Founder & CEO | Smoke’s Poutinerie
Founder & CEO | Smoke’s Poutinerie
Ryan Smolkin is the Founder and Chief Executive Office of Smoke’s Poutinerie. After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1995, Ryan established AmoebaCorp, an internationally-recognized Graphic Design and Branding company with clients including Nike, Molson, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Corus Entertainment, YTV, Sims Snowboards and Nelvana. Ryan’s primary goal has always been to bring Canada’s National Iconic dish to the rest of the world in an original and unique way, and to ultimately achieve GLOBAL DOMINATION! With Ryan at the helm of Smoke’s Poutinerie, the franchise has been growing at an astoundingly fast pace. Currently, The World’s Largest & Original Poutinerie has over 150 stores across North America.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
CMO | Pieology
Speaker bio coming soon!
Managing Partner | Equicorp Partners, LLC
For more than 40 years, Frank Belatti has earned the reputation of being an indomitable corporate leader, most notably in the food and hospitality industry. His involvement with franchising giants Arby’s, Hospitality Franchise Systems, and AFC Enterprises, has provided for a wide array of brand-building experiences and the ability to provide long-term business opportunity for independent operators in more than 30 countries. Today, Frank’s business acumen and global vision are focused on Equicorp Partners, an Atlanta-based private investment and advisory partnership that he co-founded in 2005. As Managing Partner, he and his colleagues provide expertise to private equity firms and strategic partners, and oversee a portfolio of diverse investments.
VP, Technology | Freshii
Speaker bio coming soon!
CEO | Aloha Poke Co.
Chris Birkinshaw joined Aloha Poke Co. as CEO in 2018, bringing with him two decades of progressive leadership experience in the fast casual food and beverage industry. Aloha Poke Co. combines superfoods with super food vibes, operating in five major markets as a high-growth poke concept and emerging franchisor. Chris holds a BA from Northwestern University, and prior to assuming leadership of Aloha Poke, held management and executive roles in the areas of operations, franchising, and new unit development for Potbelly Sandwich Works and Starbucks Coffee Company.
Sr. Director, Restaurant Excellence | CKE Restaurants Holdings
As Senior Director of Ops Innovation at CKE Restaurants, Inc. (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Jacob Brewer leads the Operations team across commercialization, testing, packaging, equipment and labor to develop strategic, efficient solutions for CKE’s restaurants. Prior to joining CKE, Jacob was the business owner of the Food Service group at the Kroger Co., focusing on strategically bringing food service brands across the Kroger banners as well as improving labor efficiencies, customer experience and customer journey. He has additional in-depth experience in international QSR operations strategy, operations, sustainability, and innovation during a 7 year tenure with Yum! Brands.
Project Lead, Restaurant Design | Chick-fil-A
Sam Brewer leads initiative work for Restaurant Design Innovation at Chick-fil-A. Leaning on a background in Industrial Engineering and experience with General Electric Appliances and Disney Parks and Resorts, he is focused on designing new layouts, equipment and operations to meet the expectations of the Chick-fil-A’s future Guest. Recently leading program development and rollout of new equipment to support catering production, a front of house redesign to support fulfillment of mobile orders, and internal testing of revolutionary drive thru layouts. Sam is passionate about the restaurant industry and providing a remarkable and repeatable experience for every single Guest.
CMO | Garden Fresh Restaurants
Nicole Bushnell comes the to Garden Fresh team from Luna Grill restaurants, where she served as VP of marketing for the last four years. During her tenure, the chain grew from 18 to 51 locations in California and Texas and was responsible for all brand strategy, e-commerce and loyalty platforms, creative and content direction and product development. In her role as CMO at Garden Fresh, Nicole will lead all brand and marketing activities across the country, positioning the company for growth and category development opportunities.
CEO | Ordermark
Alex Canter is a restaurant industry innovator, in-demand speaker, and passionate advocate for restaurant operators and workers. He was raised in the kitchen of the world-famous Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, where he and his team invented Ordermark. A fourth-generation restaurateur, the restaurant business has been in Alex’s blood for over 85 years. In addition to being the visionary and leader of Ordermark, Alex is active with the Techstars network and enjoys mentoring other restaurant technology entrepreneurs. A 2019 recipient of the Forbes 30 Under 30, Alex has previously led several technology ventures.
Founder & CEO | Tin Drum Asian Kitchen
A 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Steven Chan brings the mind-spinning energy of Asian sidewalk eating to Atlanta with Tin Drum Asian Kitchen. His urban upbringing in Hong Kong inspired the pan-Asian restaurant concept that now has over 10 locations throughout the Atlanta area. As the company’s founder and CEO, Chan spearheads the vision for Tin Drum and serves as the chief designer of the brand. Steven champions the legend of the Tin Drummer, the tale of a young man who became an unsung hero of the community by the simple act of serving people and showing hard work alone can make a difference.
VP of Editorial | Networld Media Group
VP of Editorial | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group’s nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.
CEO | Partners + Napier
Speaker bio coming soon!
President | Schlotzsky’s
Beto Guajardo began his term as President of Schlotzsky’s in September 2019. Beto brings extensive global experience in corporate and brand strategy, new business development, mergers and acquisitions and organizational structure. Over the past three decades, his career has spanned a broad spectrum of industries, from management consulting, global retail, automotive, energy, consumer packaged goods, and media and entertainment. Beto joins FOCUS Brands from Starbucks Coffee, where he served as Senior Vice President, Global Strategy. Beto built the Global Strategy team that was responsible for developing the company’s five-year strategic plan and operated as a coordinating body, developing and implementing strategies to succeed corporate goals. His teams worked extensively on executing Starbucks Delivery.
President | McAlister’s Deli
With 20 years of experience in food service, consumer products and retail, Joe Guith has a passion for growing iconic brands that deliver superior experiences and value for guests and franchisees. In April 2018, he became the President of McAlister’s Deli, where he has been instrumental in positioning the brand for success. Under Joes’s leadership, McAlister’s Deli unveiled a complete brand evolution and restaurant redesign, which has propelled its ongoing growth in 27 states, with more than 450 units currently open and operating. Previously, he served as President of Cinnabon, Inc. and worked in general management and strategy with The Coca-Cola Company and Yum! Brands.
President | Middleby Ventless Solutions & Evo America
Scott Heim is President of Middleby Ventless Solutions and Evo America. In this position he leads the efforts of all the Middleby commercial brands with ventless cooking solutions. He is concentrating on educating designers, architects and customers on a variety of ventless concepts, especially focusing on ways to create pockets of F&B revenue in non-traditional locations and even in historical buildings. Scott joined Evo, Inc. in 2012, sparking the product development work in the griddle, plancha and cooktop segments. He directed the launch of the EVent ventless griddle in 2015. Prior to joining Evo, he created a consumer packaged goods firm which was successful in a competitive retail market.
President | Moe’s Southwest Grill
Erik Hess joined the Moe’s brand in August 2019 and will be leading as President of the Moe’s brand, a fast-casual Mexican concept with more than 725 operating units, where he will oversee franchise and company operations, marketing, supply chain and product innovation. Previously, Hess spent 25 years at McDonald’s Corporation in a wide variety of senior leadership positions responsible for product development, innovating the customer experience, strategy and insights, restaurant development among many other responsibilities. Erik has deep experience in the U.S., globally and in Asia. He brings a unique perspective to the brand with intimate knowledge of consumer behaviors while balancing the operational complexities present in a large franchised organization.
President & CEO | Lion’s Choice
Speaker bio coming soon!
VP of Training & Development | MOOYAH Burgers Fries and Shakes
Dennie Laney has dedicated her career to the restaurant and hospitality industries, serving individuals, teams, and organizations desiring to cultivate an environment of building trusting relationships, where authenticity and humility lay the foundation for outstanding results. Dennie has accomplished this by defining the internal people and performance strategies for both corporate and for operations teams, aligned to achieve bottom line success for performance, profitability and EBITDA achievement. Dennie has worked for iconic brands such as Brinker International, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and G6 Hospitality LLC (Motel 6 Studio 6). She elevates leadership excellence at all levels, with maximum results-orientation at the forefront.
Aziz Hashim Professor of Franchise Entrepreneurship | Georgia State University
Ben Lawrence is the Aziz Hashim endowed Professor in Franchise Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University. His research focuses on topics that intersect service operations and marketing with a particular interest in franchise relationships. Prior to joining GSU’s School of Hospitality, he was on the faculty at Cornell University where he was honored with the Hotel School Teacher of the Year Award for freshman core in 2013 and 2015. He currently serves as VP and Treasurer of the International Society of Franchising and VP of Programs for the POM College of Service Operations.
Founder | Press Waffle Co.
When Founder & President Bryan Lewis was traveling across Europe with his fiance in the summer of 2013, they encountered the Liege waffle for the first time. Upon returning to Dallas, they could not find them anywhere, so Bryan set out to do it on his own. With no culinary background, he tinkered in the kitchen for over a year before he had perfected the recipe. With a desire to share his waffles with everyone he knew (and more!), Press Waffle Co. was born. When Bryan’s brother, Caleb, moved home from college, they began dreaming and planning their business and after a successful Kickstarter Campaign, finally founded Press Waffle Co. as a food truck in 2016. Press Waffle Co. opened its first permanent storefront in late 2017 and now operates 3 company owned stores, with plans for more this year.
Founder & President | Waters Edge Wineries
After spending nearly 20 years in sales and marketing with a large software company, Ken Lineberger co-founded The Wine Tailor in Rancho Cucamonga along with his wife Angela in 2004. Ken saw an opportunity to take the best of what he had experienced in the corporate world to a small business model, envisioning a concept that allowed him to fulfill his passion for wine and food, and in a template, could be replicated in other venues across the United States. With the model perfected, Ken created Waters Edge Wineries as the franchise brand in 2012 and began selling winery franchises nationwide. He currently oversees all sales efforts.
Chief Partnerships Officer | Huddle, Inc.
Karl Mawhinney is Chief Partnerships Officer for Huddle, Inc where he oversees partnerships. Prior to Huddle, Karl was with the Harlem Globetrotters, where he was VP-Global Partnerships leading sponsorship sales, strategic partnerships and special programming. Karl brings over 20 years of property and agency experience. He has previous leadership roles at Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, Lagardere Unlimited, and over ten years in the college sports landscape, including ISP Sports.
VP of Marketing | Cousins Subs
Justin McCoy joined Cousins Subs in January 2006 as an entry-level marketing specialist and held several marketing positions before being named vice president in May 2013. He is responsible for managing advertising agency relationships, developing national promotion calendars, and creating system-wide strategic initiatives related to advertising, marketing and public relations. Justin brings over 13 years of restaurant industry experience to Cousins Subs as well as more than four years in public and media relations with the Milwaukee Bucks and several years in the finance industry. He also serves on the Cousins Make It Better Foundation and Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Board of Directors.
CEO | Chronic Tacos
Michael Mohammed is the Chief Executive Officer and President at Chronic Tacos Enterprises Inc. where he oversees the strategic vision of the fast-casual Mexican restaurant brand. Michael is extremely passionate about the Chronic Tacos brand, purpose and commitment to living the #tacolife. Encompassing authentic, 3rd generation recipes and the individuality of each customer, Chronic Tacos has established itself as a bold force in the restaurant industry. Michael has since led the development of Chronic Tacos into over 60 locations across the United States, Canada and Japan. Combining his business experience and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael continues to pilot the brand to success and rapid growth.
VP Menu Design & Development | Burgerville
Speaker bio coming soon!
CEO | Eggs Up Grill
Ricky Richardson was tapped to lead the breakfast, brunch and lunch concept in July 2018 after private investment firm WJ Partners acquired the brand. Under Ricky’s leadership, the brand has since grown to 36 open locations, 5 more set to open before the end of 2019 and 18 locations slated to open in 2020. He has led the development of the first company-owned and operated restaurant which opened in July 2019. Ricky has more than 35 years of industry experience across multi-unit and franchise operations. Prior to joining Eggs Up Grill, he served over 20 yrs. with TGI Friday’s, most recently as U.S. president and chief operating officer.
CEO | Asian Box
Mike Speck has significant experience in Operations, Training, HR, Business Acquisitions and Senior Level Leadership, in both corporate and franchise national high growth casual dining and fast casual service restaurant companies. Currently he is the Chief Executive Officer of Asian Box with full responsibility for restructuring the operating and financial businesses while also implementing a national franchising program. Immediately prior was Chief Operating Officer of The Halal Guys, the New York City most iconic brand. The operating responsibility at The Halal Guys included establishment of the strategic plan, infrastructure alignment and ongoing leadership of this international brand with direct accountability for Operations, Franchising, Real Estate, Development, Design, Marketing and Supply Chain.
VP of Operations | Chicken Salad Chick
Jim Thompson CFE has over 25 years of leading operations teams for brands like Wendy’s, Kings Family Restaurants, D’Angelo and Papa Gino’s. Jim was hired by Chicken Salad Chick’s co-founders, Stacy and Kevin Brown in 2013. Since that time, he has built and led operations, training, and the development of management and purchasing systems that have been instrumental to Chicken Salad Chick’s expansion from six to more than 135 restaurants over the past six years. Jim continues as the strategic operations executive for Chicken Salad Chick, and he works closely with CEO, Scott Deviney, and the company’s leadership team. He has built strong relationships within the franchise community.
SVP, Restaurants | Nathan’s Famous
James Walker, CFE, is a top restaurant industry expert with a specialty in rebranding and repositioning iconic American comfort food brands. James is an industry-leading authority in restaurant technology and delivery channels, and he specializes in mergers & acquisitions, domestic and international development, operations, franchising, and new product development. With more than 30 years of broad based, senior level, management experience in the hospitality and retail industries, James has served as President, Chief Development Officer, as well as in Senior Operations and New Product Development positions, for brands such as Baja Fresh, Cinnabon, Johnny Rockets and Subway. He has conducted business in more than 65 international markets.
CEO | Tropical Smoothie Café
Charles Watson is the CEO at Tropical Smoothie Café and focuses on the sustainable growth of the franchise system. Prior to his CEO role, Charles was the Chief Development Officer for Tropical Smoothie Café. Under his leadership, the Tropical Smoothie Cafe system grew from 265 units to 725 units. Tropical Smoothie Café currently has over 800 locations nationwide. A veteran franchise professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and holds an MBA from The Terry School of Business at The University of Georgia.