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Women in the Lead: How the Restaurant Industry is Benefiting by Embracing Female Executives

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has been slow to offer c-level positions to females, but that’s changing. More women than ever are leading fast casual brands as chefs, CEOs and vice presidents, and this panel brings several of them together to discuss how the restaurant culture can be even more inclusive.


Janene Holig | Executive Chef/VP of Operations | Hot Indian Foods

Janene Holig is the founding chef of Hot Indian. What started as a food truck has grown into a popular and expanding fast casual. The menu boasts “Indian food, Simplified” and that is what it delivers. Her knowledge of global cuisine stems from traveling and cooking in restaurants around the world as well as a Bachelor degree in Culinary Management. Her goal is to learn, teach, and inspire Indian cooking. Janene and her dishes have gotten some notoriety including a 2013 Charlie Award for “Best Food Truck”; 2014 “Iron Fork” champion duo; 2015 “Best Food Truck” City Pages; 2015 Top Chef by Foodservice News and 2018 Featured “Chopped” Chef.

Kristi Kingery | SVP of Supply Chain & Quality Assurance | Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Kristi Kingery is the Vice President of Supply Chain at Tropical Smoothie Café where she oversees supply chain and quality assurance for more than 750 cafes. She is responsible for building the strategy and infrastructure that will ensure safe, quality products get delivered to their cafes. She is also responsible for the strategy development and execution that will improve profitability for Tropical Smoothie Café franchisees. Kristi started her supply chain career at ARCOP, Inc., the supply chain cooperative for Arby’s Restaurant Group, which supports over 3,200 restaurants. She was responsible for increasing franchise and corporate cash flow by managing supply chain activities that drive profitability and save costs for their restaurant system.

Sue Petersen | VP of Human Resources | Noodles & Company

Sue Petersen started with Noodles in February of 2015 as Director of Talent, was promoted to Vice President of HR Talent in January 2016 and assumed responsibility as Vice President of Human Resources in January 2018. Sue’s passion is around creating a great experience for all team members through a caring and inclusive environment where the team can grow and develop and be their best. Prior to joining Noodles, Sue was Regional Field HR Director at Walgreens where she supported the Western region including 2500 stores and over 50,000 team members. Sue has spent her career working in various Operations, Training and HR leadership roles at companies including Chipotle, Rock Bottom, and Quiznos.

Robin Robison | COO | Modern Market

Robin Robison brings more than 16 years of restaurant experience to her role as chief operations officer at Modern Market Eatery based in Denver, Colo. With past leadership roles at Red Robin, Bob Evans and Chili’s, Robin’s extensive experience has uniquely prepared her for creating and executing winning operations strategies across Modern Market Eatery’s 30+ units. During her time with Brinker, Robin served as the project leader for the Leadership Principles for Women Task Force, which she formed to help create “best in class” women’s leadership and mentorship programs. This collaborative effort earned Robin the Women’s Foodservice Forum Leadership Award, which is given each year to a woman executive in the foodservice industry.

Kathleen Wood | Founder & CEO | Kathleen Wood Partners | Suzy’s Swirl

Kathleen Wood is the founder of Kathleen Wood Partners, an innovative growth strategy firm, specializing in transforming visions into reality through strategy brand optimization and leadership development. Her firm focuses on small business who want to grow into great businesses. Kathleen is a nationally recognized growth strategist, motivational speaker and author. Her book is The BEST Shift of Your Life – The Restaurant Manager’s Guide for Success Outside the Restaurant. Kathleen is also an owner/operator of her family business Suzy’s Swirl/Frozen Happiness since 2012. She consults, lives and knows all about the small business struggle bus!


Michelle Harden | Partner | Messner Reeves

Michelle Harden is a Partner with Messner Reeves LLP, a full-service national business law firm. Michelle leads several Messner Reeves’ Practice Groups including Litigation, Crisis Management, Employment Law, and Hospitality Law. Her active hospitality law practice and has been recognized locally and nationally for her efforts defending restaurants and other businesses. This practice includes proactive crisis management planning as well as partnering with her clients in the midst of crisis. She has been involved in the formation of advisory boards to assist clients in various topics including management practices, food safety, data security, and other issues. Her litigation and trial practice spans commercial matters, claims arising from foodborne and environmental illness and contamination.

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