President | Focus Brands International
Beto Guajardo was named President of Focus Brands International in early 2020. Beto brings extensive global experience in corporate and brand strategy, new business development, mergers and acquisitions and organizational structure. Over the past three decades, his career has spanned a broad spectrum of industries, including management consulting, global retail, automotive, energy, consumer packaged goods, and media and entertainment. Beto joined Focus Brands from Starbucks Coffee, where he served as Senior Vice President, Global Strategy. Beto built the Global Strategy team that was responsible for developing the company’s five-year strategic plan and operated as a coordinating body, creating and implementing strategies to succeed corporate goals. His teams worked extensively on executing Starbucks Delivery, acquiring technology to power Starbucks CRM, and developing new go-to-market processes to streamline store development innovation.
COO & President, North America | Focus Brands
Kat Cole, former president of Cinnabon, is now COO and President, North America for Focus Brands. She leads their 7 brands: Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Moe’s, Schlotzsky’s, McAlister’s, Carvel and Jamba as well as the company’s licensing and multi-channel division. She is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, on the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council, and an advisor and investor to emerging, retail, education and tech startups. In addition to many industry recognitions, Kat was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 and one of CNBC’s Next 25 List of Innovators, Leaders and Disruptors.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
Co-Founder & CEO | ShiftPixy
Scott Absher, Co-Founder and CEO of ShiftPixy, brings over 25 years of expertise in Human Capital Management strategy and support for small business. Scott has had significant exposure to the unique challenges and pressures restaurant and hospitality operators face and offers a unique insight as to the origins of and new approaches to meeting these new challenges. Scott will address the strategy that drives ShiftPixy’s leverage of leading edge technology to help its operator clients navigate today’s human capital realities.
Founder & CEO | ItsACheckmate
Vishal Agarwal is the Founder and CEO of ItsaCheckmate, established in January 2016. Born and raised in India, he completed his education and received an MBA in 2005. Vishal was employed by Citigroup for four years before moving to Vancouver to be a part of a retail e-commerce startup. He eventually transferred to New York, New York, performing the role of Chief Marketing Officer and was instrumental in the growth of the company. He is a featured writer for TechCrunch and Forbes. ItsaCheckmate provides true end-to-end integration between the restaurant’s POS system and over 100 third-party delivery and ordering platforms.
Director of Menu Strategy & Product Innovation | Buffalo Wild Wings
Mindy Armstrong finds excitement in discovery and has spent her career helping marketers and culinary teams do just that–discover what’s next for their business. By digging into marketplace trends, studying consumer data, hunting down the next gotta-try-it flavor, and uncovering the “so what,” Mindy is all about spirited and focused collaboration, asking “what if,” and inspiring her team toward action. In her current role, Mindy leads the menu strategy and product innovation efforts at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Founder & CEO | SAJJ Mediterranean
Zaid Ayoub is the founder and CEO of the Bay Area-headquartered fast casual restaurant chain SAJJ Mediterranean. Under Ayoub’s strategic leadership, SAJJ Mediterranean has grown from being a single storefront in 2012 to a growing network of twelve stores and two food trucks offering catering and event services. The brand has additional corporate stores in development across California, and aims to have at least 15 stores opened by early 2020.
CMO | Pieology
Speaker bio coming soon!
Founder & CEO | Barberitos
Downing Barber built Barberitos from an idea to a restaurant chain with 50 locations across seven southeastern states. With more than $40 million in annual sales, the brand celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020. Downing has instilled a company culture to serve others by focusing on Food, Community and People. He is dedicated to serving farm-fresh food at all locations with items that are made and prepared in-house daily. In addition, he gives back to local non-profits and encourages his employees and operators throughout all locations to be “bigger than a burrito” by also giving back to their communities.
CEO | A&W Restaurants
Kevin Bazner is a near 50-year veteran of the restaurant industry and has been involved with A&W Restaurants, Inc for over 30 years. After joining the company in 1985, Kevin took over the International Division of A&W in 1988. Kevin was made President and COO of the U.S. business in 2000. Following Yum! Brand’s acquisition, Kevin stayed active in the franchising industry as a consultant & investor. Kevin worked with the current shareholders to acquire A&W Restaurants from Yum! Brands and continued with the newly formed company as President & CEO. Kevin is currently the Chief Executive Officer overseeing accelerated growth of the brand both domestically & internationally.
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.
Director of Sales | SynergySuite
Brett Berger is the head 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.
VP of Operations | Irish Beef, an Arby’s Franchisee
For more than 40 years, Frank Belatti has earned the reputation of being an indomitable corporate leader, most notably in the food and hospitality industry. His involvement with franchising giants Arby’s, Hospitality Franchise Systems, and AFC Enterprises, has provided for a wide array of brand-building experiences and the ability to provide long-term business opportunity for independent operators in more than 30 countries. Today, Frank’s business acumen and global vision are focused on Equicorp Partners, an Atlanta-based private investment and advisory partnership that he co-founded in 2005. As Managing Partner, he and his colleagues provide expertise to private equity firms and strategic partners, and oversee a portfolio of diverse investments.
VP of Technology | Freshii
Tanvir Bhangoo is a business and technology transformation leader, helping global organizations gain competitive, cost, and operational advantages through tech and digital transformations, with a focus on people and culture. Some of his experience includes various tech and leadership roles at Restaurant Brands International (Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes), Exxon Mobil (Imperial Oil), and Freshii. Currently, Tanvir is the VP of Technology at Freshii, spearheading an end-to-end digital and technology transformation to drive revenue and profitability through digital channels. Tanvir oversees strategy and execution for all in-store tech, digital platforms, and internal IT, including a new omni-channel customer experience, CRM, loyalty, and all in-store tech.
CEO | Aloha Poke Co.
Chris Birkinshaw joined Aloha Poke Co. as CEO in 2018, bringing with him two decades of progressive leadership experience in the fast casual food and beverage industry. Aloha Poke Co. combines superfoods with super food vibes, operating in five major markets as a high-growth poke concept and emerging franchisor. Chris holds a BA from Northwestern University, and prior to assuming leadership of Aloha Poke, held management and executive roles in the areas of operations, franchising, and new unit development for Potbelly Sandwich Works and Starbucks Coffee Company.
General Manager | The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille
Randal Black has been in the hospitality industry for over 11 years. For the past seven years, Randal has been with The Greene Turtle in various roles. He currently operates a training store and is responsible for training new managers along with testing new innovative initiatives and menu concepts. He assists with the rollouts and planning that goes into easy and seamless execution at the store level. Randal enjoys engaging with his team and learning through the day-to-day operations and finding the most efficient way to operate. He is passionate about the future of the industry and providing a world class experience for every guest and team member.
VP, Major & Strategic Accounts | PDQ Signature Systems
For over 20 years, Robert Blackwell has helped restaurant operators in quick service, table service, fast casual, and other F&B segments navigate the IT landscape by taking the approach of a trusted advisor with his clients on selection, and deployment of enterprise IT solutions involving Point of Sale, back office applications, digital transformation, and how best to leverage customer data. PDQ is the vendor of choice for many franchised operations which includes over 2800 Jimmy John’s locations.
President – International | Wingstop Restaurants
Nicolas Boudet serves as the President of Wingstop Restaurants International. Wingstop is the largest national, fast casual wing-focused chain in the U.S. with more than 1,200+ locations across 40 states and 9 countries internationally. Nicolas is planning to aggressively grow Wingstop in key strategic markets across the globe and maximize an already existing and emerging international presence. He recently joined Wingstop from Aliumclear, a global business advisory firm specialized in providing strategic consulting services to the food and hotel industries which he co-founded. He previously led Focus Brands’ international business unit as its Executive Vice President, International Division, where he managed a portfolio of an existing 1,500 units.
CEO | Georgia Restaurant Association
Speaker bio coming soon!
Sr. Director, Restaurant Excellence | CKE Restaurants Holdings
As Senior Director of Ops Innovation at CKE Restaurants, Inc. (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Jacob Brewer leads the Operations team across commercialization, testing, packaging, equipment and labor to develop strategic, efficient solutions for CKE’s restaurants. Prior to joining CKE, Jacob was the business owner of the Food Service group at the Kroger Co., focusing on strategically bringing food service brands across the Kroger banners as well as improving labor efficiencies, customer experience and customer journey. He has additional in-depth experience in international QSR operations strategy, operations, sustainability, and innovation during a 7 year tenure with Yum! Brands.
Project Lead, Restaurant Design | Chick-fil-A
Sam Brewer leads initiative work for Restaurant Design Innovation at Chick-fil-A. Leaning on a background in Industrial Engineering and experience with General Electric Appliances and Disney Parks and Resorts, he is focused on designing new layouts, equipment and operations to meet the expectations of the Chick-fil-A’s future Guest. Recently leading program development and rollout of new equipment to support catering production, a front of house redesign to support fulfillment of mobile orders, and internal testing of revolutionary drive thru layouts. Sam is passionate about the restaurant industry and providing a remarkable and repeatable experience for every single Guest.
Vice President of Food Safety | Chipotle Mexican Grill
Kerry Bridges is the Vice President of Food Safety at Chipotle Mexican Grill. In this role, Kerry oversees food safety standards, quality assurance and procedures. She joined Chipotle in January of 2019 and oversees a team of individuals who are committed to enforcing Chipotle’s zero-tolerance policy and industry-leading processes, focusing on supply chain, in-restaurant practices, food prep and employee training. Prior to joining Chipotle, Kerry oversaw supplier food safety for the world’s largest food retailer, Wal-Mart, serving over 200 million customers around the world on a weekly basis. During her time at Wal-Mart, Kerry’s food safety oversight included tens of thousands of Wal Mart’s, Neighborhood Market’s, and Sam’s Clubs food suppliers.
CMO | Garden Fresh Restaurants
Nicole Bushnell comes the to Garden Fresh team from Luna Grill restaurants, where she served as VP of marketing for the last four years. During her tenure, the chain grew from 18 to 51 locations in California and Texas and was responsible for all brand strategy, e-commerce and loyalty platforms, creative and content direction and product development. In her role as CMO at Garden Fresh, Nicole will lead all brand and marketing activities across the country, positioning the company for growth and category development opportunities.
CEO | Livit Design
Ben Calleja is CEO at Livit Design in Madrid, Spain, the world’s leading F&B Strategic Brand Consultants and Restaurant Concept Design Company and also founder of Livit’s very own test-lab restaurants 1889, Fast-Fine Pizza (Stockholm, Sweden) & V (Los Angeles, CA and Malmö, Sweden), part of the Fast Fine Restaurant Group. Livit helps make brands more relevant, through trends, design, technology and much more, combining the best possible guest experience with operational efficiency and profitability. Livit has developed over 13,000 projects in the last 20 years. A new Livit designed restaurant opens every 8 hours somewhere in the world.
Vice President, Field Marketing | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Brett Campbell, Vice President of Field Marketing for Tropical Smoothie Cafe has a proven track record of contributing to the revenue growth of organizations in the franchise food sector, such as HoneyBaked Ham, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Papa John’s and Tropical Smoothie Cafe. In his current role, Brett leads the Tropical Smoothie Field Marketing team who are responsible for all local marketing including media, sports partnerships and local store marketing. With Tropical Smoothie Cafe opening over 120 cafes, his team also manages the marketing of new store openings.
VP of Editorial | Networld Media Group
VP of Editorial | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President 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.
CEO | Ordermark
Alex Canter is a restaurant industry innovator, in-demand speaker, and passionate advocate for restaurant operators and workers. He was raised in the kitchen of the world-famous Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, where he and his team invented Ordermark. A fourth-generation restaurateur, the restaurant business has been in Alex’s blood for over 85 years. In addition to being the visionary and leader of Ordermark, Alex is active with the Techstars network and enjoys mentoring other restaurant technology entrepreneurs. A 2019 recipient of the Forbes 30 Under 30, Alex has previously led several technology ventures.
VP of Brand Development & Strategy | Savory Restaurant Fund
Alonso Castañeda is VP of Brand Development & Strategy at Savory Restaurant Fund, an arm of Mercato Partners that focuses on delivering outsized returns through strategic growth and replication strategies. He leads the strategic oversight of brand initiatives, brand campaigns, and implementation of customer-facing systems that enhance the experience for their fast-growing consumer-facing brands. During his career, he has specialized in taking fast casual and polished casual food and beverage concepts and scaling them into 50-unit+ powerhouse brands.
Founder & CEO | Tin Drum Asian Kitchen
A 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Steven Chan brings the mind-spinning energy of Asian sidewalk eating to Atlanta with Tin Drum Asian Kitchen. His urban upbringing in Hong Kong inspired the pan-Asian restaurant concept that now has over 10 locations throughout the Atlanta area. As the company’s founder and CEO, Chan spearheads the vision for Tin Drum and serves as the chief designer of the brand. Steven champions the legend of the Tin Drummer, the tale of a young man who became an unsung hero of the community by the simple act of serving people and showing hard work alone can make a difference.
Founder & CEO | Voxie Inc.
Bogdan Constantin is the founder & CEO of Voxie – the conversational AI text marketing leader that helps companies build 2-way relationships with their customers at scale. Voxie is proud to help customers from Buff City Soap to Massage Heights talk with their customers in an authentic and meaningful way across their entire lifecycle. He previously founded Menguin – the world’s first online suit and tuxedo rental company. He scaled the business by over 10,000% by texting with his customers and within 2.5 years of launch sold to the founder of Men’s Wearhouse. He resides in Atlanta with his family.
CEO | Partners + Napier
Courtney Cotrupe is CEO of Partners + Napier, an integrated creative company best known for amplifying food and beverage brands through category-defying creativity. Partners + Napier’s clientele includes established and fast-growing franchises such as Smashburger, CoreLife Eatery, and BurgerFi, plus leading consumer and foodservice brands including Instant Pot, Pyrex, Saputo Dairy Foods, Keurig Green Mountain, and 50+ wine, beer, and spirits labels in the Constellation Brands portfolio. Courtney oversees a team of 165 employees across account, strategy, creative, content, media, retail, and analytics. She serves on the national board of the American Advertising Federation, and as chair of the New York State Council of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
CMO | Krystal
Alice Crowder is the Chief Marketing Officer for Krystal Restaurants, LLC, the oldest quick service restaurant chain in the South. Alice previously served as the brand’s Vice President of Marketing from 2014 to 2018 before leaving to head menu strategy and innovation at industry leader Tropical Smoothie Cafe. She is returning to drive relevance and preference for Krystal and its famous square burgers under the brand’s new ownership group and along with a completely new management team led by industry veteran, Tom Stager.
CEO | Global Franchise Group (GFG Management, LLC)
Speaker bio coming soon!
President & CEO | GSR Brands
Roger David started his career at Gold Star as a dishwasher and now leads the organization that boasts two iconic brands in its portfolio as President and CEO of GSR Brands, the parent company and franchisor of two successful brands: Gold Star and Tom & Chee. David oversees a team of dedicated professionals working to continue building the Gold Star brand that the first generation of his family began more than 50 years ago. Since being named president and CEO in 2015, David has expanded the business to include Tom & Chee, the famous grilled cheese melts and soup restaurant chain that appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and the creation of GSR Brands.
Chief Technology Officer | Blaze Pizza
Recently appointed in Q1 of 2021, Chris Demery serves as Blaze Pizza’s Chief Technology Officer. Chris is an industry veteran with extensive experience leading off-premises and consumer-facing platforms for nationally-recognized food service brands. Spearheading the brand’s technology efforts, he consistently leverages his expertise to develop and execute strategic initiatives supporting Blaze’s ongoing innovation. Prior to joining Blaze, Chris most recently served as senior vice president at P.F. Chang’s, where he was responsible for developing the roadmap of its new Chang’s GO off-premise prototypes. He also spent six years at Bloomin’ Brands overseeing the company’s external facing technology and spearheading crucial strategic initiatives.
Nicole Di Pietro
Vice President | Jeremiah’s Italian Ice
Nicole Di Pietro joined Jeremiah’s Italian Ice in 2016 as Vice President, to assist in positioning the company for growth. She has been instrumental in developing the company’s Core Values, Mission and Vision, along with the current infrastructure. She has successfully added elements of culture, accountability, and process to the brand, delivering excellent financial results. Her experience has brought new insight to the Jeremiah’s Executive Team, leading to the successful opening of 5 additional company owned locations in 2018, while maintaining positive sales growth and increased profitability across the company. In 2019, Nicole aided in further expanding the Jeremiah’s brand with the launch of the Franchising program.
President & CCO | CoreLife Eatery
Scott Davis joined the CoreLife Eatery team in September 2016 to head up menu development and guide strategic brand growth. Scott’s experience during the growth of both Au Bon Pain and Panera Bread make him an invaluable asset to CoreLife Eatery. Scott served as Chief Concept Officer for Panera Bread from the inception of the brand until December 2014, during which time he oversaw menu development, category management, restaurant design, and sustainability efforts. Scott led many key initiatives that drove the long-term success of Panera Bread, as it became a leader in the fast casual segment of the restaurant industry.
Director of Real Estate | Team Oney, a Papa John’s, Starbucks & Qdoba franchisee
Brian Dixon is the Director of Real Estate for Team Oney, a Starbucks Master Licensee, Papa John’s and Qdoba franchisee operating more than 90 locations throughout Florida. He brings 17 years of experience in Commercial Real Estate which follows +20 years in franchise operations, the bulk of which was with Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees including international expansion. Brian started his current position with Team Oney over five years ago where he created the Real Estate Department from scratch and worked with the Operations Team to accelerate development and acquisitions. Under Brian’s leadership, Papa John’s increased their locations from 51 to 75 (and counting) and acquiring a Starbucks Master License.
SVP, Group Head – Restaurant | Cardlytics
Matt Drewes is Senior Vice President and Group Head of Restaurant Industry at Cardlytics, a company that drive incremental sales using purchase intelligence from 160M+ monthly active bank accounts on its native advertising platform. Before joining Cardlytics, Matt held various positions at Darden Restaurants, including SVP of Marketing for Red Lobster and Director of Marketing at Olive Garden. Prior to Darden, Matt worked in various CPG Brand Management positions at Campbell Soup Company and M&M/Mars including a year developing business in Russia. Matt holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Auburn University and an MBA from the Columbia Business School at Columbia University.
Senior 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.
President | ADM Marketing
Stephen Farr-Jones, as President, brings over 25 years of marketing and retail industry experience to ADM Marketing. Overseeing the restaurant market vertical as well as ADMM’s other retail channel verticals, Stephen came to ADMM from what is now the world’s largest games software publisher, Activision Blizzard, where he was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development. Previously he held the position of US President for Coogi Australia, where he restructured US sales and distribution operations for the Australian luxury knitwear brand. Stephen was an integral member of Walt Disney Company’s Consumer Products Division, managing international and duty-free merchandising and licensing as well as filmed entertainment licensing, in the US, Asia and Europe.
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 20 years’ experience across multiple restaurant industry segments spanning a number of roles. Prior to joining Bonchon, Steve worked with the fast-casual chain BurgerFi 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.
Larry M. Fiel
VP of Marketing | PDQ Signature Systems
Fueled by passion, dedication and proven in-depth experience in both full-cycle marketing and technology, Larry Fiel has leveraged over 40 years of practical knowledge to help raise the bar for excellence in a variety of verticals, including restaurant/hospitality, IT, education, and social services. With four academic degrees (including an MBA and MS in MIS), and an intuitive understanding of interpersonal relationships, Larry, an adjunct professor, thrives on educating and mentoring others and finding order amid chaos. By excelling in brand creation and propagation, strategic marketing, lead generation, and marketing communications, Larry has helped foster sustained business profitability through increased revenue and the lowering of both tangible and intangible costs.
Founder & CEO | Everbowl
Since earning his J.D. from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Jeff has proven himself as an entrepreneurial innovator. As a serial entrepreneur, Jeff’s been recognized nationally for his business creations ranging from a quick-serve restaurant chain, payroll & HR company, digital marketing agency, and construction company, among others. In addition, Jeff is a Forbes Professor at their school of Business and Technology, named a top 100 Entrepreneur in America under the age of 35 in 2013 by Empact, named a Top 40 Executive under 40 by the Business Journal in 2019, and was recently a finalist for CEO of the year.
Founder & CEO | Pure Green
Ross Franklin, is the Founder & CEO of Pure Green Franchise, one of the fastest growing juice bar franchises. Ross is ranked as one of the top five wellness entrepreneurs by Thrive Global and has two decades of experience building top tier brands within the health and wellness industry. He is a sought after keynote speaker and presenter.
Founder & President | Your Pie
Drew French is the Founder and President of Your Pie. While honeymooning on the Italian island of Ischia, Drew was inspired to bring the authentic, brick-oven taste of Italian pizza to the United States. With a passion for gourmet food and a business degree from the University of Georgia, he opened the first Your Pie location in Athens, Ga., in 2008. The brand has since grown to more than 75 locations across the U.S. with more than 50 in development, and Drew continues to infuse creativity, inspiration and innovation through his leadership.
Co-Founder & CEO | Wing Zone
Back in 1991, finding Amazing Flavor was not so easy – especially at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL where Matt Friedman and Adam Scott were away at school. Matt and Adam spent many a night in their fraternity house kitchen perfecting the recipes that one day would become Wing Zone’s trademark flavors. Starting with a single storefront, Matt and Adam built the Wing Zone brand, satisfying the cravings of Flavorholics in other towns, states and now, worldwide. Today, Matt and Adam are among the few ever to be inducted in the Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame. Wing Zone now has nearly 100 locations.
VP of New Store Openings | Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Kurtis Galyen currently serves as VP of New Store Openings for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Galyen joined the team in 2019 and currently oversees all of the new store opening procedures for all Dickey’s locations nationally and internationally. Prior to his time at Dickey’s, Galyen worked at Raising Canes helping to expand their brand to over 200 locations. In total Kurtis has amassed over 12 years of retail and restaurant experience, specifically in the field of development and expansion.
Brand President | Au Bon Pain
Speaker bio coming soon!
Global Chief Marketing Officer | Focus Brands
As Global Chief Marketing Officer, Dan Gertsacov is responsible to oversee FOCUS Brands’ marketing, advertising, menu innovation, digital and mobile commerce initiatives. Prior to his current role, Dan was the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer of Arcos Dorados, leading the digitalization of the company. Previously, Dan was the CEO, Americas for LenddoEFL. Earlier in his career, Dan was responsible for Google’s operations in the Andean Region, Central America and the Caribbean. Previous to that role, Dan was Head of Sales of Google Argentina. Additionally, Dan was Vice President of Business Development at Univision Networks and the Founding Director of Forum Empresa. Dan holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Goldsmith Scholar.
Director of Franchise Operations | I Love Juice Bar
Speaker bio coming soon!
Director of Operations & Strategy | gusto!
gusto!’s Director of Operations & Strategy and Business Partner, Richmond Green, is an Atlanta Native and former collegiate swimmer at the University of Georgia. Richmond has invested the past 5 years into the development of gusto! as “Atlanta’s Fastest Growing Restaurant Brand” (Atlanta Business Chronicle, 2021), an AJC Top Workplace, and member of the 2021 Inc. 5000 List of “Fastest Growing Private Companies in America”. Prior to joining gusto!, he spent nearly six years with Chick-fil-a as a Grand Opening Franchisee Consultant where he helped launch that brand in new markets all over the country.
Enterprise Account Executive | SOCi
Stuart Greer is an Enterprise Account Executive at SOCi and is responsible for partnering with and helping improve the customer retention & acquisition online strategy for SOCi’s largest clients. In addition to this Stuart has owned multiple businesses, has over 20 years of sales and business development experience, and an MBA in Marketing. With these experiences, Stuart tries to sit on the business owners’, marketers’, and operators’ side of the table to help them find new and inventive ways to improve their short and long-term objectives.
President, Restaurant Category | Focus Brands
With more than 20 years of experience in food service, franchising, consumer products and retail, Joe Guith has a passion for growing iconic brands that deliver superior experiences and value to guests. In 2021, he was named Restaurant Category President, Focus Brands, where he oversees McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s. While at Focus Brands, he has served as the President of McAlister’s Deli and President of Cinnabon. Previously, he worked in general management and strategy with The Coca-Cola Company and Yum! Brands. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation for driving significant results through strong performance management, application of process-driven improvements and building collaborative, high performing teams.
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.
CEO | Hartman Public Relations – Crisis Management & Public Relations Expert
Ellen Weaver Hartman is CEO of Hartman Public Relations, based in Atlanta. Ellen has 30 + years of experience working for such well-known brands as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Popeyes, Avon Products, Arby’s, and the National Restaurant Association. She specializes in consumer and B to B communications and is a crisis expert with experience in legal and labor issues, workplace violence, food-borne illnesses, environmental disasters, product recalls and financial issues. Prior to forming her own company, Ellen was president of the Atlanta office of Weber Shandwick one the largest communication companies in the world and chief communications officer at AFC Enterprises.
President | Middleby Ventless Solutions & Evo America
Scott Heim is President of Middleby Ventless Solutions and Evo America. In this position he leads the efforts of all the Middleby commercial brands with ventless cooking solutions. He is concentrating on educating designers, architects and customers on a variety of ventless concepts, especially focusing on ways to create pockets of F&B revenue in non-traditional locations and even in historical buildings. Scott joined Evo, Inc. in 2012, sparking the product development work in the griddle, plancha and cooktop segments. He directed the launch of the EVent ventless griddle in 2015. Prior to joining Evo, he created a consumer packaged goods firm which was successful in a competitive retail market.
President | Moe’s Southwest Grill
Erik Hess joined the Moe’s brand in August 2019 and will be leading as President of the Moe’s brand, a fast-casual Mexican concept with more than 725 operating units, where he will oversee franchise and company operations, marketing, supply chain and product innovation. Previously, Hess spent 25 years at McDonald’s Corporation in a wide variety of senior leadership positions responsible for product development, innovating the customer experience, strategy and insights, restaurant development among many other responsibilities. Erik has deep experience in the U.S., globally and in Asia. He brings a unique perspective to the brand with intimate knowledge of consumer behaviors while balancing the operational complexities present in a large franchised organization.
Co-Founder | ShiftPixy
Steve Holmes, a seasoned human capital management (HCM) executive and accomplished entrepreneur, is co-founder of ShiftPixy. With nearly 30 years of experience in human resources services, Steve has established a track record for helping small and midmarket businesses (SMBs) through Fortune 500 companies drive efficiency in HCM initiatives and has successfully founded and sold five human resources services businesses, all of which are still operating today.
President & CEO | Fazoli’s
As a talented and seasoned industry executive, Carl Howard has led multiple brands through successful turnarounds – most recently, Fazoli’s. During his 13-year tenure as Chief Executive Officer of America’s largest premium Italian QSR chain, he launched Fazoli’s into the future with the systematic implementation of a full brand revamp. His areas of focus have included culinary innovation, menu re-engineering, brand reimagination and the expansion of off-premise sales through catering programs, third-party delivery, online ordering and innovative technology. Carl also led an aggressive franchise development initiative to grow the brand in expanded and pioneer markets. He invigorated Fazoli’s with game changing solutions that have fundamentally impacted sales and the guest experience.
CMO | Cowboy Chicken
As CMO of Cowboy Chicken since 2015, Kim Jensen-Pitts is responsible for all brand development and marketing activities, including positioning, creative development, media buying, digital marketing, field implementation, public relations, pricing and analysis. Kim has enjoyed a highly successful career in all segments of the restaurant industry for over 25 years, working with several successful restaurant brands such as Cracker Barrel, Atlanta Bread Company, Ted’s Montana Grill and more. Kim attended Illinois State University where she studied Communications and Marketing.
VP Head of Marketing | Smashburger
Scott Johnson is a seasoned marketing and management executive with over 30 years of experience with a variety of Fortune 500 and growth companies focused on consumer marketing and technology. He has a proven track record of driving results through innovation and creative-driven brand marketing. Through his initiatives and brand leadership, Scott has generated over $1B in incremental revenue, and led major turnarounds at Arby’s and Outback Steakhouse. Since 2016, he has led brand marketing efforts for two of the fastest growing brands in the fast-casual segment, previously at BurgerFi International, and now as lead of domestic and international marketing for Smashburger.
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.
VP, Design & Construction | Focus Brands
Kevin Kilgore has a 30-year Design and Construction background with various restaurants and retailers, architects and developers. As Vice President of Design and Construction for Focus Brands, Kevin leads all design initiatives for the portfolio’s restaurant brands and has oversight on all East coast development. Prior to joining Focus Brands, he was Director of Construction for Jim N Nicks BAR-B-Q, with oversight on all design, entitlement, due diligence and construction activities for the brand. His prior experience includes Director of Construction for Steak N Shake, Senior Program Manager for Chick-fil-A, Director of Construction for CVS/pharmacy, and various other project management positions with developers and architects.
Global VP, Client Success | MomentFeed
Kyle Koch has spent the past decade helping enterprise clients leverage emerging digital technologies to improve customer experience and drive top-line growth. Kyle joined MomentFeed after a brief stint in conversational AI, where he led business development, marketing and customer success efforts for San Francisco-based Series A-funded Augment Solutions. Prior to Augment, Kyle spent 6 years at Sprinklr where he helped steer the social media management company from a single digit client roster to a $1b+ valuation. In his time at Sprinklr, Kyle led and operationalized several business groups, including customer success and later their worldwide professional services offering.
President & CEO | Lion’s Choice
Michael Kupstas is the president and chief executive officer of Lion’s Choice. He is a 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry. Michael has held senior executive and marketing positions with some of the most notable restaurant brands in the country. Previous positions include roles on the executive marketing and new concept development teams with General Mills Restaurant Group, strategic planning and menu development for Red Lobster, a 10-year tenure at Long John Silver’s with senior vice president positions in the marketing and operations and 17 years at Panera Bread, where he led restaurant and bakery operations as well as marketing, and most recently served as senior vice president and chief franchise officer.
VP of Training & Development | MOOYAH Burgers Fries and Shakes
Dennie Laney has dedicated her career to the restaurant and hospitality industries, serving individuals, teams, and organizations desiring to cultivate an environment of building trusting relationships, where authenticity and humility lay the foundation for outstanding results. Dennie has accomplished this by defining the internal people and performance strategies for both corporate and for operations teams, aligned to achieve bottom line success for performance, profitability and EBITDA achievement. Dennie has worked for iconic brands such as Brinker International, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and G6 Hospitality LLC (Motel 6 Studio 6). She elevates leadership excellence at all levels, with maximum results-orientation at the forefront.
Aziz Hashim Professor of Franchise Entrepreneurship | Georgia State University
Dr. Ben Lawrence is the Aziz Hashim endowed Professor in Franchise Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University. Ben’s broad domains of interest include franchise relationships, consumer coproduction, and service innovation. He has published research articles in leading business journals including Production and Operations Management, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Operations Management, Journal of Retailing, Industrial Marketing Management, Service Science and Journal of Business Ethics. Prior to joining GSU, he was on the faculty of Cornell University. He holds a B.S. from Cornell Univeristy, a MBA from Texas A&M University and a PhD from Boston University.
Chief Technology Officer | Order Media
Serving as the leader of a marketing agency seemed like the logical next step for a serial entrepreneur who is used to coding his way to product launches. As Chief Technology Officer of Order Media, Logan Lenz has not only built products and processes that help the agency achieve more with less, but he also spearheaded the development of a data platform designed for multi-location companies and other agency partners to leverage. When Logan isn’t spending time streamlining advertising and media buying processes, he’s with his high school sweetheart turned wife and three children in South Florida.
Founder | Press Waffle Co.
When Founder & President Bryan Lewis was traveling across Europe with his fiance in the summer of 2013, they encountered the Liege waffle for the first time. Upon returning to Dallas, they could not find them anywhere, so Bryan set out to do it on his own. With no culinary background, he tinkered in the kitchen for over a year before he had perfected the recipe. With a desire to share his waffles with everyone he knew (and more!), Press Waffle Co. was born. When Bryan’s brother, Caleb, moved home from college, they began dreaming and planning their business and after a successful Kickstarter Campaign, finally founded Press Waffle Co. as a food truck in 2016. Press Waffle Co. opened its first permanent storefront in late 2017 and now operates 3 company owned stores, with plans for more this year.
EVP of Foodservice | CAULIPOWER
Julie Lim is the EVP of Foodservice of CAULIPOWER. Julie has more than 15 years in coffee and foodservice industry leading sales, national accounts, and new business development for Fortune 500 companies such as Starbucks, Kraft Foods, and Nestle USA. Julie attended UCLA where she received a four-year golf scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She is passionate for building programs for systematic change related to diversity, inclusion, and equity. She serves in the local community and the foodservice industry. She is also the recipient of the 2014 WFF Volunteer of the Year award.
Founder & President | Waters Edge Wineries
After spending nearly 20 years in sales and marketing with a large software company, Ken Lineberger co-founded The Wine Tailor in Rancho Cucamonga along with his wife Angela in 2004. Ken saw an opportunity to take the best of what he had experienced in the corporate world to a small business model, envisioning a concept that allowed him to fulfill his passion for wine and food, and in a template, could be replicated in other venues across the United States. With the model perfected, Ken created Waters Edge Wineries as the franchise brand in 2012 and began selling winery franchises nationwide. He currently oversees all sales efforts.
VP of Franchise Development | Slim Chickens
Jackie Lobdell is the Vice President of Franchise Development at Slim Chickens. She has been with the brand since 2018 and was promoted to her current position in 2020. Since then, she has sold over 350 deals. Jackie also was named as a top Influential Women in Franchising 2020 for her accomplishments within the industry.
Chief Operating Officer | Golden Chick
Brian Loescher has served as COO in the Golden Chick headquarters since 2021, after serving as VP Franchise Operations. Golden Chick is a growing QSR franchise that prides itself on providing delicious food and great customer service. Golden Chick has 205 locations throughout TX, OK, SC, FL, and LA. Prior Experience: From September 2017 to August 2019, Brian served as Franchise Development Manager for YUM Brands (dba Pizza Hut). From May 2014 to June 2019, he served as Associate VP of Franchise Operations for Grandy’s LLC. From February 2002 to May 2014, Brian served as Training Consultant Manager, District Partner and Area Supervisor for Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc.
Chief Strategy Officer | Revel Systems
Chris Lybeer is the Chief Strategy Officer of Revel Systems. Chris brings more than 25 years of leadership experience in the retail technology industry to Revel. Prior to joining Revel Chris served as the COO for Kredible, a digital marketing company which was acquired by AdvisorEngine and as the VP of Strategic Development for NCR, focusing on innovation, partnerships, and M&A. Over 15 years with Radiant Systems, Chris held a variety of roles including President of the Specialty Retail Division and EVP of the Convenience Store Division. Chris started out his career as a computer engineer with NCR and ultimately led the entire software development organization for their Retail business.
VP of Partnerships | Revel Systems
Michael Manlapas is the VP of Partnerships at Revel Systems. Michael brings more than 20 years of experience in the retail technology industry to Revel. Prior to joining Revel Michael served as the US General Manger for Metapack, an eCommerce shipping solution which was acquired by Stamps.com and as the VP of Business Development for Retailnext, where he launched their international business units. Michael started his career in retail technology with nearly 15 years at Radiant Systems and BlueCube Software serving the retail, QSR and entertainment industries.
Editor | Kiosk Marketplace & Food Truck Operator
Elliot Maras is editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Food Truck Operator. He is a former board member of the International Foodservice Editorial Council, a recipient of the Office Refreshment Development Foundation’s Award For Journalism, and a graduate of the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s Executive Development Program at Michigan State University.
VP, Quality Management | Smashburger
Eric Marcoux is the Vice President of Quality Management for Smashburger, where he is responsible for the oversight of Quality Assurance, R&D, Operations platform design, Guest experience, Restaurant safety & sanitation and Crisis management. He has been a member of the Smashburger team since 2012 taking on various rolls within the organization. Eric has been in the food business for the past 20+ years with experience ranging from regulatory compliance, consulting and restaurant operations. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Health with an emphasis on microbiology from Cal State Northridge.
Chief Partnerships Officer | Huddle, Inc.
Karl Mawhinney is Chief Partnerships Officer for Huddle, Inc where he oversees partnerships. Prior to Huddle, Karl was with the Harlem Globetrotters, where he was VP-Global Partnerships leading sponsorship sales, strategic partnerships and special programming. Karl brings over 20 years of property and agency experience. He has previous leadership roles at Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, Lagardere Unlimited, and over ten years in the college sports landscape, including ISP Sports.
VP, National Accounts | PDQ Signature Systems
With 40 years of extensive experience in helping restaurants evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers via the always-advancing technologies that propel growth, Wade Mays has ensured sustained growth for a host of enterprise titans, including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Church’s Chicken, Popeyes, Burger King, Wendy’s, Whataburger and Chick-Fil-A. Wade’s holistic industry background, including president of Prism Data Systems, sales engineer at PAR Tech, and restaurant manager for QSR franchises, has afforded him the opportunity to excel in all aspects of business administration as well as operations management, strategic planning, P&L, client relations, leadership enhancement, product development and project planning/execution for both startups and large established companies.
President & COO | Edible Brands
Dr. Cheikh Mboup was named President & COO of Edible Brands in December 2019. In this role, he is responsible for the strategic vision and overall franchise performance of Edible Arrangements, Berry Direct, Netsolace and Incredible Edibles. He was previously the founder of various franchise restaurant brands which operated across the north and southeast United States. Cheikh is recognized as a business transformer and was recently highlighted by Forbes as a pioneer for business pivots due to how he led Edible’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mboup holds a bachelor’s degree in statistics from Lehigh University, an MBA in economics from Jacksonville University and a PhD in economics and international business from Argosy University.
VP of Marketing | Cousins Subs
Justin McCoy joined Cousins Subs in January 2006 as an entry-level marketing specialist and held several marketing positions before being named vice president in May 2013. He is responsible for managing advertising agency relationships, developing national promotion calendars, and creating system-wide strategic initiatives related to advertising, marketing and public relations. Justin brings over 13 years of restaurant industry experience to Cousins Subs as well as more than four years in public and media relations with the Milwaukee Bucks and several years in the finance industry. He also serves on the Cousins Make It Better Foundation and Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Board of Directors.
CEO | Your Pie Franchising, LLC
David McDougall is the Chief Executive Officer of Your Pie Franchising, LLC leading all aspects of the business at both the national and store levels, with an emphasis on revenue growth and profitability. David previously was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Back Yard Burgers, Inc. After joining the company in 2013, he led the successful turnaround of the brand through improved financial performance, franchise relations and return to the brands roots, “great tasting food”. This in turn led to finding a new owner and sale of the company. David’s background includes more than 35 years of food and franchise leadership specializing in operations, development, growth and international business.
CEO | Chronic Tacos
Michael Mohammed is the Chief Executive Officer and President at Chronic Tacos Enterprises Inc. where he oversees the strategic vision of the fast-casual Mexican restaurant brand. Michael is extremely passionate about the Chronic Tacos brand, purpose and commitment to living the #tacolife. Encompassing authentic, 3rd generation recipes and the individuality of each customer, Chronic Tacos has established itself as a bold force in the restaurant industry. Michael has since led the development of Chronic Tacos into over 60 locations across the United States, Canada and Japan. Combining his business experience and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael continues to pilot the brand to success and rapid growth.
President & CFO | MAD Greens
A self-proclaimed restaurant nerd, in 30 years John Montgomery has only had two jobs outside of the industry, a ditch digger at a natural gas company and an auditor at Deloitte. Both were equally uninspiring to him. Luckily for him his favorite audit client was Buca Di Beppo, where he ultimately landed as their Assistant Controller. In 2002, John moved to Colorado to become Controller of Noodles & Company, leaving to pursue his MBA. In 2008 he took a finance job with fast casual salad company, MAD Greens, and is now President & CFO. John helped grow the MAD Greens concept to 27 units located in Denver, Austin, and Phoenix.
Regional Director of Sales | Netsurion
Chase Mullican helps restaurant and hospitality brands grow by finding the network security and management solutions that best-fit the needs of their locations. With the goal of powering a more secure and agile network that significantly reduces cost and complexity, Chase brings his experience and knowledge in cybersecurity and branch networking solutions. As sales director specializing in the QSR and Fast Casual market, Chase works with franchisors and franchisees alike to realize the benefits of Netsurion’s SD-Branch platform and services.
Chair & Founder | Partners + Napier
Named one of Ad Age’s 100 Most Influential Women in Advertising, Sharon Napier oversees all executive leadership at Partners + Napier, an integrated creative company best known for amplifying food and beverage brands. Partners + Napier’s clientele includes established and fast-growing franchises like Smashburger, CoreLife Eatery, and BurgerFi, plus leading consumer and foodservice brands like Instant Pot, Pyrex, Saputo Dairy Foods, and 50+ wine, beer, and spirits in the Constellation Brands portfolio. Sharon is a frequent speaker at industry events and has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous others. She is Vice Chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
Co-Founder & CEO | Franklin Junction
Rishi Nigam is a Georgia native with over 20 years of hospitality and retail experience. He is the CEO and co-founder of Franklin Junction, an e-commerce platform that allows kitchens to optimize excess infrastructure capacity by serving as a Host Kitchen for other proven restaurant brands. Prior to the launch of Franklin Junction in 2020, Rishi helmed the turnaround efforts for an award-winning airport concessions firm as they achieved record profitability and completed a successful management-led buyout of the founders. The foundation of Rishi’s career comes from non-traditional hospitality operations. Rishi led the rebuilding of the concessions, hospitality, and retail lines of business as a Vice President with NASCAR.
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.
Founder & President | Starbird & Culinary Edge Ventures
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.
Danielle Porto Parra
CMO, VP Marketing | McAlister’s Deli
Danielle Porto Parra joined McAlister’s Deli as the head of Marketing in 2020, with responsibility for culinary & menu innovation, brand experience, digital, media, and growth strategies. Danielle has been in the hospitality and retail industry for more than 20 years, working in leadership roles at top companies including Petco, Build.com and Caesars Entertainment Corporation. Throughout her career, she has led company growth through a combination of brand experience and product innovation, personalized marketing, breakthrough creative, and digital transformation. Most recently, Danielle worked as Chief Marketing Officer & SVP of eCommerce for automotive aftermarket brands Pep Boys, AAMCO, Precision Tune, and Auto Plus.
VP of Information Technology | Krystal
Speaker bio coming soon!
VP of Sales | Botrista Technology
Mario Paysee leads all strategic partnerships for Botrista, the new automated craft beverage solutions provider for operators. With his extensive experience in US and International markets, Mario has led commercial teams at Pepsi, Starbucks, and Bevi. Passionate about the intersection of food and technology, he is an industry trends writer/contributor for Forbes.com.
VP of International Development & Support | Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Jim Perkins serves as Vice President of International Development & Support for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Jim has vast experience in restaurant and convenience store management and has worked specifically in operations, development, training and financial roles for brands all over the world including Papa Murphy’s, Exxon Mobil and MAM Food Co. Jim graduated from Purdue University and earned his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. He later went on to further develop his Spanish speaking skills in Sevilla, Spain at the Windsor Institute of Languages. In addition, Jim is the author of the book titled Beyond Bodegas.
Co-Founder & Chief Worker Advocate | Boloco | Worthee
John Pepper is Co-founder and Chief Worker Advocate of Boloco, a New England-based restaurant chain and Certified B Corp founded in 1997 focused on serving Modern Mexican food and beverages. He is also a co-founder the B.Good restaurant chain and of Worthee, an early stage software platform focused on workforce empowerment. John passionately advises and invests in consumer and consumer tech companies, and especially seeks opportunities that empower the workforce. Current examples related to food and beverage include tech start-ups Margin Edge, Toast, Incentivio, Bikky, Open City, HigherMe as well as Starbird, Dos Toros, Spindrift, and Athletic Brewing Company.
CEO & Founder | Immediate
With over fifteen years of high-growth tech experience driving sales, marketing and business development initiatives through direct sales and strategic partnership programs, Matt Pierce has been a key contributor to innovative growth organizations throughout his career. Matt began his career as an early-stage team member at Greenway, growing into a business development leadership role responsible for 250+ partnerships nationwide. After a Greenway IPO and subsequent acquisition by Vista, Matt moved on to lead sales and business development at Pri-Med Amazing Charts. Prior to founding Immediate to drive improved financial wellness through on-demand access to earned wages, Matt worked with multiple startups in developing go-to market growth strategies.
Owner | Pools Restaurant Group
Speaker bio coming soon!
VP Menu Design & Development | Burgerville
Speaker bio coming soon!
Founder & CEO | PITA Mediterranean Street Food
With his latest concept Pita Mediterranean Street Food, which he founded in 2012, Nour Rabai has created a fast casual destination for fresh, delicious and affordable Mediterranean cuisine. As founder and CEO, Nour oversees the operations of Pita’s corporate and franchise locations and management team and also is involved in the development and design of new locations. With a goal of growing Pita Mediterranean Street Food and introducing his authentic food and culture into every major city in the U.S., Nour’s major responsibility is in franchising. He is involved in the entire process from meeting with prospective franchisees and discussing locations to working alongside new franchisees to offer advice on staffing, profitability and operations.
SVP of Marketing | Dog Haus
As SVP 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. 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. He is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design.
VP of Franchise Sales | Noodles & Company
John Ramsay brings 28+ 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. He 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.
CEO | Eggs Up Grill
Ricky Richardson’s background includes his current role as CEO of EUG Holdco, LLC, the parent and franchisor of Eggs Up Grill. Since joining Eggs Up Grill, Ricky has energized the brand, defining it’s DNA, building the leadership team and strengthening franchisee relationships while delivering accelerated growth of new franchisees, new restaurant openings and same store sales. Eggs Up Grill has doubled in size since his arrival, closing out 2020 with 46 restaurants and a record for new restaurant openings. Prior to joining Eggs Up Grill, Ricky served over 20 years with TGI Fridays, holding a range of executive roles, lastly serving as president and chief operating officer of Fridays USA.
Local Strategy Lead – Restaurants | Facebook
David Robinson is a 9-year Facebook veteran heading up local restaurant strategy across the family of apps. In his current role, David is responsible for developing strategy and supporting product that helps solve for restaurants’ local category challenges. This includes ways Facebook can help drive store traffic and sales in addition to building scalable e-commerce and delivery solutions focused at the market and store level. Prior to restaurants, he worked in multiple other verticals at Facebook, including Tech/Telco and FinServ, leading point with some of the company’s largest partners in the world. Before Facebook, David worked in consulting, client-side marketing and business development roles.
President & COO | Franchise Business Review
Michelle Rowan is the president and COO of Franchise Business Review, a market research and consulting company specializing in franchisee and employee satisfaction, as well as franchise relations issues. She is an active member of the International Franchise Association, is a Certified Franchise Executive, and is Chair of the Women’s Franchise Committee and Annual Leadership Conference Task Force. She has facilitated CEO Performance Groups and Executive Networking Groups within the franchise industry and regularly speaks at industry events. Michelle and her husband also own a 10 barrel brewery and tasting room in Kittery, Maine.
COO | Wingstop
Mahesh G. Sadarangani has served as Wingstop’s Chief Operating Officer since January 2020. Mahesh joined Wingstop in July 2019 as SVP of Channels and has more than 20 years of operational leadership experience. Mahesh previously held executive roles at CEC Entertainment, the parent company for Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza; where he most recently served as Chief Administrative Officer of CEC Entertainment and President of the Peter Piper Pizza brand leading strategy, revenue management, supply chain, and operations. Previous executive roles include the leadership of financial planning and analysis, sales, and various strategic functions across a range of industries and companies.
Founder & CEO | Sweetberry Bowls
Sweetberry Bowls was founded in 2017 by restaurant veteran, Desi Saran. He is a serial entrepreneur with an MBA in Finance & BA in Economics from Rutgers University. Desi has extensive experience in developing fast-casual chains and tech start-ups. He created Sweetberry Bowls to provide quality and affordable healthy food options to consumers. The healthy, fast-casual concept specializes in Acai bowls, Poke Bowls, Smoothies, Wraps, & Salads with a focus on product, atmosphere and extraordinary customer service. Under Desi’s leadership, the company opened 20 units across 7 states in 2 years.
Chief Corporate Affairs & Food Safety Officer | Chipotle Mexican Grill
Laurie Schalow joined Chipotle in 2017. As the Chief Corporate Affairs and Food Safety Officer, Laurie oversees all internal and external communications, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, customer service, social listening, food safety and quality assurance for the brand’s 2,700 restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Additionally, she is responsible for oversight of The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, where she serves as President. Prior to joining Chipotle, Laurie was Vice President of Public Affairs for Yum! Brands, overseeing global corporate social responsibility, public relations, crisis management, social listening and community diversity programs for the 44,000 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants in 140 countries.
Director, Franchise Development & Innovation | The Human Bean
Jean Schneider joined The Human Bean in 2019 and helps lead all franchise development, new technology initiatives and ecommerce efforts. Jean spearheaded the 3rd party delivery program creation at 90+ locations including efforts like POS integration, onboarding, pricing, promotions, reporting, review management, delivery vs pick up and social media. The Human Bean is currently in it’s 3rd year using 3rd party delivery services (Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and Postmates) and continues to evolve through challenges, but all signs point toward continued growth and convenience for their customers. Jean grew up in Austria and has worked in Asia, Europe, and the US with organizations and major corporations across a wide range of industries.
Director, Partner Marketing | Dosh
Speaker bio coming soon!
Co-Founder & CEO | Nékter Juice Bar
Now with more than 170 locations, another 200 in development and $100 million in systemwide sales, Steve Schulze, as CEO, has grown Nékter Juice Bar into the clear leader and pioneer of the $2 billion juice bar industry. Founded in 2010 upon a promise to reinvent a restaurant category that had lost its way, Nékter Juice Bar has been a catalyst for change, vowing ingredient integrity and authenticity across its menu of 100% freshly made, nutrient-rich and entirely clean juices, Superfood smoothies, acai bowls, cleanses, and a variety of healthy snacks.
Co-Founder & CEO | Zunzi’s
Speaker bio coming soon!
COO | Taziki’s Mediterranean Café
Mike Smith is the Chief Operating Officer for Taziki’s Mediterranean Café. He has served in various roles at Taziki’s, including Director of Franchise Operations and Vice President of Operations, since spring of 2018. Under his leadership, Taziki’s added Express Pick-up to innovate and improve the guest experience for the brand’s fans. Taziki’s will roll out this to-go initiative across their system, over the coming year. Before joining Taziki’s, he was the Vice President of Operations for Hootwinc, (DBA Hooters) and served in a variety of different roles for the Hooters brand, where he was employed for close to 13 years.
CEO | FUSIAN
Mike Speck has significant experience in Operations, Training, HR, Business Acquisitions and Senior Level Leadership, in both corporate and franchise national high growth casual dining and fast casual service restaurant companies. Currently he is the Chief Executive Officer of Fusian with full responsibility for building the organizational, operational and financial businesses, and is also an active Board Member, former CEO with Asian Box. Immediately prior was Chief Operating Officer of The Halal Guys, the New York City most iconic brand. Through 2020/Covid Fusian has thrived with double digit growth and is fueled by the simple mission of “creating jobs”.
Chief Revenue Officer | NGDATA
Todd Speicher is a digital transformation expert focusing on marketing and customer experience. He has helped organizations transform operating models, customer journeys, and technology ecosystems to support digital business strategy. His experience extends across both consumer and commercial segments. Todd has spent his career at digital agencies and consultancies, most recently for Accenture Interactive supporting client strategy across banking, hospitality, and CPG Industries. He currently serves as the CRO at NGDATA, a technology firm with an AI platform that enables brands to curate and orchestrate 1:1 omni channel experiences that increase revenue growth and deepened brand loyalty.
Samuel D. Stanovich
Senior VP of Franchise Leadership | 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.
President | Golden Chick
In 2019, Jim Stevens was appointed as president of Golden Chick, a fast casual chicken restaurant chain with over 185 locations across Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina. Jim, a current shareholder of Golden Chick, also currently owns and operates five locations as the president of Prosperity Brands, LLC. Prior to joining the Golden Chick family, he spent time as the chief operating officer of Yoshinoya America, the executive VP of Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc., and the chief operating officer of Captain D’s, LLC (Captain D’s and Grandy’s). From 1999 to 2010, Steven served in various positions for Arby’s Restaurant Group.
Senior Director – Culinary | AMC Theatres
Nels Storm is the Sr. Director of Culinary for the world’s largest film exhibition company, AMC Entertainment, where he leads product development and equipment identification efforts across AMC’s portfolio of brands including AMC, AMC Classic, and AMC DINE-IN. Nels combines strong cross-industry knowledge backed by years of culinary, operations, and development experience with brands like ARAMARK, Caribou Coffee, and the Minnesota Vikings Football Club, with the uniquely innovative mindset he brings to the world of theatre dining, this has yielded concepts like AMC Red Kitchen, AMC’s first Fast Casual concept, and AMC Feature Fare, the largest concession stand innovation in the history of the industry.
CEO | Native Foods
Carin Stutz is the CEO and President of Native Foods, the original 100% plant-based fast casual eatery. Prior experience includes the EVP/COO at Red Robin, President of McAlister’s Deli, CEO and President of Cosi, President of Global Business for Brinker, EVP of Operations for Applebee’s and Pacific DVP for Wendy’s International. She is Past Chair of Women’s Foodservice Forum; recognized in Chicago’s 100 Women to Watch; Texas Women Worth Watching; and the distinguished alumni award from WIU. She serves on the board of trustees for Western Illinois University, the Fast-Casual Industry Council, and the board of directors for Checkers and Rally’s restaurants.
President & CEO | Juice It Up!
A highly successful restaurant industry veteran with over 30 years of experience, Susan Taylor joined the Juice It Up! family in 2019 as VP of Operations and Business Development and was promoted to President and CEO of the brand in early-2020. Susan has served in various leadership roles for national franchise chains including 14 years at Jamba, where she was the Senior Director of Franchise Operations, Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh and Chevy’s Fresh Mex. Under her leadership, Juice It Up! has built upon its diverse offerings by putting a heavier focus on product innovation and ingredient functionality. Since coming on board, Susan has spearheaded initiatives that have dramatically improved both the guest-and franchisee-facing experience.
VP of Operations | Chicken Salad Chick
Jim Thompson CFE has over 25 years of leading operations teams for brands like Wendy’s, Kings Family Restaurants, D’Angelo and Papa Gino’s. Jim was hired by Chicken Salad Chick’s co-founders, Stacy and Kevin Brown in 2013. Since that time, he has built and led operations, training, and the development of management and purchasing systems that have been instrumental to Chicken Salad Chick’s expansion from six to more than 135 restaurants over the past six years. Jim continues as the strategic operations executive for Chicken Salad Chick, and he works closely with CEO, Scott Deviney, and the company’s leadership team. He has built strong relationships within the franchise community.
Owner | Hot Rocks Pizza Ovens
Vincent Tourigny is Co-Founder of DaVinci Compass Inc., a Canadian company comprising manufacturers of commercial food service and food packaging equipment including Hot Rocks Pizza Ovens. Prior to founding DaVinci Compass, Vincent held different positions in the financial world as Business Valuator and helped his clients buy and restructure businesses. As Co-Founder of DaVinci, Vincent was one of the creators of the Hot Rocks brand. Since then, Hot Rocks has experienced an average yearly annual growth of over 118% with clients in Canada, the United States, Australia, Kuwait and China.
Director of Business & Client Development | Rosnet
Speaker bio coming soon!
Founder/Chief Visionary | The Point of Sale Cloud
Speaker bio coming soon!
SVP, Restaurants | Nathan’s Famous
James Walker, CFE, is a top restaurant industry expert with a specialty in rebranding and repositioning iconic American comfort food brands. James is an industry-leading authority in restaurant trends, including, Delivery and off-premises, Ghost Kitchens, Virtual Brands and leading through macro events like COVID-19. He specializes in mergers & acquisitions, domestic and international development, operations, franchising, and new product development. With more than 30 years of broad based, senior level, management experience in the hospitality and retail industries, James has served as President, Chief Development Officer, as well as in Senior Operations and New Product Development positions, for brands such as Baja Fresh, Cinnabon, Johnny Rockets and Subway.
CEO | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Charles Watson is the CEO at Tropical Smoothie Cafe and focuses on the strategic vision and sustainable growth of the franchise system. Prior to being named CEO in December 2018, Charles served as the Chief Development Officer for Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Under his leadership, the Tropical Smoothie Cafe system grew from 265 units to 725 units. Tropical Smoothie Cafe currently has more than 975 locations nationwide and will open its 1,000th location in 2021. A veteran franchise professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and holds an MBA from The Terry School of Business at The University of Georgia.
Chief Revenue Officer | Viking Cloud
Mark Wayne is the Viking Cloud Chief Revenue Officer. He is an active member of the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force and considered a national expert on topics of Digital Technology, Cybercrime, Compliance and Crisis Management. Prior to joining Viking Cloud, Mark spent over 20 years as a technology executive focused on network security. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served as military code breaker for the National Security Agency and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Central Michigan University and an MBA from the University of Detroit.
Operating Partner | Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
David Webber serves as the Operating Partner for Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in Richmond, Virginia. He is one of only four corporate managing partners for Taziki’s, which collectively has nearly 100 units in 17 states. David manages 90+ employees between his three stores, and led his market to $3 million in sales in 2019. He is a dedicated member of the community including involvement with the Chamber RVA, the Retail Merchants Association, and the Chesterfield Chamber. David most recently served as a board member for the Midlothian Business Alliance, which is dedicated to revitalizing the business community in Midlothian, Virginia. His expertise was developed through extensive daily planning and multi-unit operations management.
VP Business Development | Livit Design & Fast Fine Restaurant Group (1889/V)
Paul Webster is VP Business Development at Livit Design in Madrid, Spain, the world’s leading F&B Strategic Brand Consultants and Restaurant Concept Design Company and also VP Business Development of Livit’s very own test-lab restaurants 1889, Fast-Fine Pizza (Stockholm, Sweden) & V (Los Angeles, CA and Malmö, Sweden), part of the Fast Fine Restaurant Group. Livit helps make brands more relevant, through trends, design, technology and much more, combining the best possible guest experience with operational efficiency and profitability. Livit has developed over 13,000 projects in the last 20 years. A new Livit designed restaurant opens every 8 hours somewhere in the world.
VP, Sales | Appetize
Brian Whitney leads Appetize’s sales efforts in the Professional and Enterprise space. He brings over 20 years of POS experience to Appetize and has worked with Radiant Systems, NCR and Allure over that term. Brian has worked globally in over 20 countries on 5 continents in industries throughout hospitality, airports, cinemas, stadiums and retail. An avid college sports fan he lives in Atlanta with his wife Monica and daughter Annabeth.
Chief Brand Officer | Moe’s Southwest Grill
Alex Williams joined Moe’s Southwest Grill with nearly 30 years of leadership experience in both food and beverage and oil and gas industries. Across several national brands, Alex has expertise in franchising, operations, and innovation – all while driving business results in competitive environments. Most recently, while Alex was at Bloomin’ Brands, he was the Regional Vice President of the Outback Steakhouse brand in the Midwest region supporting more than 100 restaurants and also served as Vice President of Operations for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse nationally. Prior to joining Bloomin’ Brands, Alex spent 11 years at McDonald’s Corporation leading future innovation across 10,000 restaurants in the U.S.
President & COO | Decision Logic
Mandi Wooledge has spent the last decade championing innovation within the restaurant technology industry. Her unique blend of extensive leadership experience in restaurant operations and proven track record of bringing bottom-line impacting technology products to market allows her to focus on solutions that adapt to operations vs. requiring operators to adapt to bleeding edge technology. Known for developing trusted relationships, Mandi has helped major brands like Twin Peaks and Rib Crib achieve demonstrable, measurable ROI on technology that increases profitability. Her ability to shape vision and execute roadmaps with technology allows her teams to become true partners in solving real-world restaurant issues.
Chef Dave Woolley
Director of Deliciousness | Buffalo Wild Wings
Cooking at four- and five-star restaurants, Chef Dave Woolley has always wanted to further explore the culinary world through flavor & inspiration while either apprenticing at fine dining restaurants in Walt Disney World, perfecting cowboy cuisine at his family-owned Antero Grill restaurant, being mentored by culinary historian Sam Arnold at The Fort, or inspiring culinary research and development at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. In 2013, he formed CD Culinary Approach, a consulting company that helps inspire food service and retail brands through passionate innovation, ideation and initiation. He took this learning experience and brought it to his current role at Buffalo Wild Wings as Director of Culinary Innovation AKA “Director of Deliciousness”.