverse engaged teams, and growing economic results across the CPG, retail, and restaurant verticals. Most recently, Josh served as the Chief Sales Officer for FIFCO USA, the 8th largest US brewing company, where he was responsible for commercial operations and building top and bottom-line results for Off-Premise, On-Premise, and company-owned brewpubs. Prior, Josh led the Anheuser-Busch InBev, On-Premise and Small Format channels in the US, and Shopper Marketing globally.
Divisional President | Evo, Inc.
Scott Heim is a divisional president with Middleby Corporation. He joined Evo, Inc. in 2012, sparking the product development work in the griddle, plancha and cooktop segments. Evo became one of Oregon’s 100 fastest-growing private companies for three consecutive years. He directed the launch of the EVent ventless griddle in 2015. This patented innovation became the catalyst that resulted in the Evo & Middleby merger at the end of 2018. Prior to Evo, he was responsible for creating a consumer packaged goods start-up firm, battling against (and outlasting) cleaning brands launched by Clorox, Dial and Procter & Gamble in a competitive retail market.
Chief Revenue Officer | 7shifts
Justin Holmes is the Chief Revenue Officer at 7shifts, a team management platform built for restaurants. Justin is no stranger to the restaurant and scheduling world, spending time working as a server and also managing team schedules for community-based basketball programs while in school. He’s passionate about delivering solutions that help restaurant teams create better restaurants.
President & CEO | Asian Box
Chuck Imerson was appointed President and CEO of Asian Box in October of 2019. Asian Box is fast casual concept serving Vietnamese Inspired food options that are 100% gluten-free, currently operating in California. Chuck oversees the organizational direction and development of the brand. Chuck is an industry vet with over 25 years’ experience working with a variety of concepts from dine-in to fast casual. Prior to joining Asian Box, Chuck held many executive operations positions at high profile organizations such as Vice President of LYFE Kitchen, Senior Director of Operations at Marie Callender’s and owned and operated his own restaurant.
Claiborne Irby joined Focus Brands in March 2020 and brings 15 years’ experience in the hospitality, retail and financial industries. As SVP of Customer Engagement and Strategy, he leads the company’s Insights and Strategy team to leverage data analytics and guest feedback to generate value and loyalty among customers while improving business performance for franchisees and investors. Claiborne comes to Focus Brands from the Crew Research Group where he worked with both major and independent hotel chains, as well as other hospitality clients to better understand their customers, optimize their competitive positioning and deliver engaging branded experiences. Previously, he spent seven years at Hilton Worldwide leading global brand and portfolio strategy for all 16 brands.
Restaurant Marketing Consultant
Stacey Kane has more than 25 years of experience working with multi-unit restaurant chains as a Head of Marketing and Marketing Consultant. She has worked with such brands as California Tortilla, Think Food Group, Subway and East Coast Wings. Known for her incredible creativity and obsession with data she was one of the pioneers of using social media in the restaurant space and was named a Top 20 Movers and Shakers by Fast Casual Magazine three times. Currently, Stacey is a fractional CMO for several fast casual brands including and works as a marketing consultant for CORE: Children of Restaurant Employees a non-profit that serves food and beverage employees with children.
President & CEO | Oath Pizza
Drew Kellogg began his restaurant career with Chipotle Mexican Grill. He gained unparalleled experience as one of a few Executive Team Directors responsible for the growth, training and development of nearly 300 restaurants and over 7,000 employees. Today, Drew is the President and CEO of Oath Pizza, where he has led the business transformation to support nationwide corporate, franchise, and CPG growth. Drew attended the United States Naval Academy and served overseas before earning his MBA from Johns Hopkins University. In addition to serving his company, teams, and community, Drew can be found spending time with his family and training for his next triathlon.
President & CEO | Cowboy Chicken
As president and CEO, Sean Kennedy has been instrumental in establishing Cowboy Chicken as the premium fast casual restaurant brand that pioneered wood-fired rotisserie chicken. Sean has worked to refine the menu, build operational systems, grow system-wide sales and strengthen store financial performance. He launched Cowboy Chicken’s franchise program that helped to pave the way for today’s national expansion and has built a strong corporate team to support franchise development, real estate, construction, training, marketing and franchise support efforts. During his leadership, the brand has been included in Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list every year since 2011 and in 2017 won the Emerging Chain of the Year award from Restaurant Business.
Senior Director of Restaurant Excellence | Chipotle Mexican Grill
As the Senior Director of Restaurant Excellence for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Haris Khan leads core functions within operations aimed at enabling consistency and growth across all Chipotle restaurants. Prior to joining Chipotle, Haris gained sound experience within the startup world having served as the Vice President of Operations for Thistle, where he oversaw all facets of operations ranging from culinary, fulfillment, delivery, procurement and quality assurance. Before Thistle, Haris was with Yum Brands (Taco Bell HQ) integrating and scaling digital initiatives, as well as launching new menu offerings. Prior to that he spent 6 years at Jack in the Box HQ, where he led teams to streamline the product and equipment lifecycle process, introduced innovative equipment and reduced operational complexity within the restaurants through simplification efforts.
As the Chief eLearning Guru and founder of The eLearning Gurus, Xavier Lazo brings over 20 years of training, learning and development experience to the hospitality and restaurant industries. In his role as the Chief eLearning Guru, Xavier works with organizations to help maximize the user’s eLearning experience, implement gamification strategies, develop eLearning courses, as well as implement and administrate learning management systems. With his expertise, Xavier has designed learning for organizations such as PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, FOCUS Brands, FAT Brands, LaQuinta by Wyndham, Main Event, and currently Checkers and Rally’s.
Marketing Manager, Americas | Uberall
In his role at Uberall, Justin Lerner executes strategic marketing programs to connect multi-location brands to the opportunity to boost their online presence while driving customers offline. Justin embodies a passion for delivering strategic execution and thoughtful marketing campaigns. His background in lifecycle and analytical marketing has led to a diverse marketing background which lends to his current focus at Uberall. In his spare time, he enjoys live music and exploring new places whenever the opportunity arises.
SVP, US Marketing Officer | Church's Chicken
Claudia Lezcano brings with her more than 20 years of success in the marketing and advertising industry, helping numerous high-profile organizations drive growth and build brand loyalty. A proficient collaborator specializing in brand development, strategic & tactical planning and profit building, Claudia most recently served as AVP, Product Marketing for Celebrity Cruises in Miami, FL. Claudia’s previous experience includes leading the marketing efforts at the Miami Marlins as the Vice President, Head of Marketing, where she developed and implemented a brand strategy resulting in a +30% year-over-year season ticket sales revenue increase. Prior to this, Claudia held the position of Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer for the Miami Dolphins , where she led strategic marketing initiatives.
VP Franchise Business Development | BurgerFi
Steve Lieber is an expert in designing restaurant concepts, the art of pizza making and is a certified pizzaiolo from Italy. As Vice President of Franchise Development, Steve leads the team who sold over 150 franchises to over 50 franchise groups. His team has sold franchises in 20+ states and international deals in Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our teams built systemwide restaurant sales of $100+ million USD in under 5 years. Steve was on opening restaurant teams for 10+ states in the United States. He taught franchisees recruiting techniques, training and operating systems, professionalism, food ordering and preparation, inventory controls, labor controls, local store marketing to increase sales and profitability of all locations.
SVP of Culinary | Bar Louie
Chef Steve Madonna, Bar Louie’s Senior Vice President of Culinary has worked in the restaurant industry for nearly 20 years and began his journey with the Original Gastrobar in 2018. Prior to joining Bar Louie’s executive leadership team where he oversees all food and beverage research and development initiatives for the 70-unit brand, Chef Steve worked for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide working his way up from Sous Chef to Executive Chef for their Boston and D.C. catering locations before he took on a larger role at the concept serving as the Director of Culinary and Corporate Executive Chef from 2012 - 2017.
VP of Operations Services | Mr Brews Taphouse
As Vice President of Operations Services for Mr Brews Taphouse, Carrie Martin brings over 30 years of restaurant experience to the rapidly growing franchise brand. Prior to joining Mr Brews in 2019, Carrie served as Director of Training for bd’s Mongolian Grill for 15 years accumulating a variety of different responsibilities under her leadership including HR, R&D and operations. Early on in her career, the Michigan State University Hospitality Business School grad also worked for Ruby Tuesdays and a T.G.I Fridays Franchise Group based in Phoenix, AZ. In her current role with Mr Brews, Carrie leads the charge helping develop and oversee training and operations for all 16 Mr Brews Taphouse locations.
Co-Founder & CEO | Modern Restaurant Concepts
Rob McColgan is the co-founder and CEO of Modern Restaurant Concepts, a rapidly growing restaurant company based in Colorado. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from The University of Notre Dame in 2002 with degrees in Finance and Film and then spent six years in New York with Goldman Sachs. Rob left Wall Street in 2008 to co-found Modern Market Eatery, a restaurant company focused on serving healthy fare in a fast casual setting. Since opening its first location in Boulder, Colorado in late 2009, Modern Market Eatery has grown to almost 30 locations around the country. In 2019 Modern Market merged with Lemonade Restaurant Group, a California-based fast casual chain, to form Modern Restaurant Concepts.
Operating Partner | JAMCO Interests LLC
Sherif Mityas serves as an Operating Partner for JAMCO Interests LLC. He focuses on supporting the group in the areas of strategic positioning, growth, M&A, and as a strategic resource for the management teams of the current portfolio companies including BRIX Holdings, LLC and Amici Partners Group, LLC. Prior to this role, Mityas has held various executive positions in consulting and the retail-restaurant industry sectors most notably as the chief experience officer for TGI FRIDAYS and as the chief executive officer for Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery.
Vice President of Brand Strategy | Ballard Brands
Reid Nolte is the Vice President of Brand Strategy for Ballard Brands, a hospitality and food service business that owns, operates, and manages over 180 restaurants. The company portfolio includes PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans, WOW American Eats, Boardhouse Serious Sandwiches, and the wholesale brand New Orleans Roast. With over 15 years of marketing experience in the food and beverage sector alone, Reid is responsible for developing and implementing marketing initiatives and product activations designed to increase guest frequency, ticket averages, consumer occasion, and brand equity.
Owner & CEO | Free Range Concepts
Kyle Noonan is an American entrepreneur, speaker, television personality, and creative tastemaker. First known as an entrepreneur who grew his hospitality and entertainment company to a $50mm company in five short years and is on pace to eclipse $100mm in revenue by his eighth year. Not only has Kyle quickly emerged as an innovative entrepreneur and respected speaker, but he has been recognized as an engaging media personality appearing in national outlets such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Bravo, ESPN, FoodNetwork, Travel Channel, Food & Wine Magazine, New York Times, WallStreet Journal, and many more. Kyle has been described “as innovative as he is engaging” by the New York Times.
CEO / Founder & Chairman | Starbird / The Culinary Edge
A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Aaron Noveshen is an award-winning chef and restaurant entrepreneur. He is the Founder and President of The Culinary Edge, an innovation agency that provides global companies with strategic food, brand and operations solutions. Aaron is also the Founder and President of Starbird, a modern chicken concept that is revolutionizing food and convenience in the QSR/Fast Casual marketplace. As Co-founder of Pacific Catch Restaurants, Aaron served as president for 10 years and currently serves on the board of directors. Most recently Aaron co-founded The Culinary Edge Ventures with the mission to create, incubate, operate and grow restaurant brands.
Founder & CEO | Ovation
Zack Oates is an author, husband, father, entrepreneur, and hot tub aficionado (but not in that order, necessarily). He grew up in restaurants before getting into startups. He was voted Top 100 Entrepreneurs, rang the NASDAQ bell, won the world’s biggest business competition, been to 50 countries, and started 3 companies. He went on over 1,000 dates before he got married and wrote a book, Dating Never Works…Until it Does. He currently is Founder and CEO of Ovation, the #1 restaurant feedback platform in America.
Executive Director, Launch Support | Chick-fil-A
Amy Ohde is the Executive Director of Launch Support at Chick-fil-A. In this role, she sets the overall strategy to ensure the successful launch of high-performing leaders and thriving business opportunities at Chick-fil-A. She and her team are responsible for leading Company Operated Restaurants, domestic & international openings of Chick-fil-A Restaurants, Chick-fil-A’s Leadership Development Program as well as Chick-fil-A’s Field Talent (3-4,000 trainers across the country). Prior to this role, Amy led the reorganization of Chick-fil-A’s consulting model, which is the vehicle in which Operators receive direct support from the corporate staff.
CIO | Fazoli’s Restaurant Group
Wayne Pederson is a seasoned IT executive who has been in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years. He has worked for several leading restaurant brands including Pizza Hut, Yum Brands, Domino’s Pizza, and Bloomin’ Brands. He currently leads the IT organization at Fazoli’s (FAT Brands) where he has modernized the entire platform and helped bring the brand into the digital age, launching cutting-edge technology: online ordering, mobile ordering, loyalty, curbside pick-up, drive-thru order tablets, AI technology and contactless kiosk ordering. He and his team have been recognized for several innovation awards over the past two years, including Hospitality Tech's Industry Hero Award. This modernization has helped drive record sales growth and profit, making brand history.
VP of Marketing | Original ChopShop
Brooke Perry is a dynamic brand marketing leader serving as Vice President of Marketing for Original ChopShop, a rapidly growing 17-unit fast-casual brand featuring 'Feel Good Food,' and bellagreen, an emerging eight-unit American bistro with an eco-friendly mission. She is known for her out-of-the-box approach to brand building, which is rooted in inspiring real brand to human connections while infusing energy into teams and drawing actionable insights from data. She has a strong record of driving results through the development of authentic integrated sales and marketing strategy, methodical execution and digital innovation. Before joining Original ChopShop and bellagreen in 2018, Brooke created and executed brand strategies for Jamba Juice and Zoes Kitchen.
Co-Founder | Hyperlocology
Patrick Pleiss is co-founder and head of operations for Hyperlocology. Hyperlocology enables multi-location and franchise restaurant brands to centrally control local advertising, across the most powerful digital channels, for hundreds or thousands of locations. Hyperlocology’s best-in-class technology includes an automated local advertising campaign builder, location-level analytics, community data, and per-location insights to drive meaningful business outcomes.
EVP & Marketing Director | Dog Haus
As EVP of Marketing at Dog Haus, C.J. Ramirez plays a vital role in driving brand innovation and marketing strategy. Since joining the team in 2013, he implemented marketing and branding campaigns that have directly impacted Dog Haus becoming one of the hottest emerging brands in the restaurant industry. Since opening, the brand now boasts more than 50 locations across the country. As an industry veteran, C.J. brings extensive experience in designing branding strategies that build strong corporate identities. Before joining the Dog Haus family, he led teams for prominent brands such as The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, The Walt Disney Company, Eastman Kodak, Johnson & Johnson Company, and Mattel.
Vice President Franchise Sales | Noodles & Company
John Ramsay brings 30 years of experience in Franchising and development with large mature organizations and emerging growth concepts. John has developed over 900 restaurants, covering all fifty states and twelve countries. John is currently Vice President of Franchise Sales for Noodles & Company. Started in 1995, and with over 450 restaurants, Noodles & co. is a leader in Fast Casual restaurants. Noodles is positioned for growth with strengths in off-premise dining, a robust digital platform, and a unique menu. John holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Virginia Tech, and is a Certified Franchise Executive with the International Franchise Association.
CFO | Luna Grill
Tony Reaman has served as Luna Grill’s Chief Financial Officer since September of 2021. Tony has 20 years of diverse experience leading strategic and financial functions at founder-led, private equity and Fortune 500 companies. His background and knowledge relating to multi-unit operations, scalability and revenue growth management aligns perfectly with the future of the Luna Grill brand. Most recently, he spent five years as Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning at Corner Bakery Cafe, where he was responsible for developing strategic and financial goals through initiative design, execution, and monitoring for the company.
Senior Advisor, Enterprise Brands | SOCi
Rob Reed is an entrepreneur and adventure-sports enthusiast. In 2010, he founded a VC-backed software company that enables hyperlocal marketing at scale. Clients included Starbucks, At&T, 7-Eleven, Applebee's, and hundreds of top consumer brands. He's also written for publications such as, National Geographic Adventure, Elite Traveler and The Huffington Post. Most recently, Rob launched a podcast with Forbes called Clicks 2 Bricks about multi-location marketing and joined local marketing platform SOCi as a Senior Advisor.
Chief Information Officer | Cicis Enterprises
David Roberts serves as the Chief Information Officer of Cicis Enterprises which operates 300+ Cicis Pizza restaurants as well as JMC, a supply and distribution company that serves all Cicis restaurants and others. David leads Cicis digital and technology functions and is responsible for building a technology-forward, data-driven solutions across the Cicis enterprise. David has invested over 20 years in restaurant technology focused on all aspects such as software development, architecture, IT infrastructure and operations as well as multiple IT senior leadership roles. David is a member of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, CIO Professionals network, and various other Restaurant Technology associations.
CEO | Shipley Do-Nuts
Clifton Rutledge is a proven industry leader and executive with over 35 years of experience in numerous restaurant companies throughout the U.S. Clifton is a visionary leader with extensive experience in communications, product development, strategic oversight and planning, financial analysis, contract negotiations, franchising, key partnership development, operations management, mergers and acquisitions, and human resources. Prior to joining Shipley, he was COO at Jack’s Restaurants, president and CEO at Bojangles’s Chicken and Biscuits and COO and senior vice president at Whataburger Restaurants LLC. Previously he operated in several positions at KFC.
Marketing Manager | The Saxton Group
Equipped with agency experience and a genuine passion for the restaurant industry, Lily Saer was hired in 2018 as the Social Media Specialist for The Saxton Group, a multi-unit McAlister’s Deli franchisee. Within 2 years, she was promoted to Marketing Manager. Lily is an expert in local restaurant marketing for 80+ restaurants; she identifies key opportunities for sales growth and implements various digital strategies to drive loyalty acquisition and retention. Her day-to-day responsibilities range far and wide, including conception of marketing materials, strategic partnerships with local schools to NCAA collegiate organizations, restaurant field support, public relations, promotional execution, copywriting and working alongside McAlister’s Deli Corporation in Atlanta.
VP of Finance & Analytics | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Chris Sasser is the Senior Vice President of Finance and Analytics at Tropical Smoothie Café, where he is responsible for corporate and franchisee profitability management, providing data driven strategy and insights to drive accretive sales for TSC's franchisees at the brand's 1,000+ locations. During Chris' 3 year tenure at TSC, average unit volumes and unit count have both grown more than 40%, while continuing to increase franchisee profitability and flow through. Prior to TSC, Chris worked at an Atlanta based private equity backed franchisee as a strategy consultant, and with Restaurant Brands International leading marketing analytics for the Popeyes brand.
VP of Technology | Farmer's Fridge
Arne Saupe is the VP of Technology at Farmer’s Fridge. He leads the company’s tech org which includes the engineering, product, IT, and data teams. His current focus is to create scalable systems and the foundational architecture to allow Farmer’s Fridge to grow to the next level. Arne has over 25 years of experience as a leader and an engineer working in a wide variety of industries including Commodities, Retail and Insurance. He is passionate about removing the technical barriers and giving the business freedom to thrive. He has learned how to strike balance between delivering solutions that scale without over engineering the solutions and maintaining the company’s ability to pivot.
CEO & Co-founder | Topper's Craft Creamery
Gregory A. Sausaman is the Co-founder and CEO of Ice Cream 4 You International - franchisor of Topper’s Craft Creamery and a Master licensee of Starbucks Coffee. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, and MS Management: Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness; both from the University of South Florida, Tampa. Greg is a published author of “Inside the Box: the power of complementary branding”. Greg is a seasoned franchise executive, having held positions with national franchise organizations: Domino’s Pizza, Allied Domecq Brands, and Beef O Brady’s family sports concepts. He is a former franchise owner of 8 Domino’s Pizza franchises in Gainesville, Lake City, and Jacksonville, Florida.
EVP of Operations & Development | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes
Mike Sebazco is the EVP of Operations & Development at MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes With 30 years in the industry, he has been involved in the operations and growth associated with Don Pablo’s, Boston Pizza, Texas Land & Cattle and MOOYAH. He has been directly involved in the opening of 350 restaurant locations over his career and he has played a key role in leading prototype and menu engineering programs for the past 15 years for various brands.
CEO | Blaze Pizza
Mandy Shaw joined Blaze Pizza in January 2018 as the CFO and was named interim CEO in August 2019 and then President and CEO in November 2019. Mandy previously served nearly 13 years in various roles at Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. including as Chief Financial Officer for the international division, Chief Information Officer, and as Chief Accounting Officer during Bloomin’s transition to a private company and through its subsequent IPO. In March 2020, she was named one of the 50 most influential women in foodservice by Nation’s Restaurant News.
President & CEO, President | PAR Technology Corp., ParTech, Inc
Savneet Singh is a partner of CoVenture, LLC, a multi-asset manager with funds in venture capital, direct lending, and cryptocurrency. He has served as a partner of CoVenture since June 2018. From 2017 – 2018, Savneet served as the managing partner of Tera Holdings, Inc., a holding company of niche software businesses that he co-founded. In 2009, he co-founded GBI, LLC, an electronic platform that allows investors to buy, trade and store physical precious metals. During his tenure at GBI from 2009 – 2017, Savneet served as GBI’s chief operating officer, its chief executive officer, and its president. Mr. Singh serves on the Board of Blockchain Power (TSX:BPWR) and PAR Technology.
Managing Partner | Winger Brothers Management
Scott Slaymaker’s industry acumen with restaurant operations dates back to the 1980’s with Chi-Chi’s, Tony Roma’s and TGI Friday’s in the Salt Lake City area and Sizzler in Alaska and Wyoming. Scott Slaymaker along with his brother Eric Slaymaker is a Managing Partner in Winger Brothers Management. Today, Winger Bros operates 9 Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse in 3 states and franchises an additional 15 Wingers. His early plans included a dream of being an airline pilot, but all that was pushed aside when his father, Norm Slaymaker talked his eldest son into running the family-owned Sizzler restaurants in Alaska. The years have proven successful- in 1998 the family’s restaurant group was named one of the Top 50 restaurant franchisee companies by “Nation’s Restaurant News.” Scott continues to play a major role in steering the legacy of his father, who died in 1995.
SVP of Development & Alliances | Big Chicken
Samuel Stanovich is part of the leadership team of Big Chicken. Prior to joining Big Chicken, Samuel worked with Firehouse Subs brand as an Area Representative and Franchisee. Samuel’s past experiences include: Director Partner Product Development & Industry Relations, National Restaurant Association, President & CEO of the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau, in addition, he is a 12-year veteran of Marriott International. In 2020 Samuel co-authored the top catering book “Catering Domination” and is co-host of the Takeout, Delivery and Catering podcast. Samuel is an alum Johnson and Wales University and adjunct faculty at the College of DuPage.
Chief Development Officer | Qdoba
Jim Sullivan, chief development officer at QDOBA, is a seasoned restaurant industry executive with more than 25 years of experience in real estate, franchise development and site acquisition management. In his role with QDOBA, Jim leads all restaurant development activities, including market planning, site selection, real estate negotiations, franchise sales and more to support the company’s aggressive growth plan. He has held leadership positions with many prominent restaurant brands including CKE Restaurant Holdings, Friendly’s Ice Cream Corporation and American Hospitality Concepts. Jim received his Bachelor’s of Science in Sports Management from University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Mini MBA from University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN.
President & CEO | Juice It Up!
Susan Taylor is the President and CEO of Juice It Up! and possesses nearly 30 years of restaurant industry leadership experience. Propelled by her extraordinary vision, guidance and commitment to helping franchise owners succeed, Juice It Up! is experiencing record sales as the brand continues to take more ownership of the ever-popular smoothie, bowl, and raw juice segment. A dynamic, people-oriented brand builder, Susan has made huge contributions in furthering the evolution of the brand and taking Juice It Up! to new heights. Leading her team through the many challenges of the past few years to emerge stronger than ever, Susan is instrumental to Juice It Up!’s success.
CEO | Envysion
Matt Umscheid joined Envysion in 2019 as Chief Executive Officer to lead Envysion’s continued growth and expansion in the loss prevention and video surveillance market. Matt now leads this organization inside of Motorola Solutions Inc. Matt draws on more than 25 years of executive leadership experience in business development, corporate transformation, and strategic partnerships. Matt received an engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
President | Zoup! Eatery
Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, Jason Valentine has experienced every aspect of what it takes to operate a restaurant franchise. Jason is the President for Zoup! Eatery, which has restaurants across the U.S. and in Ontario, Canada. Jason has a deep understanding of the restaurant industry from the perspective of both franchisee and franchisor, and his experiences have had a direct impact on how he leads a national brand.
President & Majority Partner | Little Greek
Nick Vojnovic currently is the President and majority partner of Little Greek Franchise Development, LLC, since April of 2011. In 2015, Vojnovic, became the owner the USF/Fowler Avenue location in Tampa and rebranded the company to Little Greek Fresh Grill. Little Greek is a fast growing, high quality Greek restaurant chain based in Tampa, Florida. When Nick first became President, there were 4 locations. Today, there are 46 locations. Prior to, Little Greek, he had a 12-year stint as President of Beef 'O' Brady's Family Sports Pubs, also based in Tampa. His strong work ethic was instrumental in helping Beef ‘O’ Brady’s grow from 30 units to a chain of more than 260 units.
Many of the fastest growing and most successful chains in the restaurant industry are embracing innovation throughout their operations. These forward-thinking brands are constantly looking for the next innovation — new technologies, new menu items, new marketing tactics, new training programs, etc. — that will propel them to even greater heights.
At the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, executives from leading brands will share their success stories of the numerous ways they have innovated to grow their franchises. Attendees will gain insight and inspiration to help them be more progressive in every facet of their businesses.