Founder & CEO | Smoke’s Poutinerie
Founder & CEO | Smoke’s Poutinerie
Ryan Smolkin is the Founder and Chief Executive Office of Smoke’s Poutinerie. After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1995, Ryan established AmoebaCorp, an internationally-recognized Graphic Design and Branding company with clients including Nike, Molson, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Corus Entertainment, YTV, Sims Snowboards and Nelvana. Ryan’s primary goal has always been to bring Canada’s National Iconic dish to the rest of the world in an original and unique way, and to ultimately achieve GLOBAL DOMINATION! With Ryan at the helm of Smoke’s Poutinerie, the franchise has been growing at an astoundingly fast pace. Currently, The World’s Largest & Original Poutinerie has over 150 stores across North America.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
Managing Partner | Equicorp Partners, LLC
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.
CEO | Aloha Poke Co.
When Aloha Poke Co. CEO Chris Birkenshaw joined the team in May 2018, he had 18 years of experience in the restaurant industry under his belt. He began his career at Starbucks in store-level operations before moving to Potbelly Sandwich Shop, where he served as the senior director of franchising. Chris’s passion for poke, coupled with his expertise of restaurant growth, made him the perfect fit for an emerging, innovative, healthy fast-casual concept like Aloha Poke.
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.
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.
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.
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.
President | Schlotzsky’s
Beto Guajardo began his term as President of Schlotzsky’s in September 2019. 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, from management consulting, global retail, automotive, energy, consumer packaged goods, and media and entertainment. Beto joins 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, developing and implementing strategies to succeed corporate goals. His teams worked extensively on executing Starbucks Delivery.
President | McAlister’s Deli
With 20 years of experience in food service, consumer products and retail, Joe Guith has a passion for growing iconic brands that deliver superior experiences and value for guests and franchisees. In April 2018, he became the President of McAlister’s Deli, where he has been instrumental in positioning the brand for success. Under Joes’s leadership, McAlister’s Deli unveiled a complete brand evolution and restaurant redesign, which has propelled its ongoing growth in 27 states, with more than 450 units currently open and operating. Previously, he served as President of Cinnabon, Inc. and worked in general management and strategy with The Coca-Cola Company and Yum! Brands.
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.
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.
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 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 | 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.
VP Menu Design & Development | Burgerville
Speaker bio coming soon!
CEO | Eggs Up Grill
Ricky Richardson was tapped to lead the breakfast, brunch and lunch concept in July 2018 after private investment firm WJ Partners acquired the brand. Under Ricky’s leadership, the brand has since grown to 35 open locations, seven more set to open before the end of 2019 and 18 locations slated to open in 2020. Ricky has primed Eggs Up Grill for growth with plans underway for the concept to reach the 100-location mark by mid-2022. Ricky has more than 35 years of restaurant industry experience across multi-unit and franchise operations. Prior to joining Eggs Up Grill, Richardson served as U.S. president and chief operating officer of Dallas-based TGI Fridays.
CEO | Asian Box
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 Asian Box with full responsibility for restructuring the operating and financial businesses while also implementing a national franchising program. Immediately prior was Chief Operating Officer of The Halal Guys, the New York City most iconic brand. The operating responsibility at The Halal Guys included establishment of the strategic plan, infrastructure alignment and ongoing leadership of this international brand with direct accountability for Operations, Franchising, Real Estate, Development, Design, Marketing and Supply Chain.
CEO | Tropical Smoothie Café
Charles Watson is the Chief Executive Officer at Tropical Smoothie Café and focuses on the sustainable growth of the franchise system with current goals of 1500 units, $1M Average Unit Volume and 18% average unit profitability. Prior to ascending to the CEO role, Charles was the Chief Development Officer for Tropical Smoothie Café. Charles was responsible for all aspects of Franchise Development, Real Estate, Design & Construction, Franchise Administration and Legal. Under his leadership, the Tropical Smoothie Cafe system grew from 265 open units to 725 open units. A veteran franchise professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and US Franchise Systems.