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Nathan Lester
Senior Director, Drive-Thru Innovation | Scooter’s Coffee
Nathan Lester is a dynamic leader who successfully managed and innovated restaurants. He introduced groundbreaking initiatives like voice-activated drive-thrus, predictive production management, and robotic cooking equipment, enhancing customer experiences and improving business efficiencies. Nathan also excelled in change management, safety, and training, overseeing a team of 100+. Additionally, he led global teams in food safety, sustainability, and quality systems, and implemented cross-functional processes for improved performance. His remarkable achievements highlight his visionary leadership and commitment to excellence in the restaurant industry.
Idris Stover
Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Engagement | Shake Shack
As director and head of diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement, Idris Stover leads Shake Shack’s commitment to Stand For Something Good® that ensures the company is building a more equitable and inclusive society, reflected in the company workforce and communities where Shake Shack serves. Idris joined the company in 2020 to drive strategy, execution and accountability for Shake Shack’s diversity and inclusion programming and ongoing progress for change. As part of her role, she partners with internal stakeholders and C-suite executives including the CEO, Chief People Officer, talent acquisition and talent and leadership development teams to ensure a lens for diversity and inclusion is applied across all human capital business practices. She also works closely with the organization’s employee resource groups and diversity councils to help foster a welcoming and inclusive work environment for all. Prior to joining Shake Shack, Idris was a Senior Manager of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Hilton, and previously led diversity and affirmative action programs at BB&T.


Sawsan Abublan
Founder & CEO | Shawarma Press Franchising
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.
Frances Allen
President & CEO | Checkers Drive-In Restaurants
Frances Allen joined Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc. as President and CEO in February of 2020. Ms. Allen brought to Checkers & Rally’s a history of success in the restaurant industry and deep expertise across brand strategy, menu and marketing, franchising, restaurant technology and operations, among other disciplines. In her former role as CEO of Boston Market, Ms. Allen implemented a multi-faceted transformation plan setting up the brand for future growth. Prior to Boston Market, Ms. Allen served as President of Jack-in-the-Box from 2014 to 2018, generating superior results and upgrading the quality of the menu. Allen’s prior leadership experience includes successful tenures as Chief Brand Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Denny’s Corporation, and as Chief Marketing Officer of Dunkin’ Donuts USA.
Bob Andersen
President | The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill
Bob Andersen is highly regarded as a restaurant industry leader with a successful track record in growing emerging restaurant brands. He has developed a unique and diverse perspective in all aspects of the restaurant business. His experience spans C-level and senior executive positions; to launching a restaurant start-up; to owning, developing and operating restaurants as a multi-brand franchisee; and serving as an area developer/representative. Brands he has worked with include: Jimboy's Tacos, Sunny Street Cafe, Cowboy Chicken, Twin Peaks, MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, and Boston Pizza. At The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill, Bob is helping the brand carve out a niche in the "fine fast casual" space. The concept currently has 30 locations in 12 states with 48+ units in active development.
Jon Asher
Chief Marketing Officer | Nekter Juice Bar
As Chief Marketing Officer at Nekter Juice Bar, Jon Asher leads brand development and marketing, brand partnerships, franchise marketing, technology enhancement and innovation, menu innovation, and product development with a core focus on ensuring a fresh, frictionless and fun omnichannel marketing experience across all customer touchpoints in-store, online and out-of-home (OOH). He was responsible for transitioning Nekter’s loyalty program from punch cards to a pioneering mobile app with more than 1.3 million members and recently led a successful rebranding effort that helped propel Nekter Juice Bar to its position as one of the most successful next-gen juice bar brands in the country with more than 200 locations. Jon began his career as an Aerospace Analyst before switching over to marketing in the biotech, outdoor and fitness retail sectors, and now enjoys promoting a healthier lifestyle in the QSR space.
Suzy Badaracco
President | Culinary Tides, Inc.
Suzy Badaracco is the President of Culinary Tides, Inc. and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminalistics, Associate degree in Culinary Arts, and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition. Suzy has been trained in military intelligence, Chaos theory, and predictive analysis techniques and has been practicing trends intelligence and predictive forecasting for more than 18 years. Using these techniques, she has been able to successfully predict and profile government, technology, adversary and ally, food, flavor, consumer, industry, and health trends. Culinary Tides, Inc. helps food industry partners navigate trends by revealing relevant patterns so they can create products that connect with customers. They specialize in foretelling a trend’s birth and forecasting its origin, trajectory, and longevity. The forecast results are used to create entrance, navigation, and exit strategies.
Dave Baer
COO | Mahana Fresh
Dave Baer started as a driver for Domino’s Pizza while in college 1991. He managed a Domino’s Pizza restaurant in 1994 and was immediately named Rookie manager of the year. From 1994-1998 he quickly ascended the ranks at Dominos where he held positions of Supervisor, Senior Supervisor and Training Director of Corporate operations at Domino’s Pizza in the Northeast. From 1998-2012, he was the VP of Operations for a 17 unit Franchise Domino franchise. Since 2012, he has been creating and scaling multiple emerging brands including Zinga and Firenza Pizza. Most recently he has been honing HCK Hot Chicken as well as acting as the Chief Operating Officer for Mahana Fresh.
Dana Baggett
Director of Client Strategy, Restaurant Category | Vericast
Dana Baggett is Director of Client Strategy for the Restaurant Category at Vericast, a leader in intelligent media delivery and engagement. With a strong focus on data-driven campaign performance and innovation, Dana provides actionable insights and strategic direction to large and mid-sized restaurant clients as well as franchisees. Since starting at Vericast in 2008, Dana has used her 25+ years of experience and proven track record to launch consumer insight initiatives and media comparison tools, while also leveraging her expertise in such areas as category intelligence, analytics, and competitive analysis. She has been recognized multiple times for her marketing leadership, including the company’s prestigious Pillar of Excellence Award. Prior to joining Vericast, Dana worked in the media and marketing departments at The Home Depot as well as several advertising agencies. Dana is an active member of NextUp, Women’s Food Service Forum, and the Women’s Network at Vericast.
Jake Berkowitz
VP of Enterprise Sales | Revel Systems
Jake Berkowitz is the Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Revel Systems and currently oversees enterprise sales, as well as the sales engineering group. During his tenure at Revel, he’s been responsible for winning some of the company’s key accounts, and has built Revel’s enterprise division from the ground up. Prior to joining Revel, Jake oversaw new market launches for Cake (formerly Leapset), and played a role in the company’s successful acquisition by Sysco Foods. He brings with him a deep understanding of restaurant and retail industries, cultivated from over 10 years of selling experience.
Tanvir Bhangoo
VP, Enterprise Solutions | Toast
As Toast’s VP of Enterprise Solutions, Tanvir Bhangoo leads the technical solution and consulting teams responsible for delivering the Toast platform to our largest customers. Prior to Toast, Tanvir led technology and digital functions at leading enterprise restaurants, including a public fast casual chain, and world’s third-largest restaurant brand. Tanvir is a former industry consultant and a published author. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Tanvir now lives in Boston. In university, he won a national championship with the McMaster Football Team.
Alessandro Biggi
Founder | Avocaderia
Alessandro Biggi is the Founder and CEO of Avocaderia, a seasonally-inspired, fast-casual restaurant with 5 locations throughout New York City. Alessandro started his career at J.P. Morgan and The Boston Consulting Group before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey. He has built and grown successful tech businesses including 20lines, a storytelling app that was acquired by HarperCollins Publishers, and Zooppa, a global creative platform that was merged with TLNT Holdings. Alessandro holds a Master’s degree in International Management from ESADE Business School and a BS in Economics from Bocconi University.
Jim Bitticks
President & COO | Dave's Hot Chicken
Jim Bitticks is the President and Chief Operating Officer for Dave’s Hot Chicken. He oversees the day-to-day operation of the company with direct oversight over operations, training, procurement, construction, and technology. Jim joined the Dave’s team when there were just four restaurants and has helped grow the brand to 150 locations across the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East. Prior to his current role, Jim was the Chief Restaurant Officer and EVP of Operations, Training, and Construction for Blaze Pizza, and oversaw the successful growth of that brand from two restaurants to three hundred seventy-two restaurants before making the move to Dave’s.
David Bloom
Chief Development & Operating Officer | Capriotti’s & Wing Zone
David Bloom's early career in the restaurant and hotel industries included working with and for some of the most iconic brands and leaders in their respective industries where he learned how to strategically accelerate sustainable brand expansion. Having grown up in the restaurant industry in and around NYC, David’s entrepreneurial career began as a large multi-unit franchisee and serving as the SVP of Brand Expansion for Quiznos, growing it from a small regional brand of 18 restaurants to opening over 5,000 locations in 28 countries. Subsequent senior roles included the rapid growth of numerous enterprises including; Clockwork Home Services, Bridge International Academies based in Nairobi, Kenya, Famous Brands International and as President of Office Evolution. Today, David is responsible for all aspects of franchise development and operations for Capriotti’s and scaling a recently acquired fast casual concept Wing Zone to new heights.
Craig Blum
Owner & Founder | Johnny Doughnuts
Craig Blum is the owner and founder of the Bay Area favorite Johnny Doughnuts, known for its selection of premium, handcrafted doughnuts with both classic and specialty flavors alike. It all began in 2010, when Craig had an idea to rock the local food scene — selling artisan doughnuts made from locally sourced, organic ingredients from a traveling food truck. Four brick-and-mortar stores and a fleet of trucks later, Johnny Doughnuts has earned recognition as a local leader in specialty doughnuts and was named one of the top 5 doughnut shops in the country by Food Network. Before opening Johnny Doughnuts, Craig had several years of restaurant entrepreneurship experience under his belt. In the 90s, he founded Hawaii staple Cafe Fresh. He later opened John Dough, an all-natural, hand-crafted pizza crust shop in the Bay Area. Craig was also part of the opening team of the first Hard Rock Cafe in the US.
Jami Bond
VP of Franchise Development | Goodcents
Jami Bond, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goodcents. With an extensive background in restaurant marketing and franchise development, she loves helping entrepreneurs launch their own businesses, and she is very proud to work for a company that provides the support franchisees need to thrive. A graduate of Washburn University, Bond holds a degree in marketing and finance. She is a member of Chief, a private network built to drive more women into positions of power and keep them there.
Steve Brooks
Sales Director | ArrowStream
Steve Brooks has been a successful leader in the restaurant industry for over 30 years. From store level and district level operations to executive roles in IT, Marketing, Beverage, Purchasing and Franchise Development. He serves on the Louisville chapter of the Kentucky Restaurant Association where he has been President twice. In 2008 he led the way with handheld POS implementation. Steve is a mixologist with cocktails that specializes in tequila. He was also a DJ and still mixes music. He is a Kentucky Colonel, and former board member for the Kentucky Restaurant Association, RFMA Gives and former advisory board member for Hospitality Technology and Cheers Magazine. He currently is a Sales Director for ArrowStream, the foodservice leader in Supply Chain software.
Thomas Brooks
Chief Revenue Officer | Kitchen Brains
Thomas Brooks is a seasoned executive with an extensive background in driving growth and innovation across diverse industries. With over two decades of experience spanning private equity and the public sector, Thomas brings his strategic leadership to the role of Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) at Kitchen Brains, a technology solutions company specializing in kitchen controls and enterprise software. As CRO, Thomas spearheads Kitchen Brains' revenue generation strategies, solidifying the company's market presence and nurturing relationships within the food services industry. With a track record of collaborating he is leading Operators and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to merge hardware and software capabilities delivering enterprise-level solutions for commercial kitchens. This approach leverages his in-depth understanding of enterprise solution intricacies, allowing Kitchen Brains to offer comprehensive solutions addressing the multifaceted challenges of the culinary world.
Brian Callahan
Director of Product | Facteus
Brian Callahan is the Director of Product at Facteus where he helps clients integrate external data sources into their decision making process.  He joined Facteus after six years at 1010data where he was exposed to the best practices and pitfalls behind data integration across a variety of industries from restaurants and retailers to financial services. He started his career covering consumer-facing industries as an Equity Research Analyst at Elm Ridge Management, a New York based hedge fund, where he also managed the firms macroeconomic forecasts. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Finance while also majoring in Philosophy.
Julie Canseco
Chief Dietitian Officer | Main Squeeze Juice Co.
Julie Canseco currently serves as the Chief Dietitian Officer for Main Squeeze Juice Co., previously serving as the Chief Operations Officer and In-House Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist. Canseco brings nutrition and operations experience from her previous position of Nutritionist and Marketing/Operations Dietitian with Ochsner Eat Fit, a non-profit restaurant-partnership program offered by Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, LA before joining Main Squeeze Juice Co.® in August 2017. Canseco worked with Eat Fit from April 2016 to August 2017 and during her tenure increased participating restaurant partners from 45 to over 150 partners, and secured over 1 million dollars in grant funding to expand Eat Fit programs throughout the state of Louisiana, in partnership with Ochsner Health System and Blue Cross Blue Shield. This program is still in place today, directly impacting communities across Louisiana. Prior to Ochsner Eat Fit, Canseco worked at East Jefferson Family Practice, as as their Nutrition Program Manager.
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 Networld’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
Chad Coulter
Founder & CEO | Biscuit Belly
Chad Coulter dove into the restaurant industry after a short and successful career as a clinical pharmacist. His first concept, LouVino, was a Southern inspired small plates restaurant and wine bar with over 40 wines by the glass. After the fifth LouVino opened, focus shifted towards diving into the idea of opening a biscuit focused concept. In 2019, the first Biscuit Belly was born after months of meticulous menu, branding and concept development. Biscuit Belly now has 4 corporate locations and over 20 franchised units in development in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Lauren Coulter
Director of Franchise Sales & Development | Biscuit Belly
Lauren Coulter is a pharmacist turned restaurateur. After graduating pharmacy school, she and husband Chad Coulter - opened Louisville's first "paint and sip" businesses. In 2014, they shifted into the restaurant scene by opening LouVino, a southern inspired small plates and wine bar restaurant. They grew LouVino to 5 locations in Louisville, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati before starting Biscuit Belly. The first Biscuit Belly location opened in May 2019. Since then they have grown to four ‘corporate locations’ along with an additional 5 open through franchise partners in Lexington, KY, Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia. Two more locations are slated to open by the end of the year. Biscuit Belly has an additional 20 units in the pipeline.
Joseph Cox IV
Owner/Operator | McDonald’s
Joseph Cox’s McDonald’s journey began in 2006 as a maintenance person in Chicago. After fully immersing himself in the business, he became a licensed McDonald’s Franchisee in 2007. Joe currently owns fifteen restaurants in the Central Florida Business Unit. During his tenure, Joe has been selected to serve on many Boards, both on the Advisory and Director level, as well as numerous Councils. He served as the North Florida Business Unit President for two years prior to relocating to the Central Florida Business Unit. He currently serves on the Field Alignment Council for the Atlanta Field Office, is a member of the National Pricing Strategic Advisory Group NPSAG, a board member of the Florida Insurance Program Team, leads the Central Florida People Team, serves on the Central Florida By-Law committee, and on the Food/Beverage and Affordability Oversight committees. From 2001 to 2007, Joe was instrumental in founding Rubicon Technology where he rose to the position of Vice President of Operations.
Josh Desmond
VP of Enterprise Sales | HungerRush
Josh Desmond is the Vice President of Enterprise Sales at HungerRush. While at HungerRush, he has rebuilt the entire enterprise sales organization and has been responsible for unprecedented growth during his tenure. Before joining HungerRush, Josh spent years in the private equity and startup software space. His time as a targeting officer with the CIA and work in sales leadership allow him to approach problems and new technology with a unique perspective and strategic eye. He has excelled at developing go-to-market and new market penetration strategies and change management for several private equity organizations.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler
Managing Editor | Networld Media Group
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for and She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places. An award-winning print journalist, she has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry.
Laura Rea Dickey
CEO | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants
Laura Rea Dickey currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Laura has been with the brand since 2009 and most recently served as Chief Information Officer before transitioning to CEO in 2017. As CIO, she implemented a new technology infrastructure for the brand bringing parity and integration to data reporting, information security and all digital sales channels. In her time as CEO, Laura has overseen the expansion of the brand by 28%, opened 15 international locations in 7 countries, and experienced the highest sales day in the brands 81-year history with the past three years being same store sales positive. She has managed the launch of three additional brands, opened a USDA processing plant to ensure the brand’s signature kielbasa artisan sausages are always available to guests and retailers, and optimized the brands menu by 42%. Laura also held a large hand in creating and publishing the brands second cookbook titled; Behind the BBQ: Recipes, Cocktails & Tall Tales from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.
Bill DiPaola
President/Chief Operating Officer & Co-Owner | Swamp Dawg
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.
Alicia DiStefano
VP, Practice Lead | InMarket
Alicia DiStefano is InMarket’s VP, Practice Leader for the QSR and Dining verticals. Alicia has worked in media and advertising for over 15 years, with experience in location marketing, data as a service (DaaS), programmatic, and self-service media. She previously worked in the restaurant vertical for 10 years, and has shared conference stages with brands like Panera, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, DoorDash, and more. In 2018, Alicia oversaw the team, campaign, and submission to win the I-COM Data Creativity Award for a cost per visit campaign for Outback Steakhouse. Alicia is based in Atlanta, GA.
Kathy Doyle
CEO | Networld Media Group
As the former group publisher of Purchasing, Semiconductor International, and Industrial Distribution magazines and websites at Reed Business Information, Kathy Doyle brings 20-plus years of print and online media experience to this position. Her background spans marketing, sales, communications and content distribution for a wide range of diverse audiences, connecting buyers and sellers in more than 10 vertical markets on a global spectrum.
Rob Elliott
EVP of Marketing | Hungry Howie’s
Rob Elliott has had an exciting career in franchise marketing, specifically in the quick-service restaurant category. He began his career at Little Caesar's Enterprises in 1980 as a store manager, eventually becoming Vice President of Marketing. Rob left Little Caesar's in 1995 to become Managing Partner of Bozell Worldwide, a top-tier advertising agency. From 1999 until 2003, Rob was Executive Vice President of Marketing for Quiznos Subs, a Colorado-based sandwich franchise. Rob joined Papa Murphy's Take'n'Bake Pizza from 2003 until 2006 as Executive Vice President of Marketing. In 2011, Rob joined the Hungry Howie's family as Vice President of Strategic Marketing. He was promoted to his current role as Executive Vice President of Strategic Marketing in 2015.
Taylor Fischer
VP of Marketing - Fast Casual Division | FAT Brands
Taylor Fischer, Vice President of the Fast Casual Division at FAT Brands, has led the Fast Casual Marketing Team since joining the company in August of 2019. Prior to her role with FAT Brands, she worked with companies such as Pressed Juicery, California Pizza Kitchen, PizzaRev, and other restaurant brands. She’s an experienced marketing professional with a demonstrated history of working in the food & beverage industry, specifically within the retail and franchise space. She is skilled in National & local marketing strategy, brand development, and collaborations & activations. Taylor graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a major in psychology and a minor in applied psychology.
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.
Brian Foster
President | Buyers Edge Platform Back Office
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.
Matt Friedman
CEO | Franchise Founders
As the CEO of Franchise Founders, Matt Friedman leads the franchise incubator that builds and invests in start-up brands and emerging franchisors. With a talented team with over 70+ years of combined franchise experience, Matt oversees Franchise Founders’ proven franchise process including branding, marketing, real estate development, training, and location opening. Matt is currently bringing four innovative franchise brands to market: Bobby Chez Gourmet To Go, Patriot Broadband, Frankie Salons, and Sparklean. Previously, Matt was the founder and CEO of Wing Zone. Matt and his partner successfully opened six Wing Zone restaurants in major college markets from 1995-2000. As the visionary of Wing Zone and building a global brand, Matt launched the Wing Zone Franchise System in 2000. As CEO of Wing Zone, Matt led a talented team to successfully open over 150 restaurants throughout the US and six countries. In late 2020, Matt sold a majority interest in Wing Zone. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at Wing Zone.
Ryan Gaylor
VP of the Restaurant Vertical | Upside
Ryan Gaylor is the VP of the Restaurant Vertical at Upside. Ryan has over 20 years of experience bringing innovative solutions to the market, as well as finance and capital markets. Ryan’s experience spans across product management, financial analysis, business development, sales and leadership roles at several early and late stage technology companies. Ryan graduated from the University of Michigan and also obtained his MBA from Northwestern.
Sam Gerace
Sam Gerace leads the team as they launch innovative data science products that drastically increase revenue forecasting accuracy and optimize labor scheduling for the restaurant industry. Sam is a five-time tech entrepreneur – the founding Chief Executive Officer of Convey, a licensor of patents and mobile+cloud CRM libraries for sales and account management teams; Veritix (Flash Seats), a sports and live-entertainment SaaS platform company processing over $1 billion in ticketing transactions annually; Be Free, a digital marketing platform company processing over $2 billion in commerce transactions annually; PCXIS, Inc. a public utility marketing software company; and PCX Consulting, Inc., a systems development firm serving heavy industry. Sam and his wife are committed to organizations helping children facing significant challenges. Sam has chaired the board of Minds Matter of Cleveland for eight years, is the President of the board of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.
Trish Giordano
Chief Sales & Marketing Officer | Earl Enterprises
Trish Giordano, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Earl Enterprises, oversees all sales and marketing functions and activities of the company’s broad base of restaurant brands, including Buca di Beppo, Brio Italian Grille, Bravo! Italian Kitchen, Bertucci’s, Chicken Guy!, Earl of Sandwich, Planet Hollywood, and several other Earl Enterprises affiliates. With over three decades of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industries, Trish has an extensive background and leadership experience in all facets of marketing from brand strategy, digital and social media marketing, marketing technology and loyalty within the restaurant business space. Trish has developed a catering sales center and created partnership programs with the third-party platforms to expand Earl Enterprises off premise business. In 2019, Trish co-founded Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC) and is responsible for joining brand-building with technology, bringing to market a turnkey solution for multiple successful virtual dining delivery-only restaurants.
Josh Halpern
CEO | Big Chicken
Josh Halpern is the Chief Executive Officer for Big Chicken. Josh is a dynamic, partnership-focused, thought leader with a robust career in streamlining efficiency, driving innovation, building diverse engaged teams, and growing economic results across the CPG, retail, and restaurant verticals. Most recently, Josh served as the Chief Sales Officer for FIFCO USA, the 8th largest US brewing company, where he was responsible for commercial operations and building top and bottom-line results for Off-Premise, On-Premise, and company-owned brewpubs. Prior, Josh led the Anheuser-Busch InBev, On-Premise and Small Format channels in the US, and Shopper Marketing globally.
Dan Harmon
CEO | Playa Bowls
Dan Harmon is a seasoned industry veteran with leadership experience from some of the industry’s most recognized and successful brands. Previously, Harmon was the President and Chief Operations Officer at Smoothie King and has also worked with various brands including Papa Murphy’s, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Blockbuster, and McDonald’s. In 2023, Harmon was appointed to Chief Executive Officer of Playa Bowls, the nation’s leading superfruit bowl shop specializing in bowls such as acai and pitaya, oatmeal, chia, smoothies, juices, cold brew, and more.
Troy Hooper
CEO | Hot Palette Holdings
Troy Hooper joined Pepper Lunch as one of the three global business unit CEO’s for the brand, and oversees Pepper Lunch’s parent company in North America, Hot Palette America. Troy brings 30 years of unparalleled experience in hospitality, operations management and executive leadership to this role, which has fueled Pepper Lunch’s infrastructure development, growth efforts, and brand deliverables, creating a fruitful franchise model for the North American market. Throughout his career, Troy has successfully built new concepts, rebranded existing restaurants, and improved well-established venues for iconic brands. Troy’s decades of experience and business acumen brings a breadth of knowledge to the rapidly growing global brand, Pepper Lunch.
JR Hopwood
Solutions Consultant | Evocalize
JR Hopwood has nearly two decades of direct digital marketing experience, working on both the client and agency sides. He has extensive experience working with large CPG brands as well as numerous restaurants and hospitality organizations, helping them drive the most efficient return on ad spend. He brings that data-driven mindset to help Evocalize partners get the very most out of our best in class digital marketing platform!
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.
Scott Johnson
Head of Marketing | Smashburger & JFCNA
Scott Johnson is a seasoned marketing and management executive with over 30 years of experience with a variety of Fortune 500 and growth companies focused on consumer marketing and technology. He has a proven track record of driving results through innovation and creative-driven brand marketing. Through his initiatives and brand leadership, Scott has generated over $1B in incremental revenue, and led major turnarounds at Arby’s and Outback Steakhouse. Since 2016, he has led brand marketing efforts for two of the fastest growing brands in the fast-casual segment, previously at BurgerFi International, and now as Marketing for North America regional JFC brands including Smashburger, Jollibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon.
Stacey Kane
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer
Stacey Kane has more than 25 years of experience working with multi-unit restaurant chains as a Head of Marketing and Marketing Consultant. She has worked with such brands as California Tortilla, Think Food Group, Subway and East Coast Wings. Known for her incredible creativity and obsession with data she was one of the pioneers of using social media in the restaurant space and has been named a Top 20 Movers and Shakers by Fast Casual Magazine five times. Her passion is leading emerging brands as they scale for growth. Currently, Stacey is a fractional CMO for several fast casual brands including Fresh Baguette, Garden Catering, HCK Hot Chicken, Mahana Fresh and Mamoun's Falafel. Kane is passionate about the industry. She has been a National Pro-Start Judge for 3 years and after serving as a consultant, she was asked to sit on the board of CORE:Children of Restaurant Employees in 2022. CORE’s mission is to provide short-term financial relief to food and beverage service employees with children when navigating a qualifying circumstance.
Prakash Karamchandani
Co-Founder | Balance Pan-Asian Grille
Prakash Karamchandani is a self-proclaimed foodie and technology junkie who co-founded Balance Pan-Asian Grille, a nationally-acclaimed fast-casual Asian fusion multi-unit concept based in Ohio. Since starting the venture in 2010, Prakash has been recognized as a Top 24 Fast Casual Executive and a 20 Under 40 recipient. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and met his company’s co-founder. Prakash is a proud husband and father of two.
Sara Kear
Chief Marketing Officer | Condado Tacos
Sara Kear is Chief Marketing Officer at Condado Tacos, a NextGen fast casual taco joint on a growth trajectory, with 47 restaurants in 20 markets currently, with a plan for 80-100 restaurants by 2026, all company owned and operated. Sara's combined expertise in brand and digital marketing makes her a modern-day marketing maestro. For more than 15 years, she significantly advanced digital marketing in Columbus, Ohio serving as EVP of Marketing Services at Adept, advising CEOs and CMOs on brand growth strategies that delivered significant ROI. Now at Condado Tacos, she delivers exceptional customer experiences at every touchpoint, combining brand + marketing to cultivate a new generation of taco, tequila and margs enthusiasts.
Sean Kennedy
President & CEO | Cowboy Chicken
As president and CEO, Sean Kennedy has been instrumental in establishing Cowboy Chicken as the premium fast casual restaurant brand that pioneered wood-fired rotisserie chicken. Sean has worked to refine the menu, build operational systems, grow system-wide sales and strengthen store financial performance. He launched Cowboy Chicken’s franchise program that helped to pave the way for today’s national expansion and has built a strong corporate team to support franchise development, real estate, construction, training, marketing and franchise support efforts. During his leadership, the brand has been included in Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list every year since 2011 and in 2017 won the Emerging Chain of the Year award from Restaurant Business.
Caprice Kindgren
Director of Marketing | Urbane Cafe
Caprice Kindgren is a seasoned marketing strategist known for her exceptional ability to navigate and innovate in challenging environments. With a remarkable career spanning over six years with Urbane Cafe, Caprice has continuously demonstrated her prowess in crafting impactful marketing strategies that drive business growth and customer engagement. Amid the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Caprice spearheaded a remarkable transformation for Urbane Cafe. As the driving force behind the marketing strategy, she not only led the company through the tumultuous times but also orchestrated its resurgence to greater heights. Her strategic acumen played a pivotal role in ensuring Urbane Cafe's resilience and success during an unpredictable period. Caprice's vision extended beyond the conventional, as she recognized the evolving landscape of digital marketing. By introducing a cutting-edge digital marketing strategy, she propelled Urbane Cafe into the digital forefront.
Eric Knott
Chief Operating Officer | PDQ Restaurants
Eric Knott is a restaurant executive with a proven track record built upon operational excellence, driving revenues with favorable returns, and a passion for developing best in class teams. Currently leading the fast casual brand People Dedicated to Quality (PDQ) as the Chief Operating Office, Eric has committed over a decade to driving strategic growth across the business. Understanding the importance of a holistic vision, Eric is directly responsible for producing results through a vast array of incentives. Innovation across Operations, Technology, Real-Estate, and Marketing campaigns are a few examples of how Eric has created superior value to the organization.
Amie Kromis
DEI Director, North America | Essity
Amie Kromis pairs 10+ years of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) experience in the aviation, construction and health/hygiene industries with her mission to evolve business by making it more inclusive. Amie serves as DEI Director for Essity North America where she supports business leaders in North America in reaching Essity’s global DEI ambitions. She received her bachelor’s degree in corporate communications and public affairs from SMU and holds a MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business where she was a Forte Foundation Fellow. Kromis hails from Nashville, Tennessee and has made Washington, DC her home.
Melissa Li
Head of Community | Dorm Room Fund
Melissa Li is a consumer VC focused on commerce and web3 startups at seed stage. Having advised entrepreneurs across CPG and media on community-building and GTM strategy, Melissa is interested in how mature fast casual players can too experiment with leveraging new media (including web3 experiences) and alternate channels for viral growth. Melissa brings extensive knowledge on the Gen Z consumer, having frequently delivered marketing workshops on building iconic brands and Gen Z customer communities. She has also served as Head of Community for Dorm Room Fund (backer of Snackpass, Bevspot, VERB Energy, Proper Good, Spyce Kitchen, Bevi, and The Rounds — all of which got their start on university campuses), helping portfolio companies devise retail activations and community flywheels.
Steve Lieber
VP of Franchise Development | BurgerFi
Steve Lieber is a respected figure in the restaurant industry, celebrated for his expertise in restaurant concept design and successful operations. A certified pizzaiolo from Italy, he earned the title of Best Pizza in the USA in 2009. Currently, as Vice President of Franchise Development at BURGERFI International, he represents both the BURGERFI and Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza & Wings brands. Steve has led his team to sell over 150 franchises to 50+ groups, spanning 20+ states and international markets like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. His commitment extends to mentoring franchisees and boosting local store marketing strategies for profitability.
Desmond Lim
Co-Founder & CEO | Workstream
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, a mobile-first hiring and onboarding platform for the hourly workforce. He is a Harvard University and MIT Media Lab graduate, a former Product Manager at WeChat, and an investor at Dorm Room Fund. He contributes to, Workstream Blog, and Huffington Post. He splits his time between San Francisco and Utah, and represented the Singapore National Team in basketball.
John Lucas
VP of Brand & Franchise Development | Farmer Boys
John Lucas is an industry veteran with over 35 years of hospitality and restaurant experience. In his role, John ensures Farmer Boys upholds our consistent operational standards and delivers a high-quality, reliable guest experience in every restaurant. Additionally, Lucas oversees all the system’s franchised locations and is responsible for building upon Farmer Boys’ high service standards at those locations. Lucas joined the Farmer Boys team in 2017 as a franchise business consultant and now serves as the Vice President of Brand and Franchise Development.
Davide Macchi
Co-Founder & CEO | Due' Cucina
Davide Macchi is the Co-founder & CEO of Due' Cucina, a unique fast-casual concept specializing in authentic Italian pasta. Due' Cucina currently operates four locations in Seattle, WA (with one more on the way) and, following a recent equity round, is about to open three additional units in Texas. Prior to Due’, David worked as a strategy consultant for Kearney, and in a variety of management roles in Australia and the US for Rocket Internet and Amazon. Davide studied media, economics, and business administration at University of Bologna, UC Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his MBA in 2016.
Gregg Majewski
CEO | Craveworthy Brands
Gregg Majewski is the former CEO/COO/CFO of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and founder of Craveworthy Brands, a growing portfolio of diverse, relevant and highly efficient brands built on an unbeatable proposition for both consumers and prospective franchisees. Craveworthy Brands includes Wing It On!, The Budlong, Krafted Burger Bar + Tap and Lucky Cat. Majewski also serves as the CEO of Mongolian Concepts, the parent company to Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill. While at Jimmy John’s, Gregg expanded the company from 33 restaurants to 300 open and another 600 sold. He implemented and restructured all 300 of Jimmy John’s restaurants’ operational standards by introducing new systems, procedures, management incentive programs, training programs, franchisee enablement and shifting marketing strategies toward grassroots and a focus on freaky fast delivery. As a senior business executive who has established a resounding executive career of over 23 years in Food & Beverage, he has held instrumental roles in developing and guiding leaders.
MaryBeth Maskovas
Founder, Director of Analytics | Insight Lime Analytics
MaryBeth Maskovas is the founder and principal analytics consultant from the up-and-coming analytics and data strategy firm Insight Lime. With an international career in digital analytics, she has worked for brands such as KAYAK, Wendy’s, and other major retailers. She solves sticky problems in attribution, data usage, organizational strategy, and making business decisions with data. During her 10+ year career, she has loved working with complex businesses to create impactful change and has done so for notable travel, eCommerce, SaaS, and QSR brands. Insight Lime was founded when MaryBeth repatriated to the US from Denmark in 2020. In the agency's first few years, they have had an 80% client repeat rate, received an average 90+ NPS score, and a 100 NPS rating from the top five highest revenue clients.
Andrew Maxwell
Owner & Operator | Boojum
Andrew Maxwell is the owner/operator of Boojum, Ireland's largest chain of Mexican fast casual restaurants. He is passionate about perfecting the intersection of hospitality and technology. A former professional athlete, he has built and scaled businesses on both sides of the Atlantic and is excited to be part of the digital revolution in hospitality. Andrew is a proud husband and dad of 3.
Rickey McBride
Franchise Partner | Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream
Rickey McBride is a self-made entrepreneur who thrives on building relationships with his partners and clients to be successful. Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa in 1978, Rickey made a name for himself in athletics around the Quad Cities. He thrived as a standout on the Central High School football, baseball, and track teams eventually earning a football scholarship to Georgia Southern University. He studied business and relocated to Atlanta, where he began multiple business ventures in the health, wellness and hospitality industries. Since 2020 Rickey has been one of the catalysts in the growing sea moss movement, which is now being recognized in health and fitness circles for its benefits and variety of uses. He owns and operates his own health and supplement stores in the Atlanta area. Rickey recently expanded his portfolio by partnering with his childhood friends to acquire the development agreement for two (with the option for more) Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream franchises across Texas.
Frank McLaughlin
Partner | Antares Group
Francis “Frank” McLaughlin, CPA has more than 15 years of accounting experience. This experience ranges from being an assistant controller at a construction company, to working on audits of different industries, to auditing 401(k) plans, to working on consulting and planning with a hospitality and restaurant focus. Frank enjoys the connection he has with his clients, discussing their business and personal goals and helping them build a strategic plan around accomplishing those goals. Be it personal, business, tax, reinvestment, acquisition, divesting planning, Frank is always working to ensure the best possible outcome. Frank is the Technology lead of the firm. Whether that is in cloud accounting, automation or data and insights, Frank is always looking for what's next. Frank specializes in creating a holistic technology stack that helps our clients get more accurate information faster by enabling technology for team members to provide the best client service.
Chris Medhurst
President | District Taco
Chris Medhurst is currently the President of District Taco - a Yucatan-style quick-service Mexican restaurant. When he joined the company 13 years ago, it had one food truck. During his time at District Taco, he has served as General Manager, Director of Operations, VP of Finance & Operations, and Chief Financial Officer. Today the company has 16 brick-and-mortar locations throughout DC, MD, VA and PA, and has over 70 units under development along the East Coast of the United States. Chris graduated from James Madison University in 2010 with a double major in Finance and Management and a minor in Economics. He also holds a MS in Accounting and Financial Management from Keller Graduate School of Management, and a MS in Computer Science from George Mason University. In his free time he plays water polo on the NOVA masters team and enjoys downhill skiing, watching MMA, and spending time with his wife Meghan, daughter Rory, and their two cats Bert and Ernie.
Bill Mitchell
Consultant- Independent Board Member | HungerRush- (formerly of Dunkin Brands & Papa John's)
Bill is a restaurant operations executive with nearly 30 years of U.S. and global operations and franchising experience. Bill joined the HungerRush Board as an Independent Board Director in 2023 with a profound understanding of the need for transformative technology in the restaurant space. Bill was the President of Hut American and Chief Executive Officer for Cici’s Pizza. Bill also served in a variety of leadership roles at Dunkin’ Brands. He was the President of Dunkin’ Brands International at Dunkin Brands Group, Inc. and Dunkin Donuts LLC, where he was responsible for nearly 8,500 Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurants located in more than 60 countries around the world. Bill is widely credited with growing the global footprint of Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins. Before joining Dunkin’ Brands, Bill spent a decade at Papa John’s International, where he served in multiple roles and ultimately, President of Global Operations. Prior to his time at Papa John’s, Bill held various operations positions at a variety of other food service companies including AFC Enterprises -Popeye’s, RTM Restaurant Group, and KFC. One could say he kicked off his passion for leading, especially in the international arena, while proudly serving successfully as an officer in the United States Army. To date, he generously supports veteran-based organizations and salutes our men and women in uniform!
Jim Nagy
Production Manager | Wildflower
Jim Nagy is an experienced restaurateur who “grew up” in the casual dining segment in Western Canada working with Earls Restaurant Group, Canada’s largest and most successful casual dining company. In his 17 years with Earls, Jim had the opportunity to fill many roles ranging from Regional Chef to Director of Operations. Jim participated in product development, kitchen design, production systems, and hospitality training along with leading the opening of over 25+ locations. In 2009, Jim joined the Wildflower family in Scottsdale, AZ. Currently, Jim wears several hats ranging from leading system and product enhancements at our commercial bakery to overseeing restaurant operations with a focus on mentoring District managers and General managers in the art of hospitality and customer experience.
Mike Nettles
Chief Digital & Technology Officer | Zaxby's Franchising
Zack Oates
Founder & CEO | Ovation
Zack Oates is an author, husband, father, entrepreneur, and hot tub aficionado (but not in that order, necessarily). He grew up in restaurants before getting into startups. He was voted Top 100 Entrepreneurs, rang the NASDAQ bell, won the world’s biggest business competition, has been to 50 countries, and started 3 companies. He went on over 1,000 dates before he got married and wrote a book, “Dating Never Works…Until it Does.” He currently is Founder and CEO of Ovation, the no. 1 restaurant feedback platform in America, voted Top 50 Most Influential Supplier by Nation’s Restaurant News, and host of “Give an Ovation: A Podcast for Restaurants.”
Sam Osborne
Owner | Rock N Roll Sushi
Otto Othman
CEO & Co-Founder | PINCHO
Otto Othman is an Interactive Creative Director, Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and CEO of PINCHO. With 15 years of interactive design experience and fluent in 4 languages, Otto has led multi-disciplinary interactive teams on award winning campaigns for clients such as FIAT, Coca Cola, and Chrysler. Otto is currently the Co-founder of the award-winning burger and kebab chain PINCHO. Leveraging its culture, social media and technology, PINCHO has won the hearts of many guests in South Florida. The brand has 10 locations and has been successful at creating a very loyal following in Miami.
Darshan Patel
VP of Franchise Development | Pizzawala
The food business literally runs in Darshan Patel’s blood. From a young age, he saw his parents own and operate multiple Dunkin Donut’s locations, while his grandma was known throughout the town for her magic in the kitchen. After graduating from NJIT, Darshan joined Pizzawala’s and has since served as the VP of Franchise Development. Along with Franchise Development, he’s also heavily involved in Operations, Research and Development, and Marketing. Darshan also serves in a similar capacity for Pizzawala’s’ affiliate, Neehee’s, an Indian Vegetarian Street Food concept.
Vrijesh Patel
Chief Operations Officer | Pizzawala
25 years ago, Vrijesh Patel came to the US with his family and a dream – to make a difference in as many lives as he could. Since then, he’s learned every aspect of the restaurant industry and provided countless smiles to thousands of customers. Vrijesh serves as the Chief Operations Officer of Pizzawala’s, and was instrumental in developing the standardized procedures the brand utilizes to provide consistent, quality food and service. Vrijesh also serves in a similar capacity for Pizzawala’s’ affiliate, Neehee’s, an Indian Vegetarian Street Food concept.
Raghav Poddar
Founder & CEO | Superorder
Raghav Poddar attended Columbia University and participated in the prestigious Y Combinator incubator. Having lived on opposite sides of the world, both full of food and culture, he founded Superorder to help restaurants become more profitable and compete in a digital first world with AI technology. He has built a team of over 70+ employees helping thousands of restaurants across the country protect, manage, and grow their revenue.
Sarah Rigsbee
Chief Financial Officer | Farmer's Fridge
Sarah Rigsbee is the CFO at Farmer's Fridge with responsibility for finance, accounting, data analytics, legal and corporate HR. In her role, she leads development of the company's financial plans and forecasts, analysis and communication of performance, and interfaces accordingly with investors. She is also responsible for the full lifecycle of the corporate employee experience, from recruitment to retention and offboarding. Sarah started with the company in 2018 and prior to Farmer's Fridge, Sarah spent nearly 10 years at The Boeing Company, where she held several roles in financial and cost accounting, FP&A and corporate strategy. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters of Business Administration from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She lives in Chicago with her dog and is an avid traveler.
Jocelyn Rodgers
Director of Brand Partnerships | Botrista Beverages
Emily Rugaber
VP of Marketing | Thanx
Emily Rugaber, VP of Marketing at Thanx is an expert in digital transformation, loyalty and data-driven restaurant marketing. She wrote the definitive guide on Restaurant Digital Maturity and authors the Loyalty Disrupt newsletter. Prior to joining Thanx, Emily consulted Fortune 500 clients such as SAP, Nestle, and Target on business intelligence, marketing and AI projects.
Chris Ruszkowski
Chief Marketing Officer | Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii
Chris Ruszkowski is the Chief Marketing Officer of Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii where he oversees marketing communications, brand vision and advertising planning which includes social media and local store marketing for each valued Bad Ass Coffee franchise owners. Chris brings over twenty years of big brand advertising and communications knowledge to the team with experience marketing brands including Quiznos, McDonalds, Breckenridge Brewing, Einstein Bros, Zeps Epiq Sandwiches, Visa and Frito Lay. Outside of work, Chris is busy raising 4 boys with his wife outside of Denver, Colorado. On the weekends he can typically be found out on his mountain bike, a hiking trail or keeping score at the sports fields.
Phillip Scotton
Franchise Owner | PRIMO Partners (Ben & Jerry's)
Phillip Scotton is with PRIMO Partners, the largest and only Black-owned/Black-led multi-unit franchise developer of Ben & Jerry’s, along with other enterprises. While attending the University of North Carolina, Phillip was reintroduced to a hometown scholar, UNC Alum Antonio McBroom, who had recently purchased a Ben & Jerry’s the same year. As the years passed, Antonio and Phillip grew closer. By 2012, Phillip helped to create The Pathway to Leadership Internship program with Ben & Jerry’s and gained the skills needed to become a serial entrepreneur. By 2016, Phillip was immersed in the business as a partner/full-time operator, where he has helped propel the off-premise category to double-digit sales growth each year and they currently tout the No. 1 ranking for Ben & Jerry’s globally. Phillip led the opening of their first Atlanta location, was one of the driving forces behind the acquisition of the Athens and Chattanooga locations, and helped develop locations in central Florida, around the Tampa area, and the Houston, Texas area.
Ray Sears
Director of Local Marketing | PJ Restaurants (Papa Johns)
Ray Sears earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1988 from the College of Business Management at the University of Maryland- College Park. Now with PJ Restaurants, Ray continues his success in building local relationships and driving positive sales results in the markets where we operate. He specializes in creating and maintaining local area relationships and has been recognized for his excellence in local area marketing. Ray has 33 years of pizza experience, 11 years as an independent pizza owner & 18 years as operating partner with Papa John’s. Ray grew Papa John’s franchise from 3 stores to 14 in less than 10 years with annual sales of $12M. He also won the 2012 National Papa John’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, Two-time Franchisee of the Year nominee, and the 2016 Excellence in Local Marketing Award.
Jessica Serrano
VP of Marketing | DIG
Jessica Serrano is a seasoned marketing professional who joined DIG in 2022 as the VP of Marketing. With extensive experience in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) sector, Jessica played a key role in national marketing & calendar innovation at Burger King and Taco Bell. She also has experience in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space having worked at brands including Dole and Kraft. She holds both an MBA and a BS from the University of Southern California.
Max Sheets
Founder & CEO | Chick N Max
No stranger to the restaurant industry, Max Sheets got his start as a teenager scraping cheese off pans in a Pizza Hut kitchen. In the early 2000s – after having already spent 23 years in real estate and development for such brands as Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Smashburger and Ted’s Montana Grill – he began mulling over the idea of a franchise concept that would accommodate the ever growing movement towards red meat alternatives. In 2017, he founded Chick N Max, a next generation fast casual franchise specializing in almond wood smoked chicken and wings, chef-crafted sandwiches and golden fried tenders.
Jason Sobocinski
Co-Founder & President | Haven Hot Chicken
A noted serial entrepreneur with many successful businesses across the hospitality and F&B space, Jason Sobocinski brings over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience to the team. Born and raised in New Haven, he also carries a Master’s degree in Gastronomy from BU. At Haven Hot Chicken, Jason is a thought leader in hospitality and guest experience, which impacts all facets of the business, from training, operations, branding, and culture. Jason also leads real estate expansion efforts for the team.
Carin Stutz
Board Member | Kura Sushi, Hawaiian Bros
Carin Stutz is a public company board director and a veteran C level operating executive with deep experience in the hospitality and consumer sector. Stutz is the former President and CEO of Native Foods and 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 Kura Sushi, Hawaiian Bros, as well as chair of the board of trustees for Western Illinois University.
Susan Taylor
President & CEO | Juice It Up!
Susan Taylor is the President and CEO of Juice It Up! and possesses nearly 30 years of restaurant industry leadership experience. Propelled by her extraordinary vision, guidance and commitment to helping franchise owners succeed, Juice It Up! is experiencing record sales as the brand continues to take more ownership of the ever-popular smoothie, bowl, and raw juice segment. A dynamic, people-oriented brand builder, Susan has made huge contributions in furthering the evolution of the brand and taking Juice It Up! to new heights. Leading her team through the many challenges of the past few years to emerge stronger than ever, Susan is instrumental to Juice It Up!’s success.
Etkin Tekin
Co-Founder & CEO | Haven Hot Chicken
A Yale alum and emigrant to the US, Etkin Tekin brings 15 years of entrepreneurial and corporate experience to the HHC team. Cutting his teeth in the hospitality space with two startups in his early twenties, he then moved to ZX Ventures, the corporate innovation and venture capital arm of AB-InBev, where he gained the management and leadership experience he has today. As HHC's CEO, Etkin’s primary responsibilities for Haven include business planning & strategy, leadership development, marketing & branding, and fundraising & investor relations.
Adam Terranova
Sr. Director of Growth | WOWorks
Adam Terranova is the Senior Director of Growth for WOWorks – the parent company of Saladworks, Frutta Bowls, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, The Simple Greek, Barberitos and Zoup! Eatery. Since the formation of WOWorks, he served as Director of Brand Marketing for Frutta Bowls and Saladworks and, prior to that, he held the position of Head of Marketing at Philly Pretzel Factory. Before entering the franchise community, he worked over a decade in the marketing and advertising world in agencies and vendors. Adam has had national recognition from his use of marketing technology, marketing platforms and how to apply them in a way that consumers desire it! He has a keen understanding of how make data driven strategic decisions to help organize chaos in menu marketing and technology to grow sales across all of WOWorks brands.
Jeremy Theisen
Chief Growth & Development Officer | Craveworthy Brands
Jeremy Theisen has over 20 years of experience in the restaurant vertical significantly increasing revenues through technology and culture. Prior to joining Craveworthy Brands, Jeremy served as Chief Growth Officer at FAT Brands where he lead franchise development as well as various digital projects focused on driving revenue for franchisees. Theisen also served as Chief Sales Officer of Punchh, the restaurant industry leader in loyalty and engagement programs, where he saw the company through its launch to generating $50 million in revenue prior to being acquired by Par Technology Corporation.
Annie Tselikis
Director of Marketing & Franchise Sales | Cousins Maine Lobster
Annie Tselakis joined Cousins Maine Lobster in 2021 as the Director of Marketing and Franchise Sales with fifteen years of experience in the Maine lobster industry. She fell in love with the water as a deckhand on a ferryboat in Portland Harbor and her career has evolved to cover the entire coast of Maine as she supported commercial fishing organizations and lobster wholesale businesses. In 2014, she became the first executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association where she advocated for wholesalers and processors at the local, state and federal level. She previously worked in seafood marketing overseeing digital marketing strategies, international trade shows and trade missions promoting Maine lobster to customers worldwide. Annie graduated from Connecticut College in 2004 with a degree in anthropology and photography. She currently serves on the boards of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative and the Lobster Research, Education, and Development Fund.
Jason Valentine
Chief Strategy Officer | Botrista Beverages
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 Beverages 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.
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.
Dan Vorderstrasse
Director of Sales | SoundHound
Julie Wade
Senior Director of Marketing | Taziki's Mediterranean Café
Julie Wade joined Taziki's with over 15 years of franchise and retail marketing experience. Beginning with a large franchisee of Blockbuster Video and then working for two franchisors in the restaurant segment, Julie has a deep knowledge of high-touch marketing strategies like local store marketing and a broad high-tech skill set with rewards programs, online ordering, and digital advertising. In 2018 she received her Certified Franchise Executive designation and continues to be active in the franchising community.
Chase Wardrop
Chief Operating Officer | Swig
Chase Wardrop is Chief Operating Officer of Swig, one of the fastest-growing beverage companies in the country. After graduating in 2015 at the age of 24, he co-founded The Soda Shop in his hometown of Gilbert, Arizona. The Soda Shop became a widely popular brand locally and grew to two stores in less than a year. In 2017, a majority stake of The Soda Shop was purchased by Savory Fund, which merged The Soda Shop with the original soda brand, Swig. Since the merger, Swig has opened 54 corporate stores, seen positive sales growth for 5 years straight, and has increased both operational efficiencies and profitability. In 2022, Swig was purchased by Utah icon The Larry H. Miller Company in a nine-figure deal — an acquisition that Franchise Times named Deal of the Year. In February 2023, Swig launched multi-unit franchising, and six months later, it secured 250 franchise units in seven new markets — and is on track to secure 500 units by the end of the year.
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.
Ryan Wilkinson
Vice President, Marketing | Primanti Bros. Restaurant & Bar
As a digital-first marketer with a penchant for boundary-busting ideas, Ryan Wilkinson has worked to bring the personality of some of the country’s most fun brands to life. From Nestle’s iconic Drumstick, to Wonka confections, frozen pizza brands and now to leading marketing for Pittsburgh’s own 90 year old icon - the French-fry and slaw-topped Primanti Bros., Ryan’s goal is always to drive positive ROI through creative storytelling, strategic media and new technology.
Doug Willmarth
President | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes
Doug Willmarth is the President of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a growing 90 unit fast casual restaurant company where he is working to revitalize the brand and accelerate unit growth. Throughout his career, Doug has specialized in building iconic brands and creating sustainable sales growth in restaurants and consumer retail. In addition to MOOYAH, Doug’s restaurant experience includes roles as Chief Brand Officer for Mongolian Concepts, Chief Marketing Officer at Wingstop, and Director of National Marketing for Pizza Hut. Doug started his business career in CPG marketing at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, and served 9 years as a Naval Aviator.
Dave Wood
Chief Strategic Officer, CEO & Founder | Hot Chikn Kitchn, Mahana Fresh
Dave Wood started his restaurant career as a freshman at the University of North Carolina when he got a job delivering pizzas for Domino’s Pizza in Chapel Hill NC. Over the next year, Dave decided that his future was in the pizza business. Dave managed the Domino’s in Chapel Hill and then ran the nearly 30 store franchise for Dan Shefte- an early Domino’s franchisee. In 1985 Dave and his wife Nancy moved to Manassas VA to open their own franchised Domino’s restaurant. For the next nearly 30 years they built and operated one of the most successful franchise companies in Domino’s. Dave served on countless advisory boards and was awarded the coveted Gold Franny- given to the top 1% of franchisees each year- over 15 times. After selling his restaurants to retire, Dave discovered he was not ready to retire. He has been involved in the launching and growth of four franchised restaurant chains. He is currently the CEO and Founder of Mahana Fresh and the Chief Strategy Officer for HCK Hot Chicken.
MJ Worsham
Director of Restaurant Technology | Five Guys
MJ Worsham is a career hospitality technologist with a proven history of working across both the brand and vendor sides of the industry. In his current role as the Director of Restaurant Technology for Five Guys – 1,830+ restaurants spanning 24 countries across the world – MJ is responsible for all Point-of-Sale systems (POS), above-store integrations, and store-level ERP system relationships globally in addition to the merchant processing relationship and various pilot projects in North America. MJ also consults internally on domestic and global strategic technology projects across multiple verticals of the business.

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