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Breakout Session / Tuesday / October 15, 2024 / 11:45 AM

Happy Staff, Happy Customers: Building a Thriving Restaurant Team

In the fast-paced world of restaurants, employee satisfaction is a key ingredient to success. Happy staff provide better customer service, reduce turnover costs, and create a positive work environment.

This session will explore the top strategies for keeping your restaurant team motivated, engaged, and working hard to deliver exceptional experiences. Experts will discuss investing in growth, using technology for hiring, training and engaging employees as well as how to create a more inclusive culture and why work-life balance is so important. 


Sawsan Abublan | Founder & CEO | Shawarma Press
Sawsan Abublan is CEO and Co-Founder of the first Authentic Shawarma franchise in the US. Since opening the first fast casual Mediterranean restaurant in 2017, award-winning Shawarma Press has committed to a multicultural employee pool and a diverse menu that bursts with authentic and fusion flavors. The company has employees and suppliers from five different continents who converse in 10 different languages. Team members routinely prepare and deliver countless meals to help fight hunger. Sawsan is the winner of a Stevie® Award in the Diversity and Inclusion category in the 21st Annual American Business Awards® presented recently in New York.
Dave Baer | COO | Mahana Fresh
Mike Burns | CEO | &pizza
Laura Eich | Chief People Officer | Biggby Coffee
Laura Eich, Chief Purpose Officer for BIGGBY® COFFEE, started her BIGGBY® journey as a barista at one of the coffee shops in Southeast Michigan. A few years after joining the Home Office as a member of the operations team, Laura had the opportunity to form a new department within the company entirely focused on leadership development, and thus, the Life You Love Laboratory was born. As BIGGBY® COFFEE found its higher purpose of supporting people in building lives they love, Laura found her passion for the power and impact of healthy workplace culture. Along with serving on the executive leadership team for BIGGBY® COFFEE, she promotes this work through a podcast, co-hosted by BIGGBY®’s Co-CEO Mike McFall called Love in Leadership. BIGGBY® COFFEE has now proudly grown to over 390 locations open and operating in 13 states with a vision towards 1000 units by 2028.
Curtis Pollard | CEO | Momotoko Ramen Restaurants
Curtis Pollard is an entrepreneur and CEO of the Nordics largest Ramen Chain, Momotoko. With over 20 years in the restaurant industry, Curtis has taken the focus on operational efficiency and development of internal systems to improve profitability and sustainability within the restaurant and service industry. Immigrating from Australia to Finland 11 years ago, Curtis has opened over 20 restaurants in various categories. Momotoko being his main interest currently the business has grown from 3 Locations to 15, in 2 countries, since his joining of the business as COO in 2019. "Throughout the COVID ordeal, the Momotoko team has had to find new ways to motivate and drive employee engagement in the businesses interests, We have done this through a new way of presenting training and career development which I will present at the summit.”

Rachael Nemeth | CEO & Co-Founder | Opus Training
Rachael Nemeth, CEO and Co-Founder of Opus, is a multifaceted leader in the res-tech space. With a career spanning several decades, she has made an impact not only as a business professional but also as a public speaker and educator. Opus, revolutionizes learning and engagement for the "deskless" workforce in the restaurant industry. Her journey features work at renowned establishments like Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, Baked, and Hot Bread Kitchen, an NGO empowering underrepresented women through baking skills. Beyond her corporate roles, Rachael's influence extends into the education sphere, where she has championed instructional design and second language acquisition. Her first company, ESL Works, brought industry-relevant English training to kitchen staff via SMS text message. Widely respected in the res-tech space, Rachael is a public speaker, sharing her insights and expertise as a tech leader, restaurant veteran, and educator.
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