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October 13-15, 2024 | Denver, CO — Save $450 when you sign up by June 7! Register Now

SPEAKERS

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS


Jason Rusk
SVP Restaurant Operations | Wonder


PANELISTS & MODERATORS


Sawsan Abublan
Founder & CEO | Shawarma Press
Sawsan Abublan is CEO and Co-Founder of the first Authentic Shawarma franchise in the US. Since opening the first fast casual Mediterranean restaurant in 2017, award-winning Shawarma Press has committed to a multicultural employee pool and a diverse menu that bursts with authentic and fusion flavors. The company has employees and suppliers from five different continents who converse in 10 different languages. Team members routinely prepare and deliver countless meals to help fight hunger. Sawsan is the winner of a Stevie® Award in the Diversity and Inclusion category in the 21st Annual American Business Awards® presented recently in New York.
Geoff Alexander
President & CEO | Wow Bao
Geoff Alexander joined Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) in 1993 and following his work on multiple concepts within LEYE’s portfolio, he took over LEYE’s Asian concept, Wow Bao in 2009. A pioneer in both technology and social media, Geoff redefined the fast casual space by implementing mobile ordering, self-ordering kiosks, bicycle delivery and nationwide shipping. Geoff has overseen Wow Bao’s inclusion into airports, major sports stadiums, university campuses, music venues, grocers around the country sell Wow Bao’s frozen retail line. Shortly after being named to both Nation’s Restaurant News’ Power List and Most Influential Restaurant CEOs in the country, Geoff changed the game in the restaurant industry once again by creating Wow Bao Now; launching more than 500 Wow Bao Dark / Virtual Kitchens in more than 400 cities in less than 18 months.
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.
Jason Brooks
Founder & CEO | HospiVation, LLC
Jason Brooks has over 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry in multiple leadership roles with 6 of the Top 100 hospitality brands today. Jason coaches hospitality executives in the art of not just goal setting, but goal getting. He also teaches managers how to transform their management style to improve their hospitality leadership, so they never lead alone again. As an author, his new book, Every Leader Needs Followers: 10 Keys to Transform Restaurant Managers to Hospitality Leaders, was released on March 18, 2024. His background from 20+ brands has given him the unique perspective of seeing the Mona Lisa painted 20+ ways with the ability to take the best points of each one and apply them to teams today. He is an expert in creating bite-sized chunks of audacious goals, conceptual ideation, and communicating with all levels of an organization to help create step change.
Cherryh Cansler
Vice President 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 FastCasual.com.
Nick D’Antonio
SVP of Information Technology | Salad Collective
Nick D’Antonio is SVP of Information Technology at Salad Collective, a restaurant group which owns and operates fast-casual restaurants under the MAD Greens, Tokyo Joe’s, and Snappy Salads brands. He started his career in restaurants as a teenager behind the counter working concessions stands at a baseball stadium, and has also held various roles in IT at a large fast-casual before joining Salad Collective 8 years ago. At Salad Collective he oversees all information systems, processes, and strategy. Since joining Salad Collective he’s streamlined integrations, and data warehousing strategy to prime all of the brands for growth and to make informed, data-driven decisions to help better key areas of the business, including real estate, culinary, operations, finance, HR, and marketing. During his time so far at Salad Collective, he’s been involved with the rapid growth of the MAD Greens brand between 2015 and 2018 where the brand grew from 11 to over 30 company-owned units in a relatively short period of time.
Kris Douglas
VP, Technology | Smalls Sliders
Kris Douglas stands as an innovative technology leader with a wealth of experience across diverse industries, including QSR, consumer goods, and financial services. Over the years, Kris has consistently showcased an ability to drive change through strategic technology solutions, practical planning, and process development, effectively eliminating business obstacles. Kris' ability to navigate the intricacies of various industries reflects his deep expertise and dedication to fostering innovation and driving results. Kris is, without a doubt, a driving force in today's technology-driven world.
Laura Eich
Chief People Officer | Biggby Coffee
Laura Eich, Chief Purpose Officer for BIGGBY® COFFEE, started her BIGGBY® journey as a barista at one of the coffee shops in Southeast Michigan. A few years after joining the Home Office as a member of the operations team, Laura had the opportunity to form a new department within the company entirely focused on leadership development, and thus, the Life You Love Laboratory was born. As BIGGBY® COFFEE found its higher purpose of supporting people in building lives they love, Laura found her passion for the power and impact of healthy workplace culture. Along with serving on the executive leadership team for BIGGBY® COFFEE, she promotes this work through a podcast, co-hosted by BIGGBY®’s Co-CEO Mike McFall called Love in Leadership. BIGGBY® COFFEE has now proudly grown to over 390 locations open and operating in 13 states with a vision towards 1000 units by 2028.
Blas Escarcega
Vice President of Franchise Development | Pollo Campero
Blas Escarcega serves as the Vice President of Franchise Development for Pollo Campero, the world’s largest Central American chicken chain with over 100 units in the U.S. and 280 units in Central America. Escarcega, a Dallas-based restaurant financial executive, spent the bulk of his career guiding those in the restaurant industry to a path of growth and profitability via performance management, strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, resource allocation and capital structure. Escarcega held the position of Chief Financial Officer at a beverage distributorship before transitioning to Campero USA, where he first held the position of Corporate Controller for over two years and then Corporate Business Partner and Director of Finance for over 13 years. As Vice President of Franchise Development, Escarcega leverages his experience and drive to accelerate franchise development across the U.S.
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.
Frank Klein
Founder & CEO | Post Road Hospitality
Frank Klein founded multi-unit Asian Box, a fine-casual lifestyle brand with stores and airport locations throughout California. Frank is now founder and CEO of Post Road Hospitality, a parent company for emerging food and beverage brands. Frank leads the innovation for multiple food brands including Skull City Taquitos, currently expanding in the Northeastern U.S. Post Road also released Fairfields, a classic dry rum and a soon to be released Skull City Mexican-style lager. Frank’s focus includes exceeding hospitality at all touch points and creating a seamless “tech encounter” of the best kind with consumers.
Patric Knapp
Vice President of Operations | Bobby’s Burgers by Bobby Flay
Patric Knapp is a proven operational leader with more than 30 years of experience providing senior-level leadership within the Fast Casual, Casual, and Quick Service Restaurant industries. Extensive experience overseeing real estate site selections for brands, managing the franchising process, growing unit counts, improving average unit volume, and driving positive comparable sales. Supporting franchise operators in notable consumer brands including Hissho Sushi, Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpie Subs, and more. An extensive background in non-traditional development and initiating strategic alliances resulting in successful co-branding initiatives.
Benson Lau
Director of Business Development | Fluffy Fluffy
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.
Gregg Majewski
CEO | Craveworthy Brands
Gregg Majewski is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Craveworthy Brands. Previously, he served as the Chief Executive Officer of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches. The Craveworthy Brands portfolio includes Wing It On!, The Budlong Southern Chicken, Krafted Burger Bar + Tap, Lucky Cat Poke Company, Pastizza, and Scramblin Ed’s, as well as legacy brands Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill, and Flat Top Grill, all formerly part of Mongolian Concepts Restaurant Group, for which Gregg previously served as CEO. Known for driving business transformation while putting people first, Gregg leads teams with humility. His approach includes introducing new revenue streams and crafting effective grassroots marketing strategies. Gregg serves on the Board of the Texas Restaurant Association and is a member of the board of Big Chicken. He also serves on the Advisory Board of Ovation, the Fast Casual Industry Council, and the Lunchbox Food Tech Council.
Sherif Mityas
CEO | BRIX Holdings
Sherif Mityas serves as Chief Executive Officer of BRIX Holdings and as an Operating Partner for JAMCO Interests LLC. He focuses on supporting the group in the areas of strategic positioning, growth, and M&A, while leading the shared services and brand teams of the current portfolio companies of BRIX Holdings, LLC and Amici Partners Group, LLC. Prior to this role, Mityas has held various executive positions in consulting and the retail-restaurant industry sectors most notably as the chief experience officer for TGI FRIDAYS and as the chief executive officer for Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery. Mityas received a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering from Boston University, a M.S. in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and an M.B.A. from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Priya Monga
GM Emerging Business | Instacart Business
Priya Monga is a GM at Instacart Business leading the GTM Strategy for Instacart Business, a service from Instacart built to help restaurants get the ingredients and supplies that they need delivered the same-day. The team at Instacart Business work with restaurants of all sizes to help them streamline their ordering processes and save them time and money by not sending their employees out of their stores to pick up missing ingredients. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and puppy named Gobi and when she's not working with restaurants, she's exploring the restaurant scene in the Bay Area!
Jason Morgan
CEO | Original ChopShop
Jason Morgan throughout his career has built and led successful growth companies across various industries. Currently, as Chief Executive Officer at Original ChopShop, Morgan has increased unit count from three units to 22 units in the past seven years achieving sales and operating results that are leading the fast casual sector. As Chief Financial Officer of Zoës Kitchen from 2008 to 2015, Morgan was instrumental in the growth of the company, increasing store count from 20 to 150 and revenues from $18mm to $223mm. In April 2014, he led Zoës Kitchen IPO –one of the most successful IPOs in the restaurant sector in the past decade. Prior to Zoës Kitchen, he held CFO positions at a private equity-backed start-up and a gaming technology company. He also held executive positions in strategic planning, investor relations, and treasury at Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Harrah’s Entertainment.
Rachael Nemeth
CEO & Co-Founder | Opus Training
Rachael Nemeth, CEO and Co-Founder of Opus, is a multifaceted leader in the res-tech space. With a career spanning several decades, she has made an impact not only as a business professional but also as a public speaker and educator. Opus, revolutionizes learning and engagement for the "deskless" workforce in the restaurant industry. Her journey features work at renowned establishments like Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, Baked, and Hot Bread Kitchen, an NGO empowering underrepresented women through baking skills. Beyond her corporate roles, Rachael's influence extends into the education sphere, where she has championed instructional design and second language acquisition. Her first company, ESL Works, brought industry-relevant English training to kitchen staff via SMS text message. Widely respected in the res-tech space, Rachael is a public speaker, sharing her insights and expertise as a tech leader, restaurant veteran, and educator.
Mitchell Nolan
Co-Founder & Partner | Vett3d
Mitchell Nolan’s unique background in franchising started at the Titus Center for Franchising at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He obtained his undergraduate degree with a concentration in franchising and is one of two people with a masters in franchising from the university. Mitchell began his career as a supplier to the franchise community first in software then writing brand standards manuals. Co-founding Vett3d with Steve Lieber, they introduced the five-pillar framework to scrutinize and ensure the alignment of franchisors and franchisees, emphasizing exceptional customer experiences, streamlined operations, and robust economics. Vett3d is leading the charge in assisting emerging brands to successfully expand.
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 Rothschild
COO | Slim Chickens
Joining the Slim Chickens team in October of 2013. Sam Rothschild is a knowledgeable restaurant professional who has achieved superior results within company and franchise-owned locations around the world. A Johnson and Wales culinary graduate, he embarked on his career by owning his own restaurants in his early twenties before hitting his growth spurt into the big brand arena with Metromedia Group. He spent 13 years with Bennigan’s as the Regional Vice President of International Operations. From there, Rothschild went on to become the Senior Vice President at Applebee’s and Dine Equity heading up the operations and franchise development teams managing over 2000 locations. He eventually left Dine to partner with Tom and Greg to help mature and cultivate the Slim Chickens brand. Furthermore, Rothschild has had a hand in pioneering the franchise opportunity and its unique and advanced systems that continue to surpass record barriers.
Jennifer Schuler
CEO | Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream
Jennifer Schuler is the Chief Executive Officer of Handel's Homemade Ice Cream, a leading franchise serving premium, handcrafted ice cream since 1945. Schuler is a top-performing and results-oriented leader with an extensive career fueling brands to their growth. Schuler previously served as the CEO of Wetzel’s Pretzels, overseeing a 365-unit chain founded and based in Pasadena, CA, with locations spanning across the nation, including Downtown Disney, Universal City Walk, Dodgers Stadium, Crypto.com Arena, and Disneyworld. She joined the company in 2014 as the Chief Marketing Officer, launching her inaugural successful product, Pizza Bitz, which swiftly ascended to become a top 10 product for the company. Transitioning to the role of President in 2018, she assumed responsibility for Marketing, Real Estate, Franchise Sales, and Construction. In January of 2019, Schuler was appointed CEO, becoming only the second CEO in the company’s 28-year history and its first female CEO.
Chris Smith
Owner | Zunzi’s & Zunzibar
Chris Smith, owner of Zunzi’s + Zunzibar, has never been one to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. It’s that drive that led him to become a Five Guys franchisee while still in college, going on to open seven locations within eight years. And it’s that same spirit that, upon his first visit to the Savannah sandwich shop Zunzi’s in 2008, drove him to declare that he would one day own the restaurant—a goal he eventually realized in 2014. Smith quickly refined the Zunzi’s concept, narrowing its wide-reaching menu to home in on its South African influences. As he set about planning an Atlanta location to showcase a new focus on fast casual dining in a fun and energetic atmosphere, he also set his sights on what he sees as a key part of Zunzi’s future success—a company culture founded on the principles of positivity, inspiration and community outreach.
Darren Spicer
Co-Founder & CEO | Clutch Coffee
Darren Spicer is the CEO & Co-Founder of Clutch Coffee Bar, a premium drive-thru beverage brand based in the Carolinas. A transformative leader, Darren helps companies grow in a way that positively impacts society and cultivates a sense of community. Under his leadership, Clutch has grown rapidly to multiple locations and established a fanatically loyal, recurring customer base through unparalleled customer experience, speed, quality, and investment in local communities and charities.
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 Haven Hot Chicken 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.
André Vener
Founding Partner | Dog Haus
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. André has been interviewed as a restaurant industry expert on multiple national platforms, including CNN, FOX News Channel and MSNBC. He and his Dog Haus partners were featured on the cover of QSR Magazine’s April 2020 edition, and they have been profiled in Entrepreneur magazine, Food & Wine and more.


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