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Fast Casual Hall of Fame

For more than 20 years, fast casual concepts have been at the forefront of innovation in the restaurant industry, proving to be trendsetters in store design, menu development, customer experience and restaurant technology. That would not be possible, however, without the blood, sweat and tears of the men and women who lead those brands each day.

The Fast Casual Hall of Fame will honor three individuals, who through their vision and leadership, have driven not only the success of their brands, but of the fast casual segment as a whole.

Join us as we recognize this year’s Fast Casual Hall of Fame Honorees.


Chris Newcomb | CEO and Co-Founder | Newk’s Eatery

Marla Topliff | Strategic Franchise Consultant | Kathleen Wood Partners, LLC.

Marla Topliff is presently the Strategic Franchise Consultant at Kathleen Wood Partners, LLC., who worked with restaurants such as Suzy’s Swirl, Big Chicken and Cornbread Farm to Table. Previously she was President of Rosati’s Pizza for 22 years, where she led Rosati’s Pizza to become included in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500, Top 100 Pizza Companies by Pizza Today and in the Top 300 Franchise System by Franchise Times. She was also the corporate media spokesperson and managed vendor and store relationships as well as human resources. As Chairman of the National Restaurant Association’s Pizzeria Council, she was the 2012 Keynote Speaker at the International Pizza Expo. As a member of the International Franchise Association, she served on the membership and convention planning committees and was named one of the top 24 women in franchising by Franchise Update Magazine in 2014. Marla has also been featured in Entrepreneur, Suit Magazine, Chain Pulse Magazine and written many blogs for

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.


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 company’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

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.