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Fast Casual Hall of Fame Induction

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 honor the inaugural class of the Fast Casual Hall of Fame.


Carl Howard

As a talented and seasoned industry executive Carl has led multiple brands through successful turnarounds, most recently, Fazoli’s. During his twelve-year tenure as CEO of America’s largest premium Italian QSR chain, Carl has launched Fazoli’s into the future with the systematic implementation of a full brand revamp. His areas of focus have included culinary innovation, a re-engineered menu, a brand reimage, and the expansion of off-premise sales through catering programs, third party delivery, online ordering and innovative technology. He has also led an aggressive franchise development initiative to grow the brand in expanded and pioneer markets. Carl has invigorated the brand with game changing solutions that have fundamentally impacted the guest experience and sales, solidifying Fazoli’s relevance and ongoing success.

Aside from his many business successes, Carl has also led the company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which Fazoli’s does business. The company partners with Feed the Children in both fundraising and food distribution events that have assisted over 38,000 people and provided over forty tons of food to families in need. Carl also supports and is particularly proud of the Fazoli’s Seeds of Compassion Fund which provides assistance to employees suffering financial hardships. In addition, he passionately supports the Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship which promotes education and career development for the next generation of leaders.

Carl’s leadership has resulted in numerous awards and accolades including being named #1 on Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers list, NRN’s Power List of Restaurant Executives, CEO of the Year in Foodservice from the American Business Awards, and NRNs Reader’s Choice among Best CEOs. Most recently, he was named among the most influential restaurant CEOs in the country by Nation’s Restaurant News.

Blaine Hurst

Blaine Hurst, recently retired Vice Chairman and CEO of Panera Bread, a four-time Fast Casual Mover and Shaker, is a one of highest impact restaurant leaders of recent times, leading two of the largest restaurants in the U.S. Now, as an Executive Board Member of Hero Bread, an ultra-low net carb bread products company, Blaine is intent on helping people eat healthier without compromise.

At Panera, he led the team that revolutionized guest experience through technology, (Panera 2.0), rolling out the largest loyalty program in the industry – MyPanera, on-line ordering, rapid pickup, and delivery from 2010 to 2019. He and his team grew Panera’s catering business to be the largest in the nation. As a result, Panera was named the most innovative restaurant and named the 23rd most innovative of all companies by FastCompany. As Blaine’s responsibilities expanded, he was named President then CEO before his retirement.

As President of Papa John’s in the 90’s, he oversaw its rapid growth from 450 stores to nearly 3,000 in the US and 9 international markets. And in 1998, he rolled out the first online ordering system available nationwide for any restaurant chain, generating more than $1 billion of annual revenue. Blaine was previously a partner with Ernst & Young and founded one of their two research centers.

Today Blaine is a co-founder of Composite Ventures, a venture fund focused on the future of retail and restaurant tech. He is an advisor to several early restaurant and technology companies and a retired board member of Women in Foodservice Forum, a board member of Oath Pizza and an investor/advisor for the Shepherd Hotel, a hotel project in Clemson, SC that has partnered with ClemsonLIFE in the employment of individuals with special gifts.

He is the author of 8 patents, has been a frequent speaker on the national stage and is a thought leader for restaurants, food-tech, technology, leadership and diversity and inclusion. He is a proud Kentucky Colonel.

Carin Stutz

Carin Stutz is the President and CEO of Native Foods, the original 100% plant-based fast casual eatery. Stutz previously served as the EVP/COO of Red Robin overseeing operations across the US and Canada. Prior experience includes the President of McAlister’s Deli, CEO and President of Cosi, and President of Global Business Development for Brinker International, leading all operations and franchise development for Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants around the globe.

Prior to joining Brinker, Stutz was EVP of Operations for Applebee’s International, the Pacific Division Vice President for Wendy’s International, served as Regional Operations Vice President for Sodexo, U.S.A., and was Vice President of Corporate Operations for NutriSystem, Inc.

She serves on the board of directors for Checkers and Rally’s and Kura Sushi, as well as the board of trustees for Western Illinois University. She is a member of the Fast Casual Industry Council, the Illinois Restaurant Association Board, Panhandler’s Pizza Advisory Board, and a founding board member of the GLEAM Network, a mentoring platform for the foodservice industry.

She is a Past Chair of the Women’s Foodservice Forum; recognized in Chicago’s top 100 Women to Watch and Women Making a Difference; Texas Women Worth Watching award; received the distinguished alumni award from WIU, and national judge for ProStart, NRA Education Foundation.

Stutz holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Illinois University and an MBA from Mid America Nazarene University.

Stutz and her husband Rodger have two adult sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law and four grandsons. They enjoy music, theater, golf and travel.


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.