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General Session / Tuesday / October 10, 2023 / 1:45 PM

CEO Roundtable / State of the Industry

This panel packed with fast casual CEOs will talk about important issues restaurant operators face today and what it will take to succeed in 2024 and beyond.


William Dissen | Executive Chef & Owner | The Market Place Restaurant / Billy D's Fried Chicken
Awarded Fortune Magazine “Green Chef of the Year” two years in a row, Chef William Dissen has been building a multi-restaurant farm-to-table and quick-serve food enterprise from his home in Asheville, North Carolina since 2009. An acclaimed sustainable chef and published author, William is well known for weaving foraged and local ingredients with Southern roots in every dish he creates. Today, William owns and is the culinary force behind North Carolina's fastest-growing quick-serve, farm-to-table restaurant concept, Billy D’s Fried Chicken. With locations at The North Carolina Zoo, Wake Forest University, and Elon University, Dissen is setting a precedent for bringing farm-fresh flavors to students and families. Dissen also owns The Market Place in Asheville, N.C, founded in 1979, which is among the longest-standing classic American restaurants in the country. Dissen also owns upscale Charlotte eatery, Haymaker, a staple in the banking city’s most acclaimed high-end restaurants.
Elisia Flores | CEO | L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Elisia Flores serves as CEO of L&L Franchise, Inc. which has over 220 restaurants across the country and in Japan. She is responsible for setting the strategic vision of the company and driving new growth initiatives. Flores has been instrumental in developing key partnerships to expand the L&L brand, strengthening the brand across markets and implementing national revenue generating programs for the franchises. Prior to L&L, Flores worked at General Electric Company (GE) for over 8 years. At GE, she was responsible for significant audit and process improvements at GE Aviation, GE Corporate and overseas at GE Capital Interbanca. Flores serves on the board of directors for Hawaiian Electric Industries (NYSE: HE) and is chair of the audit committee for American Savings Bank (subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries). Also, she serves on the boards of Hawaii Pacific Health (one of Hawaii’s largest healthcare systems), Diamond Head Theatre and the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Richard French | Founder & CEO | The Works Café
Richard French, founder and CEO of The Works Café, has a long history in the food business. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1988, French launched Bagel Works in Manchester, VT, which would later be rebranded as The Works Café. French has since expanded The Works Café from its humble beginnings to a regional chain with 10 locations throughout northern New England and New York. French was included in QSR’s 40/40 America’s Hottest Startup- Fast Casual’s in 2022. Today, The Works Café continues to operate under the same core values that it was founded upon. The company is driven by the principals of the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. French and his growing chain of cafés remain firmly committed to producing delicious meals throughout multiple day parts– good food for good people.
André Vener | Founding Partner | Dog Haus Worldwide
Along with his two business partners, André Vener co-founded Dog Haus in April 2010, with the mission of elevating stadium food classics into culinary masterworks. Over the last decade, Dog Haus has expanded from its Pasadena, CA, base to nearly 50 locations from coast-to-coast. André and his partners have spearheaded the craft-casual brand’s rapid expansion by forming alliances with leading ghost kitchen networks, an innovative partnership with Live Nation and the 2020 introduction of The Absolute Brands – a suite of virtual restaurant concepts spun off from several of Dog Haus’ signature menu items, such as the Bad Mutha Clucka. Prior to co-founding Dog Haus, André served as Executive Producer of Pasadena Entertainment, where he produced hundreds of events in venues of all sizes, including The Rose Bowl, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and more. André founded and operated redwhite+bluezz, an award-winning restaurant and jazz club that served great food, wine and live music for eight years.

R.J. Hottovy | Head of Analytical Research |
R.J. Hottovy, CFA is Head of Analytical Research for He has covered the restaurant, retail, and e-commerce sectors for nearly 20 years, most recently serving as a Fund Manager for Aaron Allen Capital Partners. He has held several analyst positions in the past, including Global Consumer Equity Strategist at Morningstar and equity analyst roles at William Blair & Co. and Deutsche Bank. Hottovy also brings a wealth of experience with early-stage investments as an investor and member of the investment committee for the IrishAngels/Vitalize venture capital group. Over the past three years, he has worked with more than 50 consumer and technology companies, advising on more than $200 million in early-stage capital raises and other buy- and sell-side M&A transactions. Hottovy is also a member of the Chicago Seed Co. network, a group of Chicago-area investors focused on early-stage food & beverage companies.
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