SVP, Chief Restaurant Operations Officer | Panera Bread
Karen Kelley joined Panera in December 2018 as Senior Vice President, Chief Restaurant Operations Officer, bringing her experience of building great teams and culture, infrastructure and operating processes to the company. As a proven leader in the restaurant business, Karen believes leadership is an honor and carries with it the responsibility of investing in building exceptional talent and teams to drive successful business and brand growth. Karen comes to Panera with more than 30 years of management and operational experience, having served as President and COO of Tatte Bakery & Café, sweetgreen and Drybar, where she was responsible for driving strategic growth, building the infrastructure and teams, and overseeing key internal leaders.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
Founder & CEO | Square Roots Kitchen
Derin Alemli is the Founder & CEO of Square Roots Kitchen, a technology-enabled fast casual healthy restaurant located at 120 S Halsted in Chicago. SRK automates customer interactions and kitchen operations, and has been revolutionary in creating a humanized approach to automation that makes for happy customers and an efficient operation. SRK is expanding, and developing its tech as a SaaS product for other restaurants. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur Derin worked in hedge fund portfolio management for Grosvenor Capital Management. Derin has an MBA from the University of Chicago in addition to holding the Chartered Financial Analyst designation.
CEO | Wow Bao
After two decades of working with multiple Lettuce Entertain You concepts, Geoff Alexander took over as President of Wow Bao in 2009. Under Geoff’s leadership, Wow Bao has revolutionized the way diners interact with restaurants by being a leader in technology. He implemented mobile & desktop ordering, installed self-ordering kiosks, pioneered a mobile gift card & loyalty program, added bicycle delivery, as well as domestic shipping, launched a food truck, and turned Wow Bao into a well-respected social media influencer. Geoff has overseen Wow Bao’s inclusion into airports, NFL stadiums, MLB ballparks, university campuses, and more than 50 grocers sell Wow Bao’s frozen retail line.
Founder & CEO | SAJJ Mediterranean
Zaid Ayoub is the founder and CEO of the Bay Area-headquartered fast casual restaurant chain SAJJ Mediterranean. Under Zaid’s strategic leadership, SAJJ Mediterranean has grown from being a single storefront in 2012 to a growing network of nine stores and two food trucks offering catering and event services. The brand has two corporate stores in development in Northern California, and aims to have 15 stores opened or in the works by year’s end.
CEO | True Food Kitchen
Christine Barone joined True Food Kitchen as CEO in 2016. Since then she’s accelerated the company’s development – growing the business from 12 restaurants in 2016 to 28 restaurants in 13 states today. True Food Kitchen’s mission “to bring people together to eat better, feel better, and celebrate a passion for better living” is what drives Christine and her commitment to the brand’s ongoing growth. Prior to her current role, Christine served as senior vice president of food, evenings and licensed stores at Starbucks. Christine graduated from Harvard University with a BA in applied mathematics and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Chairman & CEO | Mobivity
With more than a decade of experience building, financing, and acquiring enterprises redefining the way technology and business interact, Dennis Becker leads Mobivity’s vision of bringing businesses more customers, more often through disruptive technologies. An inventor of several patents, Dennis’ background also includes awards as founder of Frontieric Corporation and CEO of Bexel Technologies. Prior to Mobivity, Dennis studied Computer Science at the University of Oregon and served in the USAF.
Founder & CEO | 7shifts
Jordan Boesch is the founder and CEO of 7Shifts, a scheduling and labor management app that helps restaurants and QSRs schedule, evaluate, and communicate with their workforces, founded in 2014. While the product began as a simple tool to help his dad manage the work schedule at his Quiznos franchises, it has since evolved into a leading global restaurant management platform. Jordan has led 7shifts into the doors of over 10,000 restaurants with the mission to improve happiness and efficiency in the workplace.
Head of Product Management | PlayerLync
Paul Bradley heads Product Management and New Product Development for PlayerLync, a leading operational learning and performance support solution for industries with deskless workers. Throughout Paul’s twenty years as a technology innovator, he has led product ideation and development efforts for organizations ranging from early stage to the Fortune 500, including AT&T Wireless, Charter Communications, Visa, Level 3 Communications, and more. His current obsession is leveraging mobile technology to revolutionize modern learning and to break down traditional barriers between learning and operational performance.
CEO | Juice It Up!
In 2017, Chris Braun brought his enthusiasm and passion for healthy living to the Juice It Up! family as he took the reins as President and Chief Executive Officer of the brand. In his role, he oversees corporate programs and franchisee relations while implementing new tools and strategies designed to improve revenues and achieve brand growth. He is dedicated to ensuring every Juice It Up! franchise partner is provided with the support needed to thrive in the booming smoothie, raw juice and bowl category where Juice It Up! has been an industry leader for more than 24 years. Chris has over two decades of corporate management and executive experience in the food industry.
VP of Editorial | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group’s nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-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 FastCasual.com.
COO | Mongolian Concepts
Paul Carolan joined Mongolian Concepts as COO in March 2018 and has partnered with the new executive team lead by Jim Vinz in revitalizing Genghis Grill, Bd’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill. Leading the company’s Operations, Development, Franchising and Supply Chain the team has been focused on brand reimaging, improved customer service, food quality and an operational excellence culture. Paul joined Bruegger’s Bagels, a Le Duff America company, as President in January of 2015 and led the company on its transformational strategy: co-branding partnerships, coffee and catering initiatives, brand reimaging, technology transformations, as well as driving a culture of operational excellence.
VP of Marketing | Chicken Salad Chick
Tom Carr serves as the Vice President of Marketing for Chicken Salad Chick leading all aspects of marketing and communications for the fast growing brand. He has nearly 30 years of experience as a strategic, creative, and innovative marketing executive across a diverse range of industries. This includes entertainment, apparel, restaurants, consumer products, and media. Tom’s experience includes marketing leadership roles with Discovery Communications, Spanx, Nike and Turner Broadcasting. He established his professional reputation in multi-unit restaurant and beverage advertising in senior roles at top agencies, where he managed Coca-Cola Fountain, Outback Steakhouse and helped take Little Caesars Pizza from a regional to a national chain.
VP of Brand Development & Strategy | Four Foods Group
Alonso Castañeda’s professional career began as a General Manager for Qdoba Mexica Grill in Colorado and he excelled in the business quickly and passionately. Since then he has worked as a Director of Franchise Operations, Regional Manager, Director of F&B, Director of Sales and Store compliance and currently Vice President of Brand Development and Strategy for the Four Foods Group Brands. He received the RevGen award from Mercato Partners in 2017 for top revenue generator in the FFG Brands. He has worked with great companies such as Qdoba, Paradise Bakery, Panera Bread, Café Rio, Kneaders Bakery & Café, R & R BBQ and Mo’Bettahs Hawaiian Style Food.
Massimo De Marco
Chief Culinary Officer | Kitchen United
Massimo Noja De Marco serves as Kitchen United’s Chief Culinary Officer. Prior to joining the company, Massimo owned and operated PH+E, a boutique consulting firm focusing on opening restaurants, hotels and bars across the US, Mexico and Europe. He served as Vice President of Operations for SBE Entertainment, controlling all operational aspects for the Restaurants and Nightlife division. Previously he covered the same role at Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, overseeing operations for all venues in S. California, including major events and awards shows, such as the Academy Awards. Formerly, Massimo owned and operated restaurants in NYC and Los Angeles.
COO | Ballard Brands
With 24 years of restaurant experience and knowledge of executive leadership inside and out, Bill DiPaola is a thought-leader among restaurant and franchise executives. Bill is the current Chief Operating Officer of Ballard Brands, LLC, a company of almost 175 units, both nationally and internationally. Among the many brands that Ballard represents is PJ’s Coffee which just opened it’s 100th location and the restaurant group of Iron Chef Jose Garces. He formerly led the charge as president and COO of Dat Dog Enterprises, overseeing the corporate office, as well as franchise and corporate operations. Under his leadership, Dat Dog was voted #1 Hot Dog Restaurant by USA Today.
Co-Founder & CEO | Chowly
Sterling Douglass is the Co-founder and CEO of Chowly, a first-of-its-kind service that helps restaurants integrate orders from Third-party Online Ordering Systems (UberEats, DoorDash, etc.) into their POS system. His work has been focused on building things; Teams, relationships, products, and companies. Winner of the Chicago Innovation Up & Comer award, Chowly has grown due to a fierce focus on lean start-up and an out-of-box thinking leadership team. Sterling also enjoys entrepreneurship, specifically the first stages a company goes through in the early days. For more information on Chowly, visit www.chowlyinc.com
EVP, Business Operations | BurgerFi
Speaker bio coming soon!
Founder & CEO | Everbowl
Since earning his J.D. from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Jeff Fenster has proven himself as an entrepreneurial innovator. As a serial entrepreneur, Jeff’s been recognized nationally for his business creations ranging from a Payroll & HR company, Digital Marketing Agency, Construction company among others. In addition, Jeff was named a top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by Empact. Combining his two biggest passions – entrepreneurship and healthy living – Jeff created the foundation everbowl has been built on and his personal philosophy of making friends and having fun have not only translated into a fun, vibrant culture at everbowl but also became the company’s true heartbeat.
President | Gloria Jean’s Gourmet Coffees and It’s A Grind Coffee House
Sam Ferreira is a senior level executive who works with franchise owners to grow their business by focusing on new and existing revenue streams that are on brand, support overall business objectives and deliver memorable guest experiences that encourage and inspire repeat visits. As a proven leader, Sam believes product and service are the two key factors that drive any retail business. Product innovation and world-class service grounded on improving brand vibrancy and profitability are the hallmarks of his approach to business growth. As the President of RFG-USA, Sam has a passion for Process, People and Innovation paired with his 25 years of experience driving results across multiple retail disciplines.
Co-Founder & CEO | Wing Zone
Back in 1991, finding Amazing Flavor was not so easy – especially at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL where Matt Friedman and Adam Scott were away at school. Matt and Adam spent many a night in their fraternity house kitchen perfecting the recipes that one day would become Wing Zone’s trademark flavors. Starting with a single storefront, Matt and Adam built the Wing Zone brand, satisfying the cravings of Flavorholics in other towns, states and now, worldwide. Today, Matt and Adam are among the few ever to be inducted in the Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame. Wing Zone now has nearly 100 locations.
CEO | B.GOOD
Chris Fuqua is Chief Executive Officer of B.GOOD, a 75-unit, farm-to-table, fast casual restaurant chain that serves all-natural burgers, green and grain bowls, salads, and smoothies. A seasoned industry veteran, Chris brings a strong strategic vision and operational background to the company. He has been on the Board at B.GOOD since 2017 and previously held roles in Marketing, Operations, Finance, Strategy, and Supply Chain as a senior executive at Dunkin’ Brands, a consultant at McKinsey and Company, and an officer in the United States Navy.
VP of Sales | Oracle Food and Beverage
Speaker bio coming soon!
Partner, Culinary & Operations | Dog Haus
As befits the leader of our culinary team, Hagop Hagop Giragossian avidly explores Southern California’s vibrant food scene and cooks up leg3endary meals at home. Hagop’s successful business endeavors include founding Kings Row Gastropub and Neo Meze with Quasim. Additionally, Hagop partners with Quasim and André in Pyramid Powder. Hagop and Quasim are former owners of Boar’s Java, a coffee truck with a loyal following in Los Angeles County. Hagop has a degree in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach. In addition, to his culinary exploits, Hagop is an avid basketball fan who roots for his hometown team, the Lakers.
Founder & Managing Partner | Alliance Consumer Growth
Josh Goldin is Founder and Managing Partner of Alliance Consumer Growth, a growth equity fund which provides capital and growth-oriented resources to the most promising emerging consumer product, retail and restaurant brands. In the restaurant sector, ACG has been an early investor in rising-star brands Shake Shack, Tender Greens, PDQ, Snooze AM Eatery and Blaze Pizza. In other consumer categories, ACG’s track record includes early-stage investments in Suja Juice (later acquired by Coca-Cola), barkTHINS and Krave Jerky (both later acquired by Hershey’s), Evol Foods (later acquired by Boulder Brands), Clio Snacks, Tata Harper Skincare, Harry’s Inc., OUAI Haircare, Milk Makeup, Babyganics (later acquired by SC Johnson) and The Honest Kitchen.
Founder & CEO | Thanx
Zach Goldstein is a die-hard Sacramento Kings fan; it was through many losing seasons where he first learned the value of loyalty. He founded Thanx in 2011 with the goal of helping merchants identify, reward and retain their best customers / die-hard fans. Previously, Zach worked with retail and tech giants at Bain and Company, where he focused on customer satisfaction and retention. He received his MBA from Stanford and shivered his way to a BA at Dartmouth.
COO | Stacked Pickle
As an industry leader, Scott Goodrich’s role as COO of Stacked Pickle comprises driving the business through operations, marketing, purchasing and a passion for people. Scott entered the restaurant industry after developing his leadership skills with United Airlines. Scott was recruited by the Murrell Family, founders of Five Guys Burgers and Fries, in March of 2005. During his career at Five Guys, Scott developed operational and training procedures, and was a key architect behind the massive growth of the Five Guys franchise system. With a calling for brand development, Scott made an impactful contribution in the growth of Uncle Maddio’s Pizza as COO.
CEO | Qdoba
Keith Guilbault was named QDOBA’s Chief Executive Officer in May 2018. He leads the QDOBA Restaurant Corporation and oversees more than 750 restaurants located across the U.S. and in Canada. Previously, Keith was QDOBA’s Brand President and played an instrumental role in guiding the brand through its corporate headquarters’ relocation, along with its sale from its former parent company, Jack in the Box, Inc., to its current owner, Apollo Global Management Group. Keith also spent 12 years with Jack in the Box, Inc., where he held several executive positions. He completed his tenure with the corporation as its Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.
President | McAlister’s Deli
With over 20 years of experience in food service, consumer products and retail, Joe Guith was promoted to the role of President of McAlister’s Deli in April 2018. Previously, Joe served as Chief Operating Officer and President of Cinnabon, Inc. for four years, driving significant results through strong performance management, application of process-driven improvements and building collaborative, high performing teams. Before joining FOCUS Brands, Joe worked in general management and strategy with Coca-Cola and Yum! Brands in domestic and international markets. This background has fostered a passion for growing iconic brands that deliver superior experiences and value for guests and franchisees.
Digital Brand Manager | Fazoli’s
Will Hanrahan is the Digital Marketing Manager at Fazoli’s. He oversees growth of the Fazoli’s Rewards Program since launching the App in 2017. He leads the digital strategy for America’s largest Italian elevated QSR chain focusing on CRM, social and digital advertising.
Don Hawkins, Jr.
Executive Vice President – Middleby Combi | Middleby Corporation
Don Hawkins is the Executive Vice President – Middleby Combi at Middleby Corporation. His teams interface directly with Emerging and Re-Emerging Foodservice companies to increase product quality, increase operational efficiencies as well as speed of service, and to reduce labor and utility costs via foodservice equipment designed and built around their specific needs. Don has over 30 years in the industry as both an executive in foodservice equipment manufacturing and as a provider of equipment and services to restaurant chains. He’s known for providing new and creative solutions to issues and problems for customers both globally and domestically.
CEO | Pei Wei
John “J.” Hedrick has served as CEO of Pei Wei Asian Kitchen since January 2017. He brings a strong background in multi-unit hospitality and food service, specializing in retail operations and enhancing the guest experience, to his current leadership role. From Sept. 2015 to Jan. 2017, J. served as chief operating officer of NPC Restaurant Holdings, LLC, and NPC International, Inc., the nation’s seventh-largest restaurant operator with more than 1,300 Pizza Hut and 180 Wendy’s locations and annual revenues exceeding $1.2 billion. At NPC, he accelerated growth and drove strong financial performance while creating a customer-focused, employee-first mindset to drive long-term success.
Divisional President | Evo, Inc.
Scott Heim is a divisional president with Middleby Corporation. He joined Evo, Inc. in 2012, sparking the product development work in the griddle, plancha and cooktop segments. Evo became one of Oregon’s 100 fastest-growing private companies for three consecutive years. He directed the launch of the EVent® ventless griddle in 2015. This patented innovation became the catalyst that resulted in the Evo & Middleby merger at the end of 2018. Prior to Evo, he was responsible for creating a consumer packaged goods start-up firm, battling against (and outlasting) cleaning brands launched by Clorox, Dial and Procter & Gamble in a competitive retail market.
Director of Sales Engineers | PAR
Speaker bio coming soon!
Co-Founder | I Love Bacon
Keith Hill’s first job 22 years ago, was in fast casual dining as a teenager. As he came of age, he soon moved into the challenging bar and nightclub business. He cut his teeth there, opening and helping build several very successful companies. I Love Bacon Food Truck burst onto the scene in the 1st quarter of 2014 and immediately gained notoriety with 4 “Best Food Truck In The City” awards from different organizations. ILB is currently moving into the brick & mortar business as well as adding more trucks to the fleet.
Executive Chef/VP of Operations | Hot Indian Foods
Janene Holig is the founding chef of Hot Indian. What started as a food truck has grown into a popular and expanding fast casual. The menu boasts “Indian food, Simplified” and that is what it delivers. Her knowledge of global cuisine stems from traveling and cooking in restaurants around the world as well as a Bachelor degree in Culinary Management. Her goal is to learn, teach, and inspire Indian cooking. Janene and her dishes have gotten some notoriety including a 2013 Charlie Award for “Best Food Truck”; 2014 “Iron Fork” champion duo; 2015 “Best Food Truck” City Pages; 2015 Top Chef by Foodservice News and 2018 Featured “Chopped” Chef.
President & CEO | Fazoli’s
Carl T. Howard was recruited by Sun Capital Partners to be President and CEO of Fazoli’s Restaurants, Inc. in June 2008. Carl has diligently worked to rebrand and revitalize the Fazoli’s “Fast Fresh Italian” concept. After successfully repositioning Fazoli’s, the brand was sold to Sentinel Capital Partners in 2015. Since joining Fazoli’s every sales and EBITDA record has been posted. The franchise system has been same sales positive for 67 of the last 70 months and the brand is once again growing new units. In 2016 Fazoli’s will open 12-15 new units and is expected to sign 10-15 new franchisee development agreements.
Founder/CEO | Vale Food Co.
Sunny ilyas is Founder & CEO for Vale Food Co, a rapidly growing Healthy Fast Casual Restaurant chain in Florida that offers build your own bowls, açaí bowls, avocado toast and tons of other healthy offerings. He set out in 2016 to create the concept that the market was missing, to provide people with healthy food that is delicious, convenient, affordable, and has variety. At 28 years old, Sunny has won State of FL Entrepreneur of the year award and received Top 5 Fastest growing companies by Florida State University Alumni. From 2016 – 2019, Vale Food Co has grown to 7 units all throughout Florida.
VP, Marketing Communications | Jack in the Box
Adrienne Intoldt is the Vice President of Marketing Communications for one of fast food’s favorite, most iconic brands, Jack in the Box. She leverages the brand’s inherent spirit and iconic CEO alongside data and digital content strategy to connect with today’s young consumers in an authentic and 1:1 personalized manner. Adrienne’s experience ranges from the quick service restaurant category to sports, fashion, and automotive. Prior to joining Jack in the Box, Adrienne spent 13 years in creative agencies on brands such as Infiniti, Ray-Ban, LensCrafters, Adidas and Asics.
Founder & CEO | Curry Up Now
Curry Up Now founder Akash Kapoor has been a self-employed entrepreneur and businessman since childhood. His first business dates back to grade school movie nights, where he set up a food stand, and has successfully grown a variety of businesses, from credit card marketing to mortgage banking to debt and tax mediation. In 2009, he left the traditional business world to start Curry Up Now with his wife, Rana. Curry Up Now was the first Indian street food truck in the Bay Area, and has since grown to include three food trucks, two craft cocktail bar concepts, and six brick-and-mortar locations, with dozens planned in markets nationwide.
SVP of Supply Chain & Quality Assurance | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Kristi Kingery is the Vice President of Supply Chain at Tropical Smoothie Café where she oversees supply chain and quality assurance for more than 750 cafes. She is responsible for building the strategy and infrastructure that will ensure safe, quality products get delivered to their cafes. She is also responsible for the strategy development and execution that will improve profitability for Tropical Smoothie Café franchisees. Kristi started her supply chain career at ARCOP, Inc., the supply chain cooperative for Arby’s Restaurant Group, which supports over 3,200 restaurants. She was responsible for increasing franchise and corporate cash flow by managing supply chain activities that drive profitability and save costs for their restaurant system.
VP of Marketing + Growth | Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
Rachel Layton is the Vice President of Marketing + Growth for Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, building sustainable growth strategies that drive sales for the company’s 90+ locations nationwide. Layton oversees the management of the Taziki’s brand, including digital and local store marketing and was a critical force behind the launch of the company’s email marketing program, in addition to their loyalty program, TAZ Rewards. These initiatives drove an 11% increase in system same store sales. Layton built initiatives that increased online ordering by 80% and led a 15% increase in same store catering sales by coaching local markets in growth techniques. Additionally, Layton manages the Taziki’s off-premise dining program which includes catering and delivery.
Chief Sustainability Officer | Just Salad
Janani Lee is Chief Sustainability Officer at Just Salad, home of the World’s Largest Restaurant Reusable program. A 2013 graduate of New York University’s MA program in Food Studies, Lee has developed an extensive background in food systems, food technology, and sustainable agriculture in the health and wellness space. Since joining the Just Salad team in 2018, Lee has expanded on Just Salad’s existing sustainability efforts and continuously prospects new sustainability opportunities across all aspects of business. Lee lives in Brooklyn and enjoys weekend shopping at the farmers market.
Bryan & Caleb Lewis
Founders | Press Waffle Co.
When Founder & President Bryan Lewis was traveling across Europe with his fiance in the summer of 2013, they encountered the Liege waffle for the first time. Upon returning to Dallas, they could not find them anywhere, so Bryan set out to do it on his own. With no culinary background, he tinkered in the kitchen for over a year before he had perfected the recipe. With a desire to share his waffles with everyone he knew (and more!), Press Waffle Co. was born. When Bryan’s brother, Caleb, moved home from college, they began dreaming and planning their business and after a successful Kickstarter Campaign, finally founded Press Waffle Co. as a food truck in 2016. Press Waffle Co. opened its first permanent storefront in late 2017 and now operates 3 company owned stores, with plans for more this year.
Director of Off Premise Marketing | Moe’s Southwest Grill
Tad Low has been with Moe’s Southwest Grill for more than five years. Prior to his time at Moe’s, Tad spent 15 years as a leading sales professional and top revenue generator in both media advertising and financial lending industries. During his tenure at Moe’s, Tad spent much of his time in field marketing, working day to day with franchise owners and operators helping them deliver local marketing solutions. In 2015, he was named Director of Field Marketing where he oversaw $10M in regional media spend, consulted and aligned local market strategy with national initiatives, and managed over 21 regional-based agency relationships.
COO | Coolgreens
Todd Madlener is an industry veteran with over 25 years of leadership experience building passionate teams and brand culture that drives quality and growth. At Coolgreens, Todd is leading the brand in to its next phase of growth with culture-first programs like “coolstories” and an enhanced training program. He’s also leading key initiatives for the brand including a new prototype, catering program, and updated technologies all aimed at enabling restaurant teams to elevate the guest experience. Todd previously served as Vice President of Operations at MAD Greens and Senior Director of Operations for Red Robin where he spent over 20 years.
CEO | Chronic Tacos
Michael Mohammed is the Chief Executive Officer and President at Chronic Tacos Enterprises Inc. where he oversees the strategic vision of the fast-casual Mexican restaurant brand. Michael is extremely passionate about the Chronic Tacos brand, purpose and commitment to living the #tacolife. Encompassing authentic, 3rd generation recipes and the individuality of each customer, Chronic Tacos has established itself as a bold force in the restaurant industry. Michael has since led the development of Chronic Tacos into over 60 locations across the United States, Canada and Japan. Combining his business experience and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael continues to pilot the brand to success and rapid growth.
Founder & CEO | Fajita Pete’s
Speaker bio coming soon!
CEO | Original ChopShop and bellagreen
Jason Morgan built his career developing and leading successful growth companies across various industries. He is the CEO of two fast casual emerging brands: Original ChopShop and Bellagreen – and also is a managing partner in Hargett Hunter Capital Partners. Jason served as Chief Financial Officer of Zoes Kitchen from 2008 to 2015, and was instrumental in the growth of the company from 20 to 150 stores in which time revenues increased from $18 million to $223 million. In April 2014, Morgan led Zoes Kitchen’s IPO — one of the most successful IPOs in the restaurant sector in the past decade.
COO | Melt Shop
Josh Morgan discovered a passion for the restaurant industry while working for Hillstone Restaurant Group. In January 2010, Josh opened his own restaurant in NYC called Choptank. In June 2013, Josh joined Aurify Brands as an operating partner of Melt Shop, an American sandwich concept. By 2015, Josh became Operating Partner of Aurify Brands in which he oversaw operations of 35 restaurants across 6 different brands–Five Guys, Melt Shop, The Little Beet, Little Beet Table, Fields Good Chicken & Make Sandwich. Currently Josh is overseeing the licensing and franchising efforts to grow the Melt Shop brand both domestically and internationally.
COO | Kolache Factory
Dawn Nielsen has worked her way from the ground up at Kolache Factory – literally. She was scrubbing restaurant floors at the age nine as the daughter of Kolache Factory founders, Jerri and John Banks. Today, Dawn leads teams in research and development, manages employee relationships and human resources, as well as supervises strategic communications efforts, including public relations, marketing and advertising. Her commitment to the community has earned her the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Chairman’s Special Recognition Award. When she isn’t building the Kolache Factory brand, she enjoys spending time with her family at their Texas ranch in Fulshear.
Owner & Founder | Mutts Canine Cantina
Kyle Noonan is an American entrepreneur, speaker, television personality, sommelier, and creative tastemaker. Pioneering fresh ideas in the restaurant industry like Bowl & Barrel, Mutts Canine Cantina, The Rustic and The General Public, Kyle and his company, FreeRange Concepts, continue to awe fans both old and young by providing restaurant experiences that up the ante on the traditional. Kyle has been recognized as an engaging media personality appearing in national outlets such as Bravo, ESPN, Food Network, Travel Channel, Food & Wine Magazine, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many more. In addition, Kyle has been recognized as a 40 Under 40 entrepreneurs and National Restaurant News Restaurateur of the Year.
Founder & President | Starbird & Culinary Edge Ventures
A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Aaron Noveshen is an award-winning chef and restaurant entrepreneur. He is the Founder and President of The Culinary Edge, an innovation agency that provides global companies with strategic food, brand and operations solutions. Aaron is also the Founder and President of Starbird, a modern chicken concept that is revolutionizing food and convenience in the QSR/Fast Casual marketplace. As Co-founder of Pacific Catch Restaurants, Aaron served as president for 10 years and currently serves on the board of directors. Most recently Aaron co-founded The Culinary Edge Ventures with the mission to create, incubate, operate and grow restaurant brands.
CEO | Corner Bakery
Frank Paci is an accomplished executive with over 25 years of experience leading retail and foodservice brands. He most recently served as President and CEO at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc. He previously was President and CEO of McAlister’s Deli, a 300-plus unit fast casual brand, and was Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at the Pantry, a publicly traded convenience store chain with over 1,500 locations. Prior to that, he held senior leadership finance and franchise development positions at Blockbuster, Pizza Hut and Burger King.
CEO | Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh
James Park is CEO of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, the leader in fast casual authentic Mediterranean cuisine. James is a savvy marketing and operations executive who champions and activates all things brand. He excels at transformational leadership by humanizing the intangibles and developing programs that are purposeful and lasting. For the past 10 years, James has served in executive leadership roles for some of the most well-established and fastest-growing concepts in the fast casual, QSR and retail environments: Which Wich, 7-Eleven and Charley’s. In addition, James’ international experience includes substantive contributions in Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Venezuela and Brazil.
VP of Human Resources | Noodles & Company
Sue Petersen started with Noodles in February of 2015 as Director of Talent, was promoted to Vice President of HR Talent in January 2016 and assumed responsibility as Vice President of Human Resources in January 2018. Sue’s passion is around creating a great experience for all team members through a caring and inclusive environment where the team can grow and develop and be their best. Prior to joining Noodles, Sue was Regional Field HR Director at Walgreens where she supported the Western region including 2500 stores and over 50,000 team members. Sue has spent her career working in various Operations, Training and HR leadership roles at companies including Chipotle, Rock Bottom, and Quiznos.
CEO | Sweet Carrot & Two Caterers
Angela Petro is CEO and founder of Together & Company, Columbus, Ohio’s most creative and service-focused hospitality business, and Sweet Carrot, a fast-casual restaurant that inventively serves flavorful made-from-scratch comfort foods in three Columbus neighborhoods. Together & Company, in addition to catering over 3,000 events yearly, has recently added an additional venue in partnership with White Castle’s new $65 million headquarters project, while Sweet Carrot was recently featured in an episode of the popular Food Network Guy Fieri show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Angela is passionate about giving back to the community, especially in the areas of food access and gender-equity.
President | Wahlburgers
Patrick Renna is the President of Wahlburgers, a Boston based burger restaurant founded by Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg, and celebrity brothers Mark and Donnie Walhberg. Patrick was previously CEO at Boloco, a fast casual globally inspired burrito chain, where he also served as CFO for four years. Prior to that Patrick was CFO at Sebastian’s Café and Catering, where he spent four years overseeing all financial and administrative policies and procedures for the company; this included leadership during the company’s most profitable growth period. Previously, he held CFO positions at Fresh Concepts, which operates fast casual restaurants under the name Fresh City and Souper Salad.
COO | Modern Market
Robin Robison brings more than 16 years of restaurant experience to her role as chief operations officer at Modern Market Eatery based in Denver, Colo. With past leadership roles at Red Robin, Bob Evans and Chili’s, Robin’s extensive experience has uniquely prepared her for creating and executing winning operations strategies across Modern Market Eatery’s 30+ units. During her time with Brinker, Robin served as the project leader for the Leadership Principles for Women Task Force, which she formed to help create “best in class” women’s leadership and mentorship programs. This collaborative effort earned Robin the Women’s Foodservice Forum Leadership Award, which is given each year to a woman executive in the foodservice industry.
Founder & CEO | Sweetberry Bowls
Sweetberry Bowls was founded in 2017 by restaurant veteran, Desi Saran. He is a serial entrepreneur with an MBA in Finance & BA in Economics from Rutgers University. Saran has extensive experience in developing fast-casual chains and tech start-ups. Saran created Sweetberry Bowls to provide quality and affordable food options to consumers. The healthy, fast-casual concept specializes in Acai bowls, shakes and other snacks, with a focus on product, atmosphere and extraordinary customer service. Under Saran’s leadership, the company opened 12 corporate stores during its first year, with multiple locations in development across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, North and South Carolina in 2019.
Co-Founder & CEO | Nékter Juice Bar
Now with more than 100 locations, another 150 in development and $100 million in systemwide sales, Steve Schulze, as CEO, has grown Nékter Juice Bar into the clear leader and pioneer of the $2 billion juice bar industry. Founded in 2010 upon a promise to reinvent a restaurant category that had lost its way, Nékter Juice Bar has been a catalyst for change, vowing ingredient integrity and authenticity across its menu of 100% freshly made and entirely clean juices, smoothies, bowls and other healthy snacks. Nékter plans to grow to 425 restaurants by 2020 and is well on its way as it prepares to open 75 restaurants in 2018.
Founder | Ike’s Love & Sandwiches
Ike Shehadeh, biased philosopher, pop culture icon and sandwich wizard has been transcending the sandwich genre since 2007. As founder of Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, Ike has grown a massive cult following with over 60 stores across 5 different states and counting. Celebrity fans, unique sandwiches found nowhere else and Ike’s infamous “dirty sauce” fuel this audacious brand – with sales increasing by 50% year-over-year. With over 500 creations, sandwich lovers will find an awesome sandwich for meat lovers, gluten-free diets, vegans, vegetarians and beyond. This sandwich guru is committed to inspiring the world. One sandwich at a time.
CFO | SuViche Hospitality Group
Andrei Stern began honing his knack for business at an early age. While attending the American University of Paris for a semester as a visiting student, Andrei founded and operated the universities’ first Investment Club. A degree from the University of Miami in Finance and Business administration gave him a strong technical background to aid in the expansion of SuViche. Since 2012, Andrei has served as Chief Financial Officer for SuViche Hospitality Group. During this time, Andrei has been able to secure multiple investments that have aided in the rapid growth of the brand. In addition, the processes he established have led SuViche restaurants to profitability well above the industry’s average.
President | Steritech
As president of Steritech, Doug Sutton uses his unique combination of skills, experience and insight to help industry partners rethink delivering a strong and consistent customer experience. Ever the marketer at heart, Doug also brings broad experience in sales, operations and general management. Since joining Steritech in 2014, Doug has championed shifting the status quo of the industry’s expectations on the audit experience through a consultative and programmatic philosophy. His ardent belief in the importance of a stellar customer experience continually drives his approach with industry partners.
Founder & CEO | Porch Swing
A veteran restauranteur, Antonio Swad is the founder and CEO of Porch Swing Restaurants. He opened its doors on February 18, 2019. He is also well-known for having founded and sold two chains, when each was around the 100 unit mark, Wingstop Restaurants, now publicly-held, and the Pizza Patrón chain. Antonio created Porch Swing to fill a void in the market. It is a full service concept that delivers a whole new category to the food service industry – “Polished Comfort Food”. The restaurant has refined the most revered southern classics that are slow-cooked, of the highest quality ingredients and labor intensive and serves them up quickly.
CMO | Rangoon Ruby
Liz Vanzura is an award-winning leader in hospitality and lifestyle marketing. Currently Liz is helping develop a Burmese restaurant chain and catering operation to grow its presence within and beyond the California Bay area. Her specialties include advertising, content marketing, public relations & new product development. From Super Bowl spots to social media, Liz has worked on iconic brands including Wahlburgers, Truly Spiked & Sparkling, KEEL Vodka, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, among others. As the former CMO at VW, HUMMER & Cadillac, Liz earned a Cannes Grand Prix, Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year and was inducted into the AAF’s Hall of Achievement.
Co-Founder & CEO | Rakuten Ready
Jaron Waldman is the co-Founder and CEO of Curbside, whose platform connects bricks and mortar stores and restaurants for frictionless mobile commerce. Curbside was acquired by Rakuten in 2018 and now operates as a Rakuten company. Jaron previously led Apple’s Geo team which built location-based services that are deployed on hundreds of millions of Apple devices globally. Apple acquired Jaron’s previous company Placebase in 2009. Jaron holds degrees from the University of Toronto and UCLA.
Director of Business Development | Visualogistix
With a passion for helping clients find innovative ways to distinguish themselves from the competition, Kathi has spent the last 25+ years in the marketing communications industry with a primary focus on marketing supply chain management, advertising production services, integrated and cross-channel marketing program development and learning technologies. Kathi is fascinated with the convergence of the ever-expanding mediums and passionate about ways to utilize them to improve targeted marketing efforts which deliver results. Her wide network of customers has led to key partnerships with Fortune 1000 Manufacturers, Retailers and Corporate Advertisers.
Head of Industry, Food Service | Yext
Lee Zucker joined Yext as Head of Industry for Food Service with deep knowledge, passion and years of experience in the food service technology space. In his role, Lee leads global Food Service strategy, product and partnership development. Before Yext, Lee was Vice President of Sales & Restaurant Partnerships at the venture backed startup Slice–the premier digital ordering and marketing platform for independent pizzerias that focuses on bringing mobile commerce to the $45 billion U.S. pizza market. While at Slice, he grew the restaurant network to over 6,500 independent restaurants in more than 2,000 cities and towns nationwide.
Tom Ferguson Jr.
Don Hawkins, Jr.
Dr. James Marsden
Billie Jo Waara
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