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Scott Campanella
Chief Operating Officer | Ideation Hospitality
Scott Campanella joined Garces in 2020 as the Chief Operating Officer. Scott brings over 20 years of experience overseeing strategy, operations, retention, acquisition management, and concept development for national brands spanning both coasts. A graduate of Temple University, Scott returned to the Philadelphia area in 2005, where he currently lives with his wife and two children.
Jose Garces
Founder & Chief Culinary Officer | Garces Group
Since opening his first restaurant in 2005, Chef Jose Garces has emerged as one of the nation’s leading chefs and restaurateurs. He is the 2009 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” award and one of only a few chefs in the country to hold the coveted title of Iron Chef. Chef Garces is the author of The Latin Road Home (Lake Isle Press, October 2012), a culinary and cultural tour of Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, and his debut cookbook, Latin Evolution (Lake Isle Press, Fall 2008).
David Mesa
EVP & Chief Development Officer | Ballard Brands
Mr. David Mesa is currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Development officer overseeing the Franchise and Licensing Division for Ballard Brands, LLC. Prior to joining Ballard Brands Mr. Mesa had been with Planet Beach Franchising Corporation since December of 2003 progressively holding more executive roles at the world headquarters than any other executive, most recently serving as their President of Franchise Operations where he was instrumental in their growth from 60 to over 350 locations. Prior to joining Planet Beach, Mr. Mesa served eight years as Director of Business Operations for Allegis Group, the largest privately held staffing company in the United States, Mr. Mesa also served eight years in the United States Marine Corp. as an Air Traffic Controller. In March 2005, he received the designation of Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) by the International Franchising Association for his work and study in the franchise industry and has maintained that designation to date.


Taj Adhav
CEO | Leasecake
After starting as a Big Four CPA, Taj Adhav managed more than $2 billion in commercial real estate and new business launches over a decade at Disney Development Company and as an Imagineer launching Disney Cruise Line, and Disney Vacation Club. Transitioning into technology, Taj became an early hire at Channel Intelligence eventually leading business development to launch Channel Intelligence as a SaaS data platform which later was sold to Google for $125 million. Recognizing the opportunity to transform the market where everyone in business owns or leases real estate, Leasecake was born. Tenants, brokers, and landlords desperately needed a way to collaborate, share data, and keep track of business-critical events.
Adenah Bayoh
Founder, Franchisee | Cornbread, IHOP
Adenah Bayoh embodies the American dream. At age 13, she escaped the civil war in her native country of Liberia, immigrated to the United States and is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the state of New Jersey. Inspired by her grandmother, who owned a restaurant in Liberia, Adenah is now the owner of 8 restaurants including 4 IHOP franchises in northern New Jersey. She opened her first IHOP in Irvington Township, New Jersey at the age of 27, making her one of the youngest franchisees in the country at that time. In late 2017, Adenah launched Cornbread, her first independent fast casual, farm-to-table, soul food restaurant, which she co-founded with fellow entrepreneur, Zadie B. Smith. They recently opened their second location in downtown Newark, and a third in Brooklyn, NY. Additionally, in keeping with Adenah’s mission of bringing high quality food and services to urban communities, in the summer of 2021 she launched her latest restaurant concept, Urban Vegan, in downtown Newark.
Laura Boles
Marketing Director | Eggs Up Grill
Laura Boles joined Eggs Up Grill in 2018 when WJ Partners acquired the Brand at 24 restaurants. She has led the marketing efforts as Eggs Up Grill has grown to 60+ restaurants across 7 states. Laura oversees both brand and local marketing programs, franchise development and communications. Her background also includes a decade of experience working as an Emmy award winning local television news producer. Laura graduated from Washington and Lee University and lives in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and two young children.
Ramon Bourgeois
CEO (Acting) & COO | Tony Roma's
Ramon Bourgeois has over 25 years in the restaurant and hospitality industry. He has worked for various restaurant chains as well as airport concessionaires, where he has been responsible of opening restaurants, developing multi-unit operational leaders, training, and domestic/ international business development. During his time in the restaurant industry, he has opened over 100 new restaurants in multiple countries around the world. Starting in 2021, Mr. Bourgeois was named as Chief Executive Officer (Acting) upon completion of the acquisition by Equity Investors of New England, having previously served as the Senior Vice President, Global Franchise of Roma Franchise Corporation, Romacorp, Inc. and Roma Systems, Inc. as of November 2019, and was appointed a Director of Roma Systems, Inc., and Roma Franchise Corporation in January 2020. Previously, Mr. Bourgeois was Vice President, Global Franchise and was the Regional Vice President of Roma Systems, Inc.
Joe Buonavolanto III
VP of Franchising | The Buona Companies
Joe Buonavolanto is a 3rd generation owner and operator of the Buona Companies (Buona Restaurants & The Original Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Shop). Joe has been an integral part of the company tripling revenues and units since 2011, and is well versed in all things quick-serve and fast casual. In 2022, Joe was promoted to Executive Vice President of Franchising & Growth as the company takes aim on nationwide expansion for it’s Buona Restaurants and Original Rainbow Cone Ice Cream shops. Joe lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and two children.
Brandy Butler
VP of Marketing & Communications | Jason's Deli
Cherryh Cansler
VP of Events | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Events, Cherryh Cansler spent several years as VP of Editorial managing the Networld’s nine B2B publications. Throughout her 20-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for
Derek Canton
CEO & Founder | Paerpay
Meet Derek Canton, the CEO and Founder of Paerpay. Under his leadership, the company is revolutionizing the restaurant industry by empowering establishments to enhance their speed of service and loyalty programs without needing additional hardware or confusing apps for guests. A Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, Derek has been recognized for his innovative approach and dedication to helping restaurants succeed. When he's not working, Derek indulges his passion for dining by exploring new restaurants and sharpening his skills in the ring through boxing.
Alonso Castañeda
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.
Patrick Conlin
President | Wayback Burgers
Patrick Conlin joined Wayback Burgers in 2017 as a senior vice president and was named president in 2019. Conlin has over 37 years of franchising experience. Since graduating from Rutgers University – Newark in 1985, Conlin has worked as a franchisee, franchise consultant, area developer and franchisor. Conlin believes building a strong relationship with franchisees and providing them with a reliable support system is key to Wayback Burgers’ rapid growth. He relishes any opportunity to work with local franchisees and help them reach their full potential. In his free time, Conlin enjoys spending time with family, friends and watching the New York Giants.
Phil Crawford
Chief Technology Officer | CKE Restaurants
Phil Crawford is currently the CTO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's which operates 4000+ QSR restaurants worldwide. Crawford leads CKE’s Digital and Technology functions and is responsible for building a technology-forward, data-driven company that exceeds consumers/ evolving expectations. Crawford has over 20 years of experience in C-Level Technology rolls. Previous he has served as Global Chief Technology Officer at Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. Prior to that, he served as Chief Information Officer/Head of Technology for Shake Shack, Inc. and Yard House Restaurants, Inc.
Jourdan Daleo
SVP of Franchising & Field Operations | Popeyes Americas
Jourdan Daleo is currently the Senior Vice President of Franchising and Field Operations for Popeyes, North America and has been with Restaurant Brands International (RBI) since 2016. In her role, Jourdan leads business development, franchising, strategic market planning, and all aspects of franchisee operations for the brand. Since joining Popeyes, Jourdan has played a pivotal role in leading the brand’s franchising strategy and has had a significant impact in making Popeyes one of the most profitable QSR brands today. Her hands-on approach to franchising has driven exponential growth and scaled development for the brand, and her vision for franchisee success is highlighted by her work ensuring streamlined operations in the restaurants. Prior to her current role, Jourdan recently served as the Vice President of Franchising and Business Development for Popeyes. Before joining Popeyes, she held several roles at Burger King as Northeast Division GM, Deals Lead and Director of Marketing Analytics and Franchise Performance in Latin America and Caribbean.
Alicia DiStefano
VP, Practice Lead | InMarket
Alicia DiStefano is InMarket’s VP, Practice Leader for the QSR and Dining verticals. Alicia has worked in media and advertising for over 15 years, with experience in location marketing, data as a service (DaaS), programmatic, and self-service media. She previously worked in the restaurant vertical for 10 years, and has shared conference stages with brands like Panera, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, DoorDash, and more. In 2018, Alicia oversaw the team, campaign, and submission to win the I-COM Data Creativity Award for a cost per visit campaign for Outback Steakhouse. Alicia is based in Atlanta, GA.
Eric Easton
Chief Financial Officer | Ampex Brands
Eric is chief financial officer for Ampex Brands, a Top 20 Franchisee and owner of approximately 400 franchise locations across YUM! Brands, Long John Silvers, and 7-Eleven. Ampex is also the franchisor for Au Bon Pain the Bakery Café. Eric’s responsibilities include Ampex corporate planning and execution, along with overseeing accounting, finance, human resources and supply chain. Eric has been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years. He has held progressive roles in finance and operations across privately held, private equity backed and public companies. In these roles, Eric was a key driver for several recapitalization and liquidity events and M&A transactions. This includes participating in the public offering of Ignite Restaurant Group in 2012. While his expertise is in finance, Eric prides himself with the ability to leverage his operations experience to bring a unique perspective to the strategic planning and analysis function.
Blas Escarcega
Director of Franchise Development | Pollo Campero
Blas Escarcega serves as the Director of Franchise Development for Pollo Campero, the world’s largest Central American chicken chain. Escarcega, a Dallas-based restaurant financial executive, spent the bulk of his career guiding those in the restaurant industry to a path of profitability via performance management, strategic planning, accounting and business intelligence. Escarcega held the position of Chief Financial Officer at a beverage distributorship before transitioning to Campero USA, where he first held the position of Corporate Controller for over two years and then Corporate Business Partner and Director of Finance for over 13 years. As Director of Franchise Development, Escarcega leverages his experience and drive to accelerate the Pollo Campero footprint across the country.
Rafik Farouk
Sr. Director of Global Business Development | PF Changs
Rafik Farouk is the senior director of Global Business Development for P.F. Chang’s. In his role with the international Asian culinary brand, he helps guide international growth strategy and oversees expansion of a company that has more than 300 restaurants in 23 countries and U.S. airport locations. Prior to P.F. Chang’s Rafik served as the Senior Director of Development and Operations at Bloomin’ Brands Inc., where he managed the international franchisees’ development and supported of the global operations as part of the Global Development Team. During his tenure with Bloomin’ Brands, he worked to launch the Aussie Grill by Outback, the first fast-casual concept in company history.
Bryce Fluellen
Executive Director of Social Equity Franchise Program | Everytable
Prior to joining Everytable in September 2020, Bryce Fluellen was a regional director for Starbucks and working with Magic Johnson Enterprises’ restaurant operations (Starbucks and TGI Fridays). He also co-founded a catering business and worked with the American Heart Association on community education.
Cristal Ghitman
Senior Account Executive | SynergySuite
Andrew Glantz
Founder & CEO | GiftAMeal
Andrew Glantz is the Founder & CEO of GiftAMeal, a cause-marketing platform for restaurants that has provided over 1 million meals to those in need through its novel “food for photos” concept. For each photo shared through GiftAMeal, a meal is donated to a local food bank. An outspoken champion of social entrepreneurship, Glantz began his hunger-fighting venture while still a student at Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. Now with hundreds of partner restaurants across QSR, fast-casual, and full service brands, Glantz and his creation, GiftAMeal, have become recognized as major forces for good by hospitality industry and hunger-relief organizations alike, winning 1st Place at the Global Impact Awards. Glantz lives in St. Louis, where he was named to the Business Journal’s “30 under 30" List and regularly lectures at universities. He serves as Chair for Washington University’s entrepreneurship committee and sits on the Arch Grants Leadership Committee.
Betsy Hamm
CEO | Duck Donuts
Betsy Hamm, MBA, oversees the overall direction of the organization and leads the development of the company’s long- and short-term goals and strategic initiatives. She is committed to building and protecting the 100+ unit growing franchise brand by generating awareness and driving revenue. She works alongside her team to identify and provide the necessary tools and resources to ensure franchisees achieve ultimate profitability and success. In her previous role as chief operating officer, she oversaw operations, marketing and business development, focusing on product development and daily operations. Prior to being named chief operation officer, she served as the marketing director. Betsy joined Duck Donuts with 15 years’ experience as the marketing director for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, a world-class entertainment and hospitality company that owns and operates many of the sweet attractions, resorts, and entertainment venues across Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Cory Hibbard
President | Graze Craze
Cory Hibbard is a seasoned business professional with a strong background in operations and leadership. Born and raised in South Jersey, Hibbard received his degree in business form the Rinker School of Business at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He began his career in brand development with Red Bull North America before joining the United Franchise Group (UFG) in 2014 as a Franchise Development Representative. From there, he joined the Transworld team, where he held various positions including Operations Advisors, Operations Manager, Director of Operations, and eventually Vice President of Operations. In his current role as President of Graze Craze, Hibbard is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the company and building strong relationships with clients and partners. Throughout his career, Hibbard has developed a reputation for his ability to think outside the box and leverage the size and strength of networks to secure the best deals.
Blaine Hurst
Advisor | Delish Sisters / Blaine Hurst Enterprises, LLC
Blaine Hurst, retired CEO of Panera Bread, member of the Fast Casual Hall of Fame, four-time Fast Casual Mover and Shaker, author of 8 patents, is one of the highest impact restaurant leaders of recent times, leading two of the largest restaurants in the U.S. Blaine and team Panera were responsible for developing Panera 2.0, the hyper-growth of catering, national delivery, and MyPanera, the largest loyalty program in the US. As President of Papa John’s in the 90’s, he oversaw its growth from 450 stores to nearly 3,000, developing the first nationally available online ordering platform in 1998. Today, Blaine's passion is the employment and care for people with intellectual disabilities. He investor/advisor for the Delish Sisters restaurant and Shepherd Hotel in Clemson, SC that has partnered with ClemsonLIFE in the employment of people with special abilities. He is an active Executive Board Member of Hero Bread, an ultra-low net carb bread products company, now an Amazon top-seller.
Blake Johnson
VP of Marketing | Craveworthy Brands
Blake Johnson is the Vice President of Marketing with Craveworthy Brands, overseeing strategy and execution for their brands Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill, Flat Top Grill, The Budlong Hot Chicken and Krafted Burger Bar + Tap. Johnson returned to Craveworthy (formerly Mongolian Concepts) in early 2022, having previously led marketing efforts for the Genghis Grill brand for over four years as Director of Marketing. He also brings with him years of experience in the industry in both marketing and operations roles, previously with Dallas-based legacy chains like El Fenix & Snuffer’s, newer emerging multi-unit brands like Taqueria La Ventana, Village Burger Bar and Meso Maya and more recently leading digital marketing for national fast-casual chain Newk’s Eatery.
Mike Johnson
President | Ford's Garage
Donna Josephson
CMO | Shipley Do-Nuts
Donna Josephson serves as Chief Marketing Officer at Shipley Do-Nuts helping propel the iconic 85-year-old brand into a new era of growth and enhanced customer experience. Josephson has previously held CMO titles at Corner Bakery, Fazoli’s and McAlister’s Deli and has experience at a number of national restaurant chains.
Abhinav Kapur
Co-Founder & CEO | Bikky
Sean Kennedy
President & CEO | Cowboy Chicken
As president and CEO, Sean Kennedy has been instrumental in establishing Cowboy Chicken as the premium fast casual restaurant brand that pioneered wood-fired rotisserie chicken. Sean has worked to refine the menu, build operational systems, grow system-wide sales and strengthen store financial performance. He launched Cowboy Chicken’s franchise program that helped to pave the way for today’s national expansion and has built a strong corporate team to support franchise development, real estate, construction, training, marketing and franchise support efforts. During his leadership, the brand has been included in Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list every year since 2011 and in 2017 won the Emerging Chain of the Year award from Restaurant Business.
Yianni Kosmides
CEO | Apola Greek Grill
Yianni Kosmides is the Founder & CEO at Apola International. Founded by brothers Yianni and Stefano Kosmides in Irvine, California, the fast-casual brand has gained a loyal following throughout SoCal for its fresh ingredients and familiar vibe. It’s best known for serving the ‘Most Authentic Greek Gyro you can get without buying a plane ticket!’ Despite having only two family-owned locations in Irvine and Yorba Linda, Calif., Apóla was ranked No. 5 on Fast Casual’s “Brands to Watch” in 2021. The Kosmides Family has been in the restaurant business since 1977 and has founded nine other restaurant brands.
Mark Kreiner
VP of Marketing | WOWorks
Mark Kreiner is Vice President of Marketing at WOWorks for Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, The Simple Greek and Barberitos Southwestern Grill and Cantina. Previously, he was Marketing Director of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh and Director of Field Marketing for Schlotzsky's. He has also worked for the Carvel Corporation (Focus Brands) as Director of Marketing, Senior Marketing Brand Manager and Brand Marketing Manager. Mark was also Marketing Director of Simply Floored, Creative Director and Marketing Brand Manager for Dynamite Plant Food, and has 12 years of additional business experience as an advertising and creative executive. Kreiner and his partner of 29 years live with their two dogs and six chickens. He enjoys food, wine, traveling and has been to six continents. Mark’s favorite WOWorks menu item is Stuffed Pita with Falafel from Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh.
John Laporte
President | TASK North America
A hospitality industry veteran of 25+ years, John Laporte has worked with many familiar brands through his IT career. From Quick Service (CKE – Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, and El Pollo Loco) to Full Service (Logan’s Roadhouse, Old Chicago Pizza, The Grill, and Denny’s), his experience is broad and has had to deliver solutions to transform the business while meeting restaurant operation’s expectations. He is an advocate of best-in-class solutions and hybrid nimble IT teams that leverage key internal resources and strong vendor/partner relationships. This allows his teams to “turn on a dime” when course corrections are needed or to “scale up dramatically” when large projects hit his desk. “The combination of these create world class solutions for the business and allow IT to still stay on top of day-to-day service to our restaurants.” One of his favorite sayings is that most vendors have a solution looking for a problem. Our job is to define the problem first and then determine if there is a fit.
Claudia Lezcano
CEO | Fuku
With more than 25 years of marketing experience for major brands, Claudia Lezcano most recently worked at Church’s Texas Chicken where served as Senior Vice President of US Marketing. Before Church’s, Lezcano held top marketing positions at Celebrity Cruises, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and the MLB’s Miami Marlins. Her extensive QSR and restaurant experience also includes eight years at Burger King Corporation, where she led strategy and marketing communications for the then $3 billion company.
Hanson Li
Co-Founder & CEO | Lazy Susan
Hanson Li is the co-founder and CEO of Lazy Susan, a Chinese take-out start-up. Lazy Susan celebrates the long history of Chinese food in America while adopting it for today’s consumers. In 2014, Hanson Li founded Salt Partners Group, a restaurant group based in San Francisco. Salt Partners’ current portfolio includes Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, the bar group High-Proof, Sunday Bakeshop/Neighbor Bakehouse, and B-Side. Salt’s legacy portfolio includes Crenn Dining Group (Atelier Crenn 3-Michelin Star, Petit Crenn, Bar Crenn 1-Michelin Star, Boutique Crenn) and LocoL (co-founded with Chef Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson – a fast food concept that was named best restaurant by LA Times in 2017). He’s an active advisor and investor of companies at the intersection of food and technology: Bikky, Workstream, Entrée, Ritual, Expo, Territory Foods, PlateIQ (sold to FTV Capital) and Servy (sold to Resy/AMEX).
Steve Lieber
VP Franchise Business Development | BurgerFi
Steve Lieber is an expert in designing restaurant concepts, the art of pizza making and is a certified pizzaiolo from Italy. As Vice President of Franchise Development, Steve leads the team who sold over 150 franchises to over 50 franchise groups. His team has sold franchises in 20+ states and international deals in Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our teams built systemwide restaurant sales of $100+ million USD in under 5 years. Steve was on opening restaurant teams for 10+ states in the United States. He taught franchisees recruiting techniques, training and operating systems, professionalism, food ordering and preparation, inventory controls, labor controls, local store marketing to increase sales and profitability of all locations.
Anissa Mandell-Chance
SVP, Supply Chain | Focus Brands
Anissa Mandell-Chance joined Focus Brands in 2011 and brings over 30 years in the hospitality industry and experience across various supply chain and operations roles. As Senior Vice President of Supply Chain for Focus Brands, she is responsible for the strategic planning framework for supply chain, distribution, logistics, and quality assurance functions and oversees planning and directing all aspects of policies, objectives, and initiatives for the supply chain function for the Company's family of brands. During her tenure with Focus, Anissa has successfully navigated the complexity of working with cross-functional brand teams to drive results and ensure adaptable and scalable solutions for all seven brands. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the National Restaurant Association Supply Chain Expert Exchange Board and is an active member of the Women's Foodservice Forum.
Mark Mele
Chief Development Officer | Paris Baguette America
Mark Mele has over 30 years of leadership experience building and guiding franchise brands. Mele has achieved the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) designation from the Institute of Certified Franchise Executives (ICFE) through the International Franchise Association. As an accomplished corporate franchise sales and development strategist, Mele’s vision and expertise in business performance has driven notable franchise brands such as Century 21 Real Estate Corporation, Country Inns & Suites by Carlson, Retro Fitness, Kumon North America and Huntington Learning Centers. Mele has achieved exciting company turnarounds and is recognized for his success in growing franchise brands. His strategic approach to expanding a franchise brand is reflected in his work as Vice President of Franchise Development of Kumon North America, Inc., where his leadership resulted in the opening of over 500 new franchised Kumon Math and Reading centers in 4 years.
Jeff Melnick
President | Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar
Jeff Melnick is the President of Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar in the United States. Known as “Boston’s”, this casual dining restaurant and sports bar has been around for over fifty years. His 40+ years in the industry began in Denver but evolved from coast-to-coast positions as he cut his teeth in hourly positions and grew into corporate, executive roles. His respect for the strength of a brand was established during his 18-year tenure at Chili’s Bar and Grill, where he was responsible for more than 80 restaurants in Southern California. Having a natural draw to operations, Jeff’s next move was to oversee operations for Red Robin, spending 10 years with the brand and overseeing 500+ restaurants, as well as new restaurant development. The opportunity to lead the expansion of Boston’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar came in 2018. He is focused on evolving Boston’s through menu development, brand positioning, prototype enhancements, and franchisee engagement.
Rahkeem Morris
CEO & Co-Founder | HourWork
Rahkeem Morris is a co-founder and CEO of HourWork. His emphatic leadership and boundless energy never fail to inspire those around him. Before Cornell, Google, and Harvard Business School, Rahkeem was a high-school dropout who balanced multiple part-time jobs (working 13 in total) over nine years to make ends meet. HourWork was borne of his personal experience. Rahkeem serves as Vice Chair of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and was appointed a member of the 17-person Special Commission to Study the Future of Work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Stacy Moss
Director of Brand Marketing | Noodles & Company
Stacy Moss is an accomplished marketing leader with over 15 years of experience. With her extensive background in marketing and creative strategies; optimizing ROI using data and insights; and omni-channel marketing; Stacy has accelerated Noodles’ loyalty, CRM, paid media, and integrated marketing capabilities in her role as Director of Marketing. Stacy is passionate about building brands and challenging herself, and others, to come with fresh perspectives.
Rachael Nemeth
CEO & Founder | Opus Training
Rachael Nemeth is the CEO and Co-Founder of Opus, a mobile learning platform that helps employers engage and train their "deskless" workforce. Her background combines decades of experience in the service industry, instructional design, and second language acquisition. Before Opus, she worked for Danny Meyer's, Union Square Hospitality Group, Baked, and Hot Bread Kitchen, an NGO that teaches baking skills to underrepresented women. Her first company, ESL Works, brought industry-relevant English training to New York City kitchens. Rachael is an alum of The New School and is from Kansas City (the Kansas side, if you're wondering).
Zack Oates
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, has 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 no. 1 restaurant feedback platform in America, voted Top 50 Most Influential Supplier by Nation’s Restaurant News, and host of “Give an Ovation: A Podcast for Restaurants.”
Dawn Petite
President | Friendly’s Restaurants
Dawn Petite is the President of Friendly’s Restaurants, which operates over 130 (company-operated and franchised) friendly, full-service restaurants serving signature entrees, burgers, sandwiches, and hand-crafted, specialty ice cream. Dawn began her career at Friendly’s Restaurants as an operations manager and has been with the Friendly’s brand for over 40 years. Currently, she oversees a multi-functional team of employees from corporate operations to franchise operations and training. Dawn previously worked as the Chief Operating Officer for J&B Restaurant Partners, where she oversaw operations for the largest franchisee in the Friendly’s organization, as well as multiple beach restaurants, bars, and the Gatsby on the Ocean Catering Hall.
Bill Phelps
CEO | Dave's Hot Chicken
Bill Phelps got his start as a brand marketer at Nestle in the early nineties. Since then, he’s pulled off a franchising hat trick by being involved with the creation of three great brands: Wetzel’s Pretzels, Blaze Pizza, and now Dave’s Hot Chicken. Bill’s specialty is building and scaling great franchise brands. In 1994, he founded Wetzel’s Pretzel’s with his business partner, Rick Wetzel, and was the CEO of Wetzel’s for 26 years growing it to over 300 locations. Bill is currently the CEO of Dave’s Hot Chicken, which started as a parking lot pop up just five years ago and now has nearly 100 restaurants open, with many more in development. In addition to Wetzel’s and Dave’s, Bill was also one of the founding investors that started Blaze Pizza 10 years ago.
Jason Pierret
Vice President, Business Development | UMI
Jason Pierret has over 20 years’ experience helping multi-location and franchise brands effectively market across all locations. A strategic thinker, Jason has a talent for seeing the big picture and communicating in a way that’s relatable and authentic. He’s currently VP of Business Development for UMI Marketing Solutions, a full-service marketing operations partner for fast growing multi-location brands across QSR, and Fast Casual, as well as many other franchise service and retail verticals. As the head of sales and marketing, he brings UMI’s years of expertise on national rollouts, local store marketing and trade area growth to nationally recognized brands like Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Bagel Brands, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. Jason is a husband, and a father to two amazing kids, enjoys time with his family outdoors and is an avid distance runner.
CJ Ramirez
EVP & Marketing Director | Dog Haus
As EVP of Marketing at Dog Haus, C.J. Ramirez plays a vital role in driving brand innovation and marketing strategy. Since joining the team in 2013, he implemented marketing and branding campaigns that have directly impacted Dog Haus becoming one of the hottest emerging brands in the restaurant industry. Since opening, the brand now boasts more than 50 locations across the country. As an industry veteran, C.J. brings extensive experience in designing branding strategies that build strong corporate identities. Before joining the Dog Haus family, he led teams for prominent brands such as The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, The Walt Disney Company, Eastman Kodak, Johnson & Johnson Company, and Mattel.
Deric Rosenbaum
President | Groucho's Deli
Deric Rosenbaum is currently the President of Groucho's Deli and a multi-unit franchise owner. Throughout his 20+ years in food service, Deric learned all the inner workings of the distribution side of the industry first-hand. He has been an operator, implemented a central distribution commissary, and project managed the opening of over 40 franchised units. Hailed as a builder by his colleagues, his career has been a progression of building sandwiches, teams, a restaurant brand, countless physical spaces, experiences, and a tech stack (his personal favorite). As the resident CTO of Groucho’s Deli, Deric is a firm proponent of open and bi-directional APIs and industry-wide data standards. Deric spent the last several years building, adding to, and refining Groucho's tech stack. His decision to move an 80-year-old restaurant chain into modern operations allowed the Groucho's Deli system to pivot, survive, and ultimately thrive for several years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clifton Rutledge
CEO | Shipley Do-Nuts
Clifton Rutledge was named CEO of Shipley Do-Nuts in 2021 to lead a new era of growth and innovation at the 85-year-old brand after its sale to Peak Rock Capital. He had previously served as executive chairman at Shipley. Rutledge is a proven industry leader and executive with over 35 years of experience in numerous restaurant companies throughout the U.S. Prior to joining Shipley, Rutledge was COO at Jack’s Restaurants, president and CEO at Bojangles’s Chicken and Biscuits and COO and senior vice president at Whataburger Restaurants LLC. Previously he operated in several positions at KFC. He is a visionary leader with extensive experience in communications, product development, strategic oversight and planning, financial analysis, contract negotiations, franchising, key partnership development, operations management, mergers and acquisitions, and human resources. As CEO of Shipley, Rutledge has spearheaded multiple initiatives, such as new market entries, brand unification, technology upgrades and more.
Olga Sagan
Owner | Piroshky Piroshky
Olga Sagan is the sole owner of the nationally renowned Piroshky Piroshky. Founded in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market, Piroshky Piroshky has offered hand-crafted pies to loyal fans since 1992. An immigrant from Russia, Olga arrived in America when she was sixteen. Since then, she has faced challenges overcoming language barriers and learning to navigate what it means to be a woman in a leadership role, which was not encouraged in her home country. In 2006, she became part of Piroshky Piroshky leadership and took complete ownership in 2017. Under Olga's leadership, the bakery has grown to four locations and a food truck, teamed up with iconic Northwest businesses such as Field Roast, Uli's Famous Sausages, Mondo & Sons, and Tillamook Creamery, and introduced a vegan-friendly line of pies as well. Passionate about leadership, Olga received her SHRM certification in 2018 and was picked by Puget Sound Business Journal as a small business hero in 2019.
Desi Saran
Founder & CEO | Sweetberry
Desi Saran is the Founder and CEO of Sweetberry, a National Healthy Fast Casual Chain specializing in Acai Bowls, Poke Bowls, Smoothies, and Wraps. Sweetberry has been recognized by and as 2020's hottest startup fast casuals, 2019 Franchises of the Future, and 2020 Top 100 Movers & Shakers. Desi has an expertise in restaurant software and technology and has spoken on topics involving ghost kitchens, POS Inttegrations, and third party delivery.
Chris Smith
Co-Founder & CEO | Zunzi’s and Zunzibar
After visiting Zunzi’s in Savannah in 2008, Chris Smith said "someday I am going to buy this place and franchise it." At the time, he was 23 years old and an early Five Guys franchisee just opening his second of seven locations in Georgia and South Carolina. His words became a reality in late 2014 when he purchased Zunzi's from the original founders, and he knew that to achieve the success and fulfilment he wanted in business and life, he would have to figure out his life purpose and align it with Zunzi's mission. In the process, he realized the importance of Zunzi's controversial "SHIT YEAH!" motto and made it the promise to the brand’s six stakeholders: TEAM, FRANCHISEES, FANS, COMMUNITY, VENDORS and INVESTORS—in that order. After refining the brand's South African-inspired menu and defining its culture, Smith opened a second fast casual location in Atlanta in 2018. This process set into motion the third iteration of Zunzi's model that now includes Zunzibar.
Mike Speck
CEO & Partner | 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. He is the Chief Executive Officer & Partner of Fusian and CEO, Co-Founder of Paceline Restaurant Partners (FUSIAN development arm) with full responsibility for building the organizational, operational and financial businesses of FUSIAN, and emerging brands; The Wizard of Za and Hunny Bee’s Crispy Fried. In addition, he 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.” Other experience with unique brands of Qdoba, Red Robin and Steak and Ale proudly credit a life long good fortune of mentorships. Mike is also a professional mentor at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business and has been a past chairman for the National Restaurant Association HR Executive Group.
Laura Sporrer
Senior Marketing Manager | Teriyaki Madness
Laura Sporrer paved her intern-to-innovator career path in the industry starting 15 years ago. Currently Sr. Marketing Manager at Teriyaki Madness, Laura has driven success with brands like Quizno’s and HuHot Mongolian Grill, managing franchise marketing, campus, airport and other non-trad development, FDD management, market development and planning, public relations, and local shop marketing strategy and management. Always bringing a keen, creative eye, Laura’s current ambitions include employing nimble strategies that adapt to the current climate for Teriyaki Madness, recently named the nation’s fastest-growing restaurant chain by Restaurant Business.
Sam Stanovich
SVP of Development & Alliances | Big Chicken
Samuel Stanovich is part of the leadership team of Big Chicken. Prior to joining Big Chicken, Samuel worked with Firehouse Subs brand as an Area Representative and Franchisee. Samuel’s past experiences include: Director Partner Product Development & Industry Relations, National Restaurant Association, President & CEO of the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau, in addition, he is a 12-year veteran of Marriott International. In 2020 Samuel co-authored the top catering book “Catering Domination” and is co-host of the Takeout, Delivery and Catering podcast. Samuel is an alum Johnson and Wales University and adjunct faculty at the College of DuPage.
Andrew Sternburg
Chief Development Officer, Americas | Gong cha
Andrew Sternburg earned an MBA from Northeastern University in Boston while working full-time for Dunkin’ Brands. At Dunkin’, where Andrew spent more than 25 years of his career, he demonstrated tremendous versatility by holding nine different positions across a variety of disciplines including finance, business development, real estate, and franchise sales. In 2017, the company acknowledged his outstanding performance with a Franchising and Development Strategy Award of Excellence and the prestigious Standing Ovation award, given only to “the most exemplary employees.” Of his time there, he is most proud of the relationships he developed, not only with fellow employees but also Dunkin’ franchisees, whose success was his number one priority. Andrew is thrilled to be a part of the Gong cha team, where, as Chief Development Officer, he is responsible for the recruitment and development of master franchisees for the U.S. Beyond that, he works closely with the CEO and rest of the executive team on all aspects of the business.
Heidi Stirkkinen
CEO | Kotipizza Group Oy
Heidi Stirkkinen joined Kotipizza – with more than 300 restaurants, the largest pizza chain in the Nordic countries – in 2017 as COO and was appointed CEO in October 2021. Having previously served in C-level positions in leading Finnish consumer goods companies, she has put her expertise in marketing and strategic leadership into good use, guiding the chain through a period of rapid growth and helping it thrive even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Under Heidi’s leadership, Kotipizza has continued its award-winning work in sustainability and building a strong customer experience, while also introducing a new emphasis in online services and delivery. Most recently, Kotipizza has garnered international attention with its groundbreaking dynamic pricing model which has boosted deliveries and franchisees’ profits. In addition to her position at Kotipizza, Heidi has also chaired the Finnish Franchising Association since January 2022.
Ingo Stork
Co-Founder & CEO | PreciTaste
Ingo Stork is the Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer at PreciTaste, smart software automation to drive productivity & profit in food chains. As the company continues to expand through growth funding, Stork’s mission is to revolutionize the way restaurants operate through a proprietary AI kitchen management solution powered by demand-based predictions and deep learning. He’s responsible for the vision behind the technology setting the new standard for food AI management across the industry. With a Doctor of Science in Machine Learning (TUM), Stork ventured into AI after conducting research for his masters at MIT. In bringing his vision to develop AI to automate the foodservice industry, Stork has invented 40+ patents. He formerly founded and led his own research group at TUM, and has dedicated the past decade to building PreciTaste’s platform that scales existing and new food concepts while driving labor efficiency and reducing food waste.
Robert Taylor
EVP & Managing Director | QikServe
Robert Taylor is the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of QikServe. QikServe powers digital ordering and payment solutions for over 5,000 restaurant operations in 30 countries around the world. QikServe has a broad customer portfolio that includes restaurants, theatres, hotels, education, and athletic stadiums. Rob has over 15 years experience in restaurant digital ordering and 30 years of executive leadership experience in both startup and large-scale enterprise businesses. Rob served as Founder and CEO of Splick-it, of which he and his team grew the company from inception to an industry leader that processed more than $1billion of off-premises restaurant sales. In 2016, under Rob’s leadership, Splick-it acquired its competitor, Onosys, to further strengthen the company’s market position and expand its product offering. Rob served as CEO of the combined company. Prior to Splick-it, Rob also served in a variety of executive leadership roles in the financial services business with such notable companies as Smith Barney, Paine Webber, and EF Hutton.
Johnny Tellez
VP of Operations & Training | Focus Brands International
Johnny Tellez, Vice President of Operations & Training for Focus Brands International, is responsible for advancing the level of operational management, guidance and support provided to franchisees across the globe. The Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CECE) is a centralized coaching center based in Costa Rica where extensively trained brand coaches conduct operational reviews across all time zones and languages. Johnny can share how the CECE offers exceptional support for franchisees and store operators in an increasingly virtual world.
Neil Thompson
VP, Digital | HMS Host
Neil Thompson is Vice President, Digital for HMSHost, a global restaurateur and world leader in delivering innovative dining solutions in travel venues. HMSHost operates locations all over North America, and is part of Autogrill Group, the world’s leading provider of food & beverage services for people on the move. Neil joined HMSHost in 2012 as Vice President, Canada. In this position, he was responsible for the company’s operations in Canadian airports and motorways. In 2020, Neil was appointed Vice President, Digital and is responsible for overseeing the company’s digital strategy and vision. Prior to joining HMSHost, Neil worked as an executive for some of Canada’s most recognizable restaurant brands including Tim Hortons. Neil holds a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and his passion for food led him to attain a Culinary Arts Certificate from George Brown College. He also completed the Hospitality Managers’ Development Course at University of Guelph.
Ray Titus
CEO | United Franchise Group
Twice, Ray Titus has received the prestigious “E” Award, the U.S. President’s highest recognition for significant contributions in expanding U.S. exports. That export was the enterprise of franchising. In 1986 Ray founded Signarama®, growing it into the leading sign franchise in the world, laying the foundation for what has become United Franchise Group (UFG). Today UFG is affiliated with many of the most recognized brands within multiple industries, from promotional products to coworking. Ray’s commitment to franchising led to the establishment of the Titus Center for Franchising, at Palm Beach Atlantic University, the first university center of its kind. His philosophies on growth, positive attitude, and family, influence the core values that have driven success within the brands he has developed from conception to international expansion.
Annie Tselikis
Director of Marketing & Franchise Sales | Cousins Maine Lobster
Annie Tselakis joined Cousins Maine Lobster in 2021 as the Director of Marketing and Franchise Sales with fifteen years of experience in the Maine lobster industry. She fell in love with the water as a deckhand on a ferryboat in Portland Harbor and her career has evolved to cover the entire coast of Maine as she supported commercial fishing organizations and lobster wholesale businesses. In 2014, she became the first executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association where she advocated for wholesalers and processors at the local, state and federal level. She previously worked in seafood marketing overseeing digital marketing strategies, international trade shows and trade missions promoting Maine lobster to customers worldwide. Annie graduated from Connecticut College in 2004 with a degree in anthropology and photography. She currently serves on the boards of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative and the Lobster Research, Education, and Development Fund.
Marie Tullidge
Senior Development Manager | White Castle
Marie Tullidge is serving as the Senior Development Manager for White Castle, where she oversees project management and development for the built environment including deferred maintenance, remodeling, new construction, property management and lease administration. Her work also includes site selection and contract negotiations. She brings 10 years of experience in commercial real estate and development including multiple asset types and disciplines. She also serves as Co-Chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative for ULI Columbus. Areas of focus include site analysis, valuation, urban planning, and process management.
Jason Valentine
Chief Strategy Officer | Botrista Technology
Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, Jason Valentine has experienced every aspect of the restaurant industry. In the summer of 2022, Jason joined Botrista Technology as Chief Strategy Officer. Most recently, he was the President of Zoup! Eatery and exited after completing a successful acquisition plan. Jason has a deep understanding of the restaurant industry from the perspective of both franchisee and franchisor, and his experiences are now being applied to help brands implement DrinkBots, which enables brands to add craft beverages to their menu without operational complexities. Botrista DrinkBots automate the portioning, dispensing and mixing process using algorithmic dispensing to deliver a fresh and consistently blended drink in under 20 seconds.
André Vener
Partner | Dog Haus
Along with his two business partners, André Vener co-founded Dog Haus in April 2010, with the mission of elevating stadium food classics into culinary masterworks. Over the last decade, Dog Haus has expanded from its Pasadena, CA, base to nearly 50 locations from coast-to-coast. André and his partners have spearheaded the craft-casual brand’s rapid expansion by forming alliances with leading ghost kitchen networks, an innovative partnership with Live Nation and the 2020 introduction of The Absolute Brands – a suite of virtual restaurant concepts spun off from several of Dog Haus’ signature menu items, such as the Bad Mutha Clucka. André has been interviewed as a restaurant industry expert on multiple national platforms, including CNN, FOX News Channel and MSNBC. He and his Dog Haus partners were featured on the cover of QSR Magazine’s April 2020 edition, and they have been profiled in Entrepreneur magazine, Food & Wine and more.
Julianna Voyles
Director of Operations | Jeremiah's Italian Ice
Julianna Voyles, Director of Operations, oversees Franchise and Company owned Operations for Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, with responsibility for the company’s 100+ locations in 11 different states. She also oversees the company’s ongoing expansion, as it is projected to reach 140+ units in 2023. In her previous role with Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, she served as Director of Training and Operational Growth. Julianna was responsible for leading the development and administration of the Jeremiah’s training program (“Cool School”) and the New Store Opening Process. Amidst her tenure, Ms. Voyles has been recognized by QSR Magazine in the 2021 issue of Young Leaders to Watch. Julianna takes pride in being active in the community, volunteering as a coach for Pop Warner sports. In 2017, Ms. Voyles received a Bachelor of Arts in History degree from the University of Central Florida and Master of Business Administration with a specialization in Finance, Rollins College 2021.
Julie Wade
Senior Director of Marketing | Taziki's Mediterranean Café
Julie Wade joined Taziki's with over 15 years of franchise and retail marketing experience. Beginning with a large franchisee of Blockbuster Video and then working for two franchisors in the restaurant segment, Julie has a deep knowledge of high-touch marketing strategies like local store marketing and a broad high-tech skill set with rewards programs, online ordering, and digital advertising. In 2018 she received her Certified Franchise Executive designation and continues to be active in the franchising community.
Charles Watson
CEO | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Charles Watson was named CEO in December 2018. In this role, he is responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall franchise performance. He was previously Tropical Smoothie Cafe's Chief Development Officer since 2016 after serving as VP of Franchise Development since 2010. In these roles, Charles was responsible for all development of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand. A veteran hospitality professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, US Franchise Systems, Inc. and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and also holds a Masters of Business Administration from The Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia.
Samir Wattar
COO | Layne’s Chicken Fingers
Samir Wattar is a veteran of the restaurant industry with 30+ years experience in restaurant operations and management with established high growth and start up companies. Samir is progressive, decisive, innovative and is highly valued for expertise in interpreting corporate vision and strategy, translating objectives into actionable plans, and providing leadership to multi-functional, cross cultural teams. His past roles include Senior Director of Operations at Pollo Campero, Vice President of Franchise Development & Supply Chain at MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, Vice President of Supply Chain at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and currently the Chief Operating Officer at Layne’s Chicken Fingers.

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