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What the Heck Does ‘Fast Casual’ Mean These Days, and Does it Even Matter?

When the term “fast casual” emerged more than 20 years ago, it was used to describe a restaurant brand that offered higher-quality food in a more upscale setting but didn’t use servers. As the popularity of “fast casual” concepts increased over the years, other sectors, including casual dining and QSRs, have changed everything from their menus to service models in an effort to stay competitive.

Today, the line is blurry, but does it even matter to customers?


Michelle Bythewood | President | Salata

As the first president of Salata, Michelle Bythewood is responsible for management of operations and logistics, creating, communicating and implementing the organization’s vision, mission, and overall direction, and working with Salata’s franchise sales team to determine opportunities for expansion into new and existing markets. Michelle previously served as Salata’s CMO from August 2017 to January 2019, when she led brand management and strategy, national and field marketing, media, digital strategy, marketing technology and product innovation. Among other achievements, Michelle led an extensive restaurant redesign process and has been spearheading Salata’s rebranding efforts. Before serving as CMO, Michelle was a consultant for Salata in 2016 and 2017.

Paul Carolan | COO | Mongolian Concepts

Paul Carolan joined Mongolian Concepts as COO in March 2018 and has partnered with the new executive team lead by Jim Vinz in revitalizing Genghis Grill, Bd’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill. Leading the company’s Operations, Development, Franchising and Supply Chain the team has been focused on brand reimaging, improved customer service, food quality and an operational excellence culture. Paul joined Bruegger’s Bagels, a Le Duff America company, as President in January of 2015 and led the company on its transformational strategy: co-branding partnerships, coffee and catering initiatives, brand reimaging, technology transformations, as well as driving a culture of operational excellence.

Beto Guajardo | 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.

Akash Kapoor | Founder & CEO | Curry Up Now

Curry Up Now founder Akash Kapoor has been a self-employed entrepreneur and businessman since childhood. His first business dates back to grade school movie nights, where he set up a food stand, and has successfully grown a variety of businesses, from credit card marketing to mortgage banking to debt and tax mediation. In 2009, he left the traditional business world to start Curry Up Now with his wife, Rana. Curry Up Now was the first Indian street food truck in the Bay Area, and has since grown to include three food trucks, two craft cocktail bar concepts called Mortar & Pestle within Curry Up Now, and seven brick-and-mortar locations.

Steve Schulze | Co-Founder & CEO | Nékter Juice Bar

Steve Schulze is co-founder and CEO of Nékter Juice Bar. Leveraging personal savings and an SBA loan, Steve and his wife Alexis have built the company in seven years into a predominant restaurant and lifestyle brand, offering fresh, clean, nutritious juices, smoothies and acai bowls made without processed ingredients, artificial flavors, added sugars, or unnecessary fillers. With more than 80 locations in six states, over 900 employees and nearly $50 million in annual revenue, Nékter is expanding nationally through corporate and franchise growth with plans to grow to 425 restaurants by 2020. Prior to launching Nékter, Steve worked for consumer-based companies in various sales, marketing and management capacities.


Sarah Kabakoff | Director of Enterprise Solutions | Toast

Sarah Kabakoff is the Director of Enterprise Solutions at Toast Inc. A 24 year industry veteran, Sarah has worked in every role in the restaurant industry from dishwasher to district manager, eventually owning and operating a successful 10,000 square foot Cincinnati nightclub. Sarah made the transition into tech 10 years ago starting as a field implementer. Her experience ranges from roles in Project Management, Account Management, Sales, Product Ownership, Data Analytics, and Marketing. At Toast she assists customers in designing tech-driven solutions to support the restaurant enterprise. Sarah has established herself as an expert in the restaurant tech industry and has consulted with some of the largest enterprise brands in the country.

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