March 24-26, 2024 | Kansas City, MO — Early Bird registration ends Feb. 23. Register Now

SPEAKERS

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS


Dustin Portillo
Speaker / Author
At 19, Dustin Portillo's childhood dream came true when he joined the world-renowned Ringling Bros. Circus as a professional clown. For seven years and 3,500 shows, he entertained over 35 million people across North America. McDonald's, recognizing his exceptional talents, hired him to portray Ronald McDonald, where he made numerous appearances, including at The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. His role as Ronald McDonald eventually led to a community relations executive position at Caspers Company, a successful McDonald's franchise. Now, as a full-time speaker, Dustin brings his sense of humor and inspiring messages back to the center stage.


PANELISTS & MODERATORS


Bob Andersen
President | The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill
Bob Andersen is highly regarded as a restaurant industry leader with a successful track record in growing emerging restaurant brands. He has developed a unique and diverse perspective in all aspects of the restaurant business. His experience spans C-level and senior executive positions; to launching a restaurant start-up; to owning, developing, and operating restaurants as a multi-brand franchisee; and serving as an area developer/representative. Brands he has worked with include: Jimboy's Tacos, Sunny Street Cafe, Cowboy Chicken, Twin Peaks, MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, and Boston Pizza. At The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill, Bob is helping the brand carve out a niche in the "fine fast casual" space. The concept currently has over 45 locations in 17 states with 280+ units in its development pipeline.
Carl Bachmann
CEO | BurgerFi International, Inc.
Carl J. Bachmann is the Chief Executive Officer for BurgerFi International Inc., owner of leading fast-casual brand BurgerFi and the casual dining pizza brand Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Wings. Bachmann is an award-winning career restaurant professional with nearly 30 years of experience growing brands and helping them remain competitive. Throughout his career, he has served in various leadership roles for notable brands. Prior to joining BurgerFi International, Carl Bachmann served as CEO and President for Smashburger, the Denver-based chain that specializes in custom burgers. In this role, he retooled the entire organization including rebuilding the leadership team, bringing back high quality food products, redefining the real estate portfolio, launching new food safety, service and cleanliness and restaurant condition initiatives, and relaunching the brand with a new marketing team and direction. Under his leadership, Smashburger experienced four years of system-wide same store sales growth along with expansion of both the corporate and franchise footprint.
Jim Balis
Managing Director, Strategic Operations Group | CapitalSpring
Jim Balis joined CapitalSpring in 2014 where he serves as Managing Director and Head of the Strategic Operations Group. He has over 40 years of restaurant experience and has served as CEO for more than 19 restaurant companies. Jim is currently CEO of Sizzling Platter which is a 660 unit multi-branded franchisee business operating restaurants in the US and Internationally. Previously he served as CEO of Buddy’s Pizza (the originator of Detroit Style Pizza), Norms Restaurants (an iconic family dining brand), and many other restaurant companies. Jim also serves on the board of directors of more than 10 different restaurant and restaurant service companies, and as an advisor to other boards. Prior to joining CapitalSpring, Jim was Founder and President of the Restaurant Management Group, a boutique advisory firm specializing in the restaurant industry.
John Berberich
Vice President of EMEA & North America | Shake Shack
John Berberich, currently the Vice President of EMEA and North America at Shake Shack, is a distinguished executive with an impressive track record in global development and leadership. Under his strategic guidance, Shake Shack has rapidly expanded to over 18 countries across Asia, Europe and Latin America, and has become one of the fastest growing global quick-casual brands. John and his teams are defined by their hunger and curiosity for innovation and growth. While leading multiple functions, John has been able to coordinate and accelerate the digital customer journey for Shake Shack, focusing on omni-channel solutions for a diverse franchised environment. He has also championed new operating formats that push the frontier of the brand’s expression while balancing local market needs with inventive innovation. Previous to Shake Shack, John built and led Burger King’s first global procurement team. In an ever-evolving global business landscape, John stands as a visionary leader.
Jim Bitticks
President & COO | Dave's Hot Chicken
Jim Bitticks is the President and Chief Operating Officer for Dave’s Hot Chicken. He oversees the day-to-day operation of the company with direct oversight over operations, training, procurement, construction, and technology. Jim joined the Dave’s team when there were just four restaurants and has helped grow the brand to 150 locations across the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East. Prior to his current role, Jim was the Chief Restaurant Officer and EVP of Operations, Training, and Construction for Blaze Pizza, and oversaw the successful growth of that brand from two restaurants to three hundred seventy-two restaurants before making the move to Dave’s.
Jami Bond
VP of Franchise Development | Goodcents
Jami Bond, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goodcents. With an extensive background in restaurant marketing and franchise development, she loves helping entrepreneurs launch their own businesses, and she is very proud to work for a company that provides the support franchisees need to thrive. A graduate of Washburn University, Bond holds a degree in marketing and finance. She is a member of Chief, a private network built to drive more women into positions of power and keep them there.
Cherryh Cansler
Vice President of Events | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Events, Cherryh Cansler spent several years as VP of Editorial managing the Networld’s nine B2B publications. Throughout her 20-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.
Sara Carhart
Vice President of Operations | SPIN! Pizza
Sara Carhart is a seasoned professional with an impressive track record spanning over 25 years in the restaurant industry. Before holding the esteemed Vice President of Operations role at SPIN! Pizza, she spent several years opening franchise locations for the company. In her role, Sara Carhart stands as an embodiment of operational excellence with authentic, people-centric leadership. Her leadership revolves around empowerment. Sara’s career is characterized by her dedication to people and resolute commitment to nurturing their growth and achieving success. Her passion for her craft extends well beyond culinary arts and business strategies; it resides in the authentic connections she forges with individuals, both within her organization and beyond its borders. Firmly rooted in her belief that people are the cornerstone of any venture, Sara has dedicated herself to positively impacting the lives she encounters.
Tom Carr
Chief Marketing Officer | Chicken Salad Chick
Tom Carr is the Chief Marketing Officer for Chicken Salad Chick. He has brought to the Chick Family nearly 30 years of experience as a strategic, creative, and innovative marketing executive across a diverse range of industries. This includes entertainment, apparel, restaurants, consumer products, and media. He was twice named “marketer of the year” within the cable television industry. Tom hails from New Orleans, a city whose culture he credits for his unique take on brand storytelling.
Nathan Casey
VP of Digital Marketing, Engagement & Experiences | IHOP
Nathan Casey is the Vice President of Digital Marketing, Engagement and Experiences at IHOP. For the past three years, Nathan has led digital customer experience, digital transformation and growth marketing for IHOP by developing a modern marketing function that utilizes customer data, new platforms, technologies, and digital channels to deliver on the KPIs of the business. In 2022, Nathan oversaw the launch of IHOP’s first loyalty program, The International Bank of Pancakes, as well as the launch of a new website and app that elevates the guest’s online ordering experience. A marketing leader rooted in CRM, customer experience, and performance marketing strategies, Nathan has extensive experience in concepting, initiating and driving large-scale, data-driven marketing initiatives for leading companies such as Starbucks, Eddie Bauer and McDonald’s.
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.
Darden Coors
CEO | Salad Collective
David Daniels
Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer | Potbelly
David Daniels became Chief Marketing Officer in August 2021. Prior to joining Potbelly, David served as Senior Vice President of Marketing at The Food Hall Co. in Dallas, Texas. He has spent more than 20 years as a marketing executive leading some of the world’s best-selling brands, delivering top- and bottom-line growth. He brings classic brand marketing experience in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) from Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, as well as restaurant experience from Pizza Hut and YUM! Brands, Inc. David holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Management and Marketing from Virginia Tech.
Jaydee Devine
Senior Content Architect | Contentful
Jaydee Devine, Senior Content Architect at Contentful, has been transforming content experiences for over a decade. She is a fierce advocate of leveraging content as a strategic business asset through people, process, and technology. In her role at the world's leading composable content platform, she helps customers unlock the potential of content by bridging the gap between content strategy and content management.
Lauran Driver
Head of Industry - Dining, Auto, Travel | TikTok
Alexis Eldridge
VP of Marketing | Angry Chickz
Rafik Farouk
Head of Global Business Development and Retail | 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.
Tom Foley
Founder | Indigo Group LLC
Tom Foley is T2D Concepts’ creator in the boardroom overseeing business strategy and operations for the purpose-driven hospitality group, which operates Roots Southern Table, Roots Chicken Shak, and Radici (opening early 2024). T2D’s the mission is to provide great food, great service, great conversation, and great impact; and ultimately to bridge the gender and racial wealth gap in the hospitality industry through the power of good food and meaningful dialogue around the table. Tom aims to achieve this goal through an innovative franchising model that will expand the Roots Chicken Shak footprint, deliver consistent chef-driven food, and provide incentives and opportunities for minorities to operate their own franchise. Tom started his career practicing law in New York, handling large civil litigation, mergers, acquisitions, and real estate matters. After actively practicing law for 15+ years, Tom transitioned to explore social impact business opportunities and founded Indigo Group on the belief that businesses must drive social impact.
Scott Ford
President & Co-CEO | Hawaiian Bros Island Grill
Scott Ford, as President & Co-CEO of Hawaiian Bros Island Grill, possesses a rich three-decade background in the food service sector. His expertise in supply chain optimization, operational design, and brand management speaks to his dedication to the industry. At the core of Hawaiian Bros’ success lies Ford’s ability to assemble and lead a talented team, adeptly navigating the brand through the challenges of the fast-casual restaurant market. Prior to spearheading initiatives at Hawaiian Bros, Ford demonstrated his industry acumen as a principal at DKA Services LLC in Kansas City. Moreover, his leadership at Mr. Goodcents Franchise Systems, Inc., where he ascended to the role of president and CEO, solidifies his standing as an industry stalwart. With Ford's consistent emphasis on experience and teamwork, Hawaiian Bros is confidently positioned for enduring success and continued growth in the ever-evolving restaurant landscape.
Nate Fowler
President | Long John Silver's
Nate Fowler, president of Long John Silver’s, LLC, possesses more than two decades of experience in finance, including positions with Pinnacle Financial Partners, U.S. Bank and Merrill Lynch. In his current role, Nate oversees the company’s overall vision, strategic direction, and expansion, most recently supporting Long John Silver’s global expansion through its maiden voyages to Indonesia and Malaysia. A key part of his position is delivering on the brand’s core values, bringing bell-ringing quality, service and value to those from sea to sea. Looking to the future, Nate is excited to revitalize the beloved brand’s presence and connect with a new generation of fans.
Yaron Goldman
CEO | Rib and Chop House
Yaron Goldman is the CEO of Finally Restaurant Group (FRG), the parent company of the popular Midwestern chain Rib & Chop House, as well as Baton Rouge’s legendary rib joint, TJ Ribs. Goldman joined FRG in September 2020 following a 20+ year career as a multi-unit franchisee of brands including McAlister’s Deli, Sonic Drive-In, MOD Pizza and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. Goldman brings deep experience in not only the finer operational details of restaurant management, but also the big picture business strategies required to navigate the highly competitive full-service restaurant category. At FRG, Goldman has brought a keen vision for building an internal culture as a source for brand growth, aligning the company’s core values with the guest experience, to create memorable dining adventures where excellent food is just the beginning.
Jose Gonzalez
VP Sales | Datawrkz
Jose Gonzalez is a seasoned business professional with long experience in numerous business domains. From managing and performing consulting work for a software company, spearheading integrated marketing teams at large international ad agencies to launching beverage brands, Jose has done it all. He brings expertise in using empirical data, modeling and consumer insights to help businesses solve problems and transform their growth trajectories. Jose has always been deeply passionate about the field of advertising technology, and as the head of sales for Datawrkz in North America, he works closely with organizations of all sizes across the US to help them define and execute ambitious advertising campaigns that deliver incredible outcomes and returns.
Tom Gordon
Co-Founder & CEO | Slim Chickens
Co-founder and CEO of Slim Chickens, Tom Gordon is the driving leader behind the brand. Apart from other brands that release large growth numbers, Slim Chickens stands out because of its foundation of systems and processes. By developing successful, multi-unit franchisees within the system who are just as passionate about Slim Chickens, Tom Gordon specializes in partnering with them by hosting the best franchise support team in the industry. His expertise lies in hiring the most passionate, highly qualified executive and corporate teams existing in their field of expertise. Furthermore, a proud horned frog from the South, he has built a leadership style and foundation that is second to none.
Natalie Green
Chief Operating Officer | Nékter Juice Bar
As Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Nékter Juice Bar, Natalie Green is a proven and results-focused professional driving operational excellence and steady company growth. Her keen and strategic vision coupled with a collaborative and hands-on leadership style has helped propel Nékter Juice Bar’s leadership position within the juice bar category. Today, Nékter Juice Bar has more than 330 locations open or in development. Natalie is a key voice in all essential facets of the company including operations, supply chain optimization, menu development, franchising sales and development, marketing, and human relations. Natalie joined Nékter Juice Bar in 2011 as controller building and leading the company’s in-house accounting team, and later was promoted to senior vice president of business operations. Before Nékter Juice Bar, Natalie served as an Account Manager for Costa Mesa-based Pacific Restaurant Advisors.
Beto Guajardo
CEO | Blaze Pizza
Beto Guajardo currently holds the position of President and CEO at Blaze Pizza. His career includes significant roles across various companies such as Focus Brands, Starbucks, Levi Strauss & Co., and McKinsey. He is recognized for his contributions to the growth and development of global foodservice brands, with a particular emphasis on incorporating technology and innovation. In his current role, he focuses on enhancing the fast-casual dining experience, driving growth, and prioritizing personalized customer service. Guajardo's professional journey reflects a combination of strategic foresight and operational proficiency, contributing notably to the foodservice and franchising sectors.
Brad Haley
CMO | Dave's Hot Chicken
Brad Haley has been CMO for Dave’s Hot Chicken since 12/22 after consulting for the brand the previous year. In his role as CMO, Brad is responsible for all aspects of marketing, advertising, guest insights, and PR for the almost 200-unit chain. Prior to joining Dave’s, Brad served as CMO for IHOP, where he most notably led the IHOb (International House of Burgers) activation that generated global attention for the brand. His earlier career included marketing leadership roles at CKE (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants) and Jack in the Box. Brad has been named one of the top 50 Power Players in the communications field by PRWeek, one of the 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur Magazine, and one of the Adweek 50, celebrating innovative leaders for blazing new trails and achieving the best results.
Craig Haley
President | Smokey Mo’s TX BBQ
As president of Smokey Mo’s TX BBQ, Craig Haley leads using his expertise in operations management, customer service, team building and quality control. Before transitioning to his role at Smokey Mo’s, Craig served as the chief operating officer at K&N management, where he was in charge of operations for Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries and Shakes and several Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q franchises. Before beginning his career in the restaurant industry, Craig attended Texas A&M University. In his free time, he likes to spend time outdoors and travel with his wife and four kids.
Josh Halpern
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.
Geoff Henry
President of the Americas | Gong cha
Geoff Henry is a seasoned executive with over 20 years of experience leading many of the world’s most recognized consumer brands, including Jamba, Coca-Cola, Dasani, Dunkin’ bottled coffee, and Gold Peak and Honest teas. Geoff joined Gong cha in 2023 as President of the Americas region. Under his leadership, Gong cha grew its U.S. store count by 19% YOY, and was ranked #1 in Tea on Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500® list. Prior to joining Gong cha, Geoff was President of Jamba, and a senior executive with Coca-Cola for twelve years, where he oversaw their portfolio of water, tea, and coffee brands.
Lovell Holloway
General Manager | Kansas City International Airport
Troy Hooper
CEO | Hot Palette Holdings
Troy Hooper joined Pepper Lunch as one of the three global business unit CEO’s for the brand, and oversees Pepper Lunch’s parent company in North America, Hot Palette America. Troy brings 30 years of unparalleled experience in hospitality, operations management and executive leadership to this role, which has fueled Pepper Lunch’s infrastructure development, growth efforts, and brand deliverables, creating a fruitful franchise model for the North American market. Throughout his career, Troy has successfully built new concepts, rebranded existing restaurants, and improved well-established venues for iconic brands. Troy’s decades of experience and business acumen brings a breadth of knowledge to the rapidly growing global brand, Pepper Lunch.
R.J. Hottovy
Head of Analytical Research | Placer.ai
R.J. Hottovy, CFA is Head of Analytical Research for Placer.ai. He has covered the restaurant, retail, and e-commerce sectors for nearly 20 years. He has held several analyst positions in the past, including Global Consumer Equity Strategist at Morningstar and equity analyst roles at William Blair & Co. and Deutsche Bank. Hottovy also brings a wealth of experience with early-stage investments as an investor and member of the investment committee for the IrishAngels Venture Capital group. He has worked with more than 100 early-stage consumer and technology companies, advising on more than $200 million in capital raises and other buy- and sell-side M&A transactions. Hottovy is also a member of the Chicago Seed Co. network, a group of Chicago-area investors focused on early-stage food & beverage companies. Hottovy's efforts have been recognized by several financial and trade publications, including CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Barron's, BusinessWeek, and Forbes.
Christine Johnson
Chief Operating Officer | Le Duff America
Christine Johnson serves as Chief Operating Officer for Le Duff America (LDA). LDA is a Dallas-based subsidiary of Groupe Le Duff, an international bakery conglomerate. Le Duff America operates multiple restaurant concepts in the U.S. and Canada, including la Madeleine French Bakery & Café, Brioche Dorée, and Au Pain Doré. Ms. Johnson is accountable for business leadership, project delivery, client relations and delivering profit contributions consistent with global business targets. Furthermore, she bears the responsibility for continuing to develop the operational capability and leadership team to support business growth for the restaurant brands. Under Ms. Johnson’s leadership, despite inflation and skyrocketing cost of goods and labor, la Madeleine delivered a record performance in 2022. Prior to this role, Ms. Johnson served as Chief Administrative Officer, providing oversight to the human resources and legal departments.
Stacey Kane
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer
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 has been named a Top 20 Movers and Shakers by Fast Casual Magazine five times. Her passion is leading emerging brands as they scale for growth. Currently, Stacey is a fractional CMO for several fast casual brands including Fresh Baguette, Garden Catering, HCK Hot Chicken, Mahana Fresh and Mamoun's Falafel. Kane is passionate about the industry. She has been a National Pro-Start Judge for 3 years and after serving as a consultant, she was asked to sit on the board of CORE:Children of Restaurant Employees in 2022. CORE’s mission is to provide short-term financial relief to food and beverage service employees with children when navigating a qualifying circumstance.
Abhinav Kapur
Co-Founder & CEO | Bikky
Abhinav Kapur is the co-founder and CEO of Bikky, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) built exclusively for multi-unit restaurants. Bikky integrates across all in-store and off-premise channels to help brands understand how marketing, menu, and operational decisions impact guest frequency and lifetime value. This empowers everyone from the C-Suite to the marketing team to make better, data-driven decisions across the guest experience. Bikky powers data-based decisions for brands like MOD Pizza, Dave's Hot Chicken, SPB Hospitality, Krystal, and Eggs Up Grill, and thousands of other locations across the U.S.
Prakash Karamchandani
Co-Founder | Balance Pan-Asian Grille
Prakash Karamchandani is a self-proclaimed foodie and technology junkie who co-founded Balance Pan-Asian Grille, a nationally-acclaimed fast-casual Asian fusion multi-unit concept based in Ohio. Since starting the venture in 2010, Prakash has been recognized as a Top 24 Fast Casual Executive and a 20 Under 40 recipient. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and met his company’s co-founder. Prakash is a proud husband and father of two.
Josh Kern
CEO | SPB Hospitality
Josh Kern is Chief Executive Officer of SPB Hospitality, a leading operator and franchisor of full-service dining restaurants, spanning a national footprint of hundreds of restaurants and breweries in 39 states and the District of Columbia. He is a passionate leader with a track record of creating powerful and high-performing marketing and business teams across a variety of brands and channels. He is a decisive and skilled leader, exceptional innovator, and brand builder. Josh served as the President of Concepts of SPB Hospitality, overseeing marketing, culinary, beverage, supply chain, and information technology. He has previously held leadership positions with several successful restaurant groups including Quiznos, American Blue-Ribbon Holdings, Smashburger, and Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts.
Brian Kim
Chief Commercial Officer | DSA Signage
Brian Kim is the Chief Commercial Officer at DSA Signage, a leading manufacturer of illuminated static and digital signage solutions. Brian is an accomplished leader with extensive experience executing transformational growth across diverse industry sectors. Brian joined DSA with vast experience in Private Equity, Fast Casual Restaurants and Health Care. Prior to joining DSA, Brian was Vice President of Finance & Strategy at InterDent, a Dental Service Organization (DSO) with 175+ dental practices under management across the West Coast. At InterDent, Brian led the organization’s strategic financial objectives and supported expansion through M&A and organic growth initiatives. Brian also spent several years at Chipotle, where he led strategic planning, corporate development, M&A and international expansion initiatives. Brian strategically implemented cross-functional stage gate processes to support the launch of several digital transformation initiatives across Chipotle’s restaurants nationally.
Frank Klein
Founder & CEO | Post Road Hospitality
Frank Klein founded multi-unit Asian Box, a fine-casual lifestyle brand with stores and airport locations throughout California. Frank is now founder and CEO of Post Road Hospitality, a parent company for emerging food and beverage brands. Frank leads the innovation for multiple food brands including Skull City Taquitos, currently expanding in the Northeastern U.S. Post Road also released Fairfields, a classic dry rum and a soon to be released Skull City Mexican-style lager. Frank’s focus includes exceeding hospitality at all touch points and creating a seamless “tech encounter” of the best kind with consumers.
Jennifer Wrenn Klein
Catering & Events Director | FUKU and Bluestone Lane
Jennifer Wrenn Klein is the Catering and Events Director of two uniquely innovative brands FUKU and Bluestone Lane. Both brands are part of the RSE Ventures family. Jennifer developed and successfully implemented the catering and events programs at FUKU and Bluestone Lane. From menu innovation, sales development, operations communication, accounting reconciliation and marketing collaboration she touches every part of the Business. She sees herself as “air traffic control” overseasing 7 in store markets, offsite events and managing valuable brand partnerships. In 2023 and 2024 she collaborated on partnerships with Apple Music, Alo Yoga, New York Fashion Week, IMG Worldwide Inc, the NBA and Blackrock. She is a sales focused leader that places high esteem on her operations and marketing partners. Previously she spearheaded the events and catering departments at Van Leeuwen Ice cream and Aurify brands.
Eric Knott
Chief Operating Officer | PDQ Restaurants
Eric Knott is a restaurant executive with a proven track record built upon operational excellence, driving revenues with favorable returns, and a passion for developing best in class teams. Currently leading the fast casual brand People Dedicated to Quality (PDQ) as the Chief Operating Office, Eric has committed over a decade to driving strategic growth across the business. Understanding the importance of a holistic vision, Eric is directly responsible for producing results through a vast array of incentives. Innovation across Operations, Technology, Real-Estate, and Marketing campaigns are a few examples of how Eric has created superior value to the organization.
Marielle Kokos
Head of Sales and Partnerships | Lineup.ai
Marielle is the Head of Sales and Partnerships at Lineup.ai, helping restaurants take control of two of their biggest expenses: labor and food costs. Previous to her time there, she was leading new business sales at Glassdoor and headed up the Restaurant Success team Grubhub. Marielle has 18+ years experience leading successful sales and customer success teams in the tech industry. She's passionate about working with small and medium sized businesses to help them find the right technology solutions to increase their success. Marielle has resided in Chicago for the last 17 years where she enjoys all the amazing restaurants the city has to offer and watching the sports teams try real hard to win.
Andy Korbak
VP of Sales | Instant Financial
Andy Korbak is a seasoned veteran in the payments and hospitality space, having spent years working the front lines at various restaurants in the early stages of his career, and he now is fortunate to help guide his clients through the nuances of the hospitality payments and employee benefits space. Andy graduated from Rutgers University, and as his career has evolved he has worked with large brands such as Adecco, Tractor Supply Company, Big Lots, Herman Miller and more. He’s a resident of the Upper West Side in NY, where he and his family call home.
Jessica Leyva
Director of Marketing | Another Broken Egg Cafe
Jessica Leyva is an insights and results-driven leader with more than a decade of extensive experience in brand positioning and marketing strategy and activation. She currently serves as the Director of Marketing for Another Broken Egg Cafe, a nearly 100-unit upscale breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant concept, where she is working to drive increased guest counts, frequency and higher check average for the brand. In addition to Another Broken Egg Cafe, Jessica’s marketing background includes serving as the Associate Brand Manager for Yard House (Darden Restaurants) and several years working on branding and promotional strategies for restaurant brands such as Sonny’s BBQ, Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings and Tijuana Flats on the agency side.
Steve Lieber
VP of Franchise Development | BurgerFi
Steve Lieber is a respected figure in the restaurant industry, celebrated for his expertise in restaurant concept design and successful operations. A certified pizzaiolo from Italy, he earned the title of Best Pizza in the USA in 2009. Currently, as Vice President of Franchise Development at BURGERFI International, he represents both the BURGERFI and Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza & Wings brands. Steve has led his team to sell over 150 franchises to 50+ groups, spanning 20+ states and international markets like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. His commitment extends to mentoring franchisees and boosting local store marketing strategies for profitability.
Desmond Lim
Co-Founder & CEO | Workstream
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, a mobile-first hiring and onboarding platform for the hourly workforce. He is a Harvard University and MIT Media Lab graduate, a former Product Manager at WeChat, and an investor at Dorm Room Fund. He contributes to Entrepreneur.com, Workstream Blog, and Huffington Post. He splits his time between San Francisco and Utah, and represented the Singapore National Team in basketball.
Jill Marchick
VP, Consumer Insights & Business Analytics | Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar
Jill Marchick passionately pursues the art and science of decoding consumer behavior. She uses her skills to achieve strategic growth and profitability goals for multinational companies in diverse global markets and has supported some of the world’s most loved brands, including Starbucks, Hershey, and Applebee’s. Jill joined Applebee’s in 2021 as the Vice President of Consumer Insights & Business Analytics. With her leadership, her team focuses on understanding guest behavior and translating the learning into forging paths for growth. The insights and knowledge her team uncovers is vital in supporting data-driven decision-making at the brand level. Prior to joining Applebee’s, Jill led Consumer Insights at Pacers Sports & Entertainment and at Aramark Corporation. There she pioneered new research methodologies, strengthened, and streamlined vendor partnerships, and brought the consumer into all aspects of the business to increase engagement and sales.
Ryan Maybee
Co-Founder & Managing Director | J. Rieger & Co.
As a lifelong bartender, restaurateur, certified sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the society of Wine Educators, Ryan Maybee, co-founder of J. Rieger & Co., is a veteran when it comes to wine, spirits and mixology. It was at Manifesto—located in the basement of the Rieger Hotel—where Maybee became fascinated by the history of the building and he discovered its connection to the historic J. Rieger & Co. distillery, originally founded in 1887. From that point on, he was set on ensuring it was resurrected. After meeting Andy Rieger at the opening of The Rieger in 2010, Maybee and Rieger started putting together a plan to bring back the old distillery. In 2014, the plan fully came to fruition and Maybee and Rieger successfully relaunched the brand with the release of Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey. As co-founder of J. Rieger & Co., Maybee has played a crucial role in reviving the brand and gaining national prestige.
Rob McColgan
Co-Founder & CEO | Modern Restaurant Concepts
Rob McColgan is the Brand President of Modern Market Eatery and Co-founder of Modern Restaurant Concepts. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from The University of Notre Dame in 2002 with degrees in Finance and Film and then spent six years in New York with Goldman Sachs. Rob left Wall Street in 2008 to co-found Modern Market Eatery, a restaurant company focused on serving healthy fare in a fast casual setting. Since opening its first location in Boulder, Colorado in late 2009, Modern Market Eatery has grown to 30 locations around the country. In early 2019, Modern Market Eatery partnered with Lemonade Restaurant Group to form Modern Restaurant Concepts. In 2022, Qdoba Mexican Eats was added to the MRC portfolio which now encompasses almost 800 restaurants. Rob lives with his wife, son, daughter, and dog Bacon in Englewood, Colorado.
George McLaughlin
Founder | Vicious Biscuit
George McLaughlin began his professional career working in a small, family-owned restaurant called McAlister’s Deli, while a student at the University of Mississippi. An astute observer of the restaurant’s popularity, he recognized the potential for growing the concept into something bigger than a single, though wildly popular location. After graduation, George stayed with the company, relocating to Jackson, MS where he played an instrumental role in creating the franchise division of McAlister’s Deli. After training numerous franchisees, George grabbed a greater stake in the company by becoming the first McAlister’s Deli employee to become a franchisee. Under his company name MAC Restaurant Corp., George opened his first franchise location in Columbia, SC. With this initial success under his belt, he developed 16 additional locations of McAlister’s Deli over the next decade. Concurrently, he also owned and operated three Italian Pie restaurants in South Carolina.
Sam Mendal
Director of Purchasing | Bartaco
Sam Mendal is Director of Purchasing for bartaco Restaurants, a multi-unit restaurant group with 30 locations across 14 states. He has been an employee of the bartaco group for over 10 years, beginning his career in the restaurants themselves. Sam was born and raised in West Hartford, CT and is a graduate of Quinnipiac University. He is currently overseeing all supply chain and procurement duties for the enterprise.
Priya Monga
GM Emerging Business | Instacart Business
Priya Monga is a GM at Instacart Business leading the GTM Strategy for Instacart Business, a service from Instacart built to help restaurants get the ingredients and supplies that they need delivered the same-day. The team at Instacart Business work with restaurants of all sizes to help them streamline their ordering processes and save them time and money by not sending their employees out of their stores to pick up missing ingredients. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and puppy named Gobi and when she's not working with restaurants, she's exploring the restaurant scene in the Bay Area!
Janet Monroe
CEO | ClusterTruck
Janet Monroe's leadership at ClusterTruck is underscored by a strategic approach that combines legal acumen with business savvy, honing the company's competitive edge. As CEO, Monroe has steered the company's strategic direction towards innovation in the food delivery industry. Her tenure is marked by a commitment to driving efficiency, fostering strategic growth, boosting community presence, and tackling new challenges head-on. Under Monroe's guidance, ClusterTruck has taken its first steps into franchising. A reflection of her calculated and thoughtful leadership style, this endeavor is aimed at amplifying ClusterTruck’s innovative model across new markets while maintaining the company's core values of efficiency and superior service. Monroe's dedication to scaling the business thoughtfully ensures that each new franchise upholds the high standards that have become synonymous with the ClusterTruck brand, reinforcing its role in shaping the future of food delivery.
Glenn Moon
Vice President, U.S. Development | Moxies
Glenn Moon joined the Moxies team in January 2023 where he serves as Vice President, U.S. Development. Moon’s path to franchise development began with an interest and proclivity for real estate which eventually earned him notice from Choice Hotels International in 2004. Throughout his career he has had the opportunity to work with hospitality and food & beverage concepts across the United States, allowing him to marry his background of real estate and sales to spearhead franchise development and growth. Most recently, before joining Moxies, Moon served as Vice President of Development for Twin Peaks Restaurants from February 2021-January 2023. In this role, Moon added 47 new opportunities in less than two years to the Twin Peaks domestic pipeline.
Kevin Moran
Chief Development Officer | Blaze Pizza
Joining Blaze Pizza with an impressive portfolio of over two decades in financial planning and accounting, Kevin Moran has a history of steering development teams towards outstanding performance through the alignment of fiscal goals with comprehensive strategies. Prior to his current role, Moran held the position of Vice President of Strategic Development at Focus Brands International, where he excelled in driving strategic development for the global franchisor and operator of over 6,600 restaurants. As CDO at Blaze, Moran will apply his seasoned expertise to nurture strategic alliances and accelerate the brand's global growth trajectory.
Rachael Nemeth
CEO & Co-Founder | Opus Training
Rachael Nemeth, CEO and Co-Founder of Opus, is a multifaceted leader in the res-tech space. With a career spanning several decades, she has made an impact not only as a business professional but also as a public speaker and educator. Opus, revolutionizes learning and engagement for the "deskless" workforce in the restaurant industry. Her journey features work at renowned establishments like Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, Baked, and Hot Bread Kitchen, an NGO empowering underrepresented women through baking skills. Beyond her corporate roles, Rachael's influence extends into the education sphere, where she has championed instructional design and second language acquisition. Her first company, ESL Works, brought industry-relevant English training to kitchen staff via SMS text message. Widely respected in the res-tech space, Rachael is a public speaker, sharing her insights and expertise as a tech leader, restaurant veteran, and educator.
Neil Newcomb
CEO | Kelly’s Roast Beef Franchising
With an extensive business background, Neil Newcomb entered the restaurant industry early in his career. After graduating from Southern Methodist University, he was interested in pursuing a career in the restaurant industry and started a deli restaurant in Mississippi with his father, brother, and colleague, Debra Bryson. The team initiated their concept in an abandoned gas station in Oxford and grew the brand to new heights, which is now known today as McAlister’s Deli. After growing the brand to over 200 units, the leadership team and Newcomb sold the brand but was able to find his calling. He then became involved with the then up-and-coming Brixx Pizza, where he formed a partnership to franchise the brand and was the President of Brixx Franchise Systems, LLC. Newcomb was then introduced to Kelly’s Roast Beef, where he immediately loved the brand’s high level of quality and service. He believed he could take the brand to the next level with his experience in the franchising space.
Nico Nieto
Chief Marketing Officer | Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill
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.”
James O'Reilly
CEO | Ascent Hospitality
James O’Reilly is the CEO of Ascent Hospitality Management, the parent company of Perkins Restaurant & Bakery and Huddle House. James is embarking on an aggressive growth plan, investing in people, technology, and restaurant development. Prior to Ascent Hospitality Management, James served as the President & CEO of Smokey Bones after four years as the President and CEO of Long John Silver’s, America’s leading seafood QSR brand. While at LJS James led significant business and cultural improvements, being named “Turnaround Man” by the Louisville Courier Journal and earning three consecutive “Best Places to Work in Kentucky” awards from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Prior to joining LJS as CEO, James held brand leadership positions in some of America’s leading restaurant brands, including Sonic Drive-in (Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Brand Officer), and KFC US (Chief Marketing Officer). James spent many years as a marketing leader outside the U.S., as CMO of KFC Canada, Pizza Hut United Kingdom, and KFC/Pizza Hut Caribbean & Latin America.
Andrew Pudalov
Founder & CEO | Rush Bowls
After 15 years of working his way up through the competitive ranks of NYC’s financial sector, Andrew Pudalov made a conscientious decision to leave his most recent position as Global Head of Fixed Income Derivative Trading at National Australia Bank to pursue an interest he felt was a virtue of higher importance. While he worked his entire adult life for a number of prestigious financial institutions to achieve an expertise in institutional fixed income derivative trading, he simply felt it time to gratify another more altruistic ambition he had always held. Andrew founded Boulder’s University Hill District’s first all-natural bowl/smoothie bar in the fall of 2004, providing a healthy alternative to the common “Hill” fare. After enormous success, Andrew launched a line of frozen grab-n-go bowls soon to meet the ever-mounting demand. Today, he operates Rush Bowls retail, wholesaling, and franchising with over 100 stores in various stages of development throughout the US.
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.
Sam Rothschild
COO | Slim Chickens
Joining the Slim Chickens team in October of 2013. Sam Rothschild is a knowledgeable restaurant professional who has achieved superior results within company and franchise-owned locations around the world. A Johnson and Wales culinary graduate, he embarked on his career by owning his own restaurants in his early twenties before hitting his growth spurt into the big brand arena with Metromedia Group. He spent 13 years with Bennigan’s as the Regional Vice President of International Operations. From there, Rothschild went on to become the Senior Vice President at Applebee’s and Dine Equity heading up the operations and franchise development teams managing over 2000 locations. He eventually left Dine to partner with Tom and Greg to help mature and cultivate the Slim Chickens brand. Furthermore, Rothschild has had a hand in pioneering the franchise opportunity and its unique and advanced systems that continue to surpass record barriers.
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 FastCasual.com and Entrepreneur.com 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.
Shokouh Shafiei
President/CEO | DSA Signage
Shokouh Shafiei is a seasoned executive with 20 years of diverse leadership experience in Heavy Industrial Manufacturing. Her expertise expands across Engineering, Operations and Supply Chain. Her focus on Turnaround & Restructuring allows her to identify growth opportunities and develop highly profitable businesses that operate to their fullest potential.
Max Sheets
Founder & CEO | Chick N Max
No stranger to the restaurant industry, Max Sheets got his start as a teenager scraping cheese off pans in a Pizza Hut kitchen. In the early 2000s – after having already spent 23 years in real estate and development for such brands as Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Smashburger and Ted’s Montana Grill – he began mulling over the idea of a franchise concept that would accommodate the ever growing movement towards red meat alternatives. In 2017, he founded Chick N Max, a next generation fast casual franchise specializing in almond wood smoked chicken and wings, chef-crafted sandwiches and golden fried tenders.
Andrew Simmons
CEO | Mamma Ramona's Pizzeria
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.
James Sura
SVP, Sales | TouchTunes
Jamie Sura is the Senior Vice President of Sales at TouchTunes, a leading innovator in interactive entertainment and music experiences. During his 15-year tenure at TouchTunes, Jamie has been instrumental in steering the company through significant milestones and exponential growth. Under Jamie’s strategic sales leadership, TouchTunes has expanded its reach from 35,000 to 65,000 venues, marking an era of unprecedented growth and reinforcing our mission to transform the way people engage with music. Jamie's expertise in channel management and strategic sales initiatives has not only driven continuous revenue growth but also solidified TouchTunes' position as a pivotal force in enhancing music experiences in diverse settings.
Tommi Tervanen
CEO | The European Pizza Company
Anand Tumuluru
CEO & Co-Founder | Loop
Anand Tumuluru is the CEO and co-founder of Loop, a SaaS co-pilot for delivery profitability helping 1000s of locations across the nation's top brands like Dave's Hot Chicken, Freddy's and Mo'Bettahs. Over the past decade, he wore several hats as a restaurateur, AI researcher and was most recently at Uber witnessing the growth of delivery. He believes that the future of food is going to be shaped heavily by data driven insights on consumer behaviour and an AI based co-pilot for operators to take control of everything from guest experience to finances.
Chad Urice
EVP Chief Strategy Officer | USIM
Chad is a seasoned professional with 25+ years of experience leading strategic planning and client services to propel businesses forward in highly competitive verticals and marketplaces. He is instrumental in managing and evolving USIM's overall media strategy, supporting client management, and identifying growth across verticals – QSR, retail, travel and tourism, education, healthcare, and entertainment.
Peter Vogel
Chief Revenue Officer | vPromos
As CRO of vPromos Peter Vogel manages all existing enterprise-level clients, in addition to leading sales efforts to secure additional Tier 1 and 2 clients specifically in the retail and restaurant industry. Peter is a serial entrepreneur with sales and business development expertise, having co-founded several companies in the fin-tech/loyalty and marketing space. Peter was on the founding team that built Empyr, one of the first card-linked offer platforms, acquired by Chase. In addition Peter founded the world’s first-ever Facebook Credits Loyalty Program, Plink, also utilizing card-linked tracking. Most recently, Peter co-founded Leafwire, the ‘Linkedin of Cannabis’, which quickly grew to become the largest business network in cannabis. Peter has been a thought leader across several industries and has been published in TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Entrepreneur.com, among others in addition to speaking at numerous conferences across the globe.
Ryan Weaver
CEO | Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken
Ryan Weaver is the Chief Executive Officer of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, a fast-casual dining franchise specializing in chicken, homestyle side dishes, and freshly made biscuits, based in Shalimar, Florida. Weaver's experience spans diverse sectors, including tech and consulting, and has demonstrated an ability to navigate complex challenges and steer companies toward growth. Weaver was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken in June 2021. Since taking over the role, his visionary approach has transformed the brand, including the launch of a complete brand refresh in 2023. Under his stewardship, Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken has been named the Best Fast Food Fried Chicken by USA Today, reconnected with its original franchisee base and expanded its market presence. Weaver began his journey in the corporate world as a consultant with international business firm FTI Consulting, where he consulted for the Telecom, Media, & Technology (TMT) Group, specializing in Corporate Finance and Restructuring.
David Wentworth
Vice President, Learning & Talent Development Platform Evangelist | Schoox
David Wentworth is Vice President, Learning & Talent Development Platform Evangelist at Schoox. In his role, David develops and implements the company’s strategy to promote the strategic value of learning and development for organizations. David has more than a decade of knowledge of the HCM market, including a deep understanding of the workplace technology industry, with an emphasis on learning and development. David is a regular speaker at talent management and HR industry events and has authored numerous articles in learning publications.
Doug Willmarth
President | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes
Doug Willmarth is the President of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a growing 90-unit fast casual restaurant company where he is working to revitalize the brand and accelerate unit growth. Throughout his career, Doug has specialized in building iconic brands and creating sustainable sales growth in restaurants and consumer retail. In addition to MOOYAH, Doug’s restaurant experience includes roles as Chief Brand Officer for Mongolian Concepts, Chief Marketing Officer at Wingstop, and Director of National Marketing for Pizza Hut. Doug started his business career in CPG marketing at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, and served 9 years as a Naval Aviator.
Greg Wold
VP of Marketing | Toppers Pizza
On January 20, 2020, Greg’s oldest daughter ordered Toppers Buffalo Mac and Cheese pizza after she gave birth to Greg’s first grandchild (the wonderful Alana Grace). Having played a key role in building some of the most iconic restaurant brands on the planet (Jersey Mike’s, Jimmy John’s, and BWW), he knew in "that very moment" that Toppers was something special, that Toppers was a company that consumers across the country could connect to and become passionate about. On October 3, 2020, Greg became Vice President of Marketing for Toppers Pizza. Greg firmly believes that Toppers’ one-of-a-kind product puts big-chain pizza to shame and that consumers' love of that product will drive the growth of the brand from an emerging concept to a dominant concept within the QSR pizza category.


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