CEO & Founder | FASCINATE
Sally Hogshead believes the greatest value you can add is to become more of yourself. Sally created the Fascination Advantage®, the first personality assessment that measures how others perceive you. After researching over 600,000 people, her algorithm can pinpoint your most valuable differentiating traits. Unlike Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder, this test doesn’t measure how you see the world – but how the world sees you. Her recent book, HOW THE WORLD SEES YOU, was a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The science of fascination is based on Sally’s decade of research with dozens of Fortune 500 teams, hundreds of small businesses, and over a thousand C-level executives. At the start of her career, Sally skyrocketed to the top of the advertising elite, writing commercials that fascinated millions of consumers. At the age of 24, she was the most award-winning copywriter in the U.S., and opened her first ad agency at age 27. Her work still hangs in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. She frequently appears in national media, including NBC’s “Today” show and the New York Times. Sally is one of only 200 professional speakers since 1977 to be inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame, the industry’s highest award for professional excellence.
Vice President of Supply Chain | Fazoli’s
Blaine joined Fazoli’s as Vice President of Supply Chain in 2013. He has over 25 years of supply chain experience working with some of the best known brands in the industry. Before joining Fazoli’s, Blaine served as Vice President, Purchasing, Total Quality and Distribution for Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Prior to joining Romano’s, he was Director of Purchasing, for Darden, Inc. and was working to expand Darden’s supply chain internationally. Blaine began his career in 1991 with General Mills, Inc., which then became Darden Restaurants, Inc. Blaine was responsible for the procurement of multiple categories for all 7 of the Darden brands within his 20+ years at Darden.
President | Culinary Tides, Inc.
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition. Suzy has worked as a trends forecaster for food industry clients since 1992. She has been trained in military intelligence, chaos theory and predictive analysis techniques used by both corporate and government bodies and has been practicing trends intelligence and predictive forecasting for more than 14 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.
President – USA | Gloria Jean’s Coffees
Brian Balconi is President – USA of Gloria Jean’s Coffees and It’s a Grind Coffee House chains, and of Di Bella Coffee. In this role, he manages the North American businesses of the Australia-based Retail Food Group. His responsibilities include overseeing the coffee houses as well as the coffee roasting business. Previously, Brian was Vice President and General Counsel of Little Caesars where he oversaw the legal and human resources functions, as well as various strategic initiatives. A veteran of the restaurant and franchise industry, he has also held corporate positions with Dunkin’ Brands and Mail Boxes Etc.
Founder & President | Wildflower Bread Company
Louis J. Basile Jr. is a passionate leader in the restaurant industry, growing up in a family owned restaurant in New Jersey. Previously, Mr. Basile worked for the Chart House and Au Bon Pain. He founded the Wildflower Bread Company in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1995. Wildflower operates multiple restaurants, a fresh dough facility and is an award winning brand serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Louis started and was Chairman of the Fast Casual Industry Council an affiliate of the National Restaurant Association and is presently an NRA board member. He is past Chairman of the Arizona Restaurant Association and ARA Educational Foundation.
Mario C. Bauer
CEO | Vapiano Franchising International
Mario C. Bauer is CEO of Vapiano Franchising International and member of the executive board of Vapiano Holding. He and his team are responsible for almost 200 restaurants in over 30 countries around the globe. Mario is a fresh casual, front cooking Pasta – Pizza – Bar lifestyle concept within a Mediterranean ambience. While growing up in his family’s restaurant business in Vienna, Austria, he developed from a young age an entrepreneurial mindset by founding several start-ups such as Bagel Station (bagel & coffee shop) and Papernomad (sustainable iPad sleeves). His latest adventure is Curtice Brothers, an organic boutique ketchup production in Tuscany.
Vice President of Regional Marketing | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc
As Regional Marketing Director for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., Emily Bennett has led the nation’s largest barbecue chain into an era of technology-based marketing solutions. She has spearheaded Dickey’s updated loyalty program and managed partnerships to grow the barbecue brand’s loyal guest base exponentially. A ten-year veteran of marketing for large entertainment brands, Emily has used big data gathered in marketing initiatives to identify Dickey’s heaviest users and how to reach them. She holds a degree in Entrepreneurial Management from TCU and is probably the Texas Rangers’ most loyal fan.
Founder | Rock Creek MT LLC
Ben has extensive experience growing brands in Asia, Latin and North America. His advisory clients include PE firms (CVC Capital Partners, ACTIS) and brands (Dave & Busters, Bloomin Brands). Ben is an active angel investor in restaurants. He serves as a Board Director for AgroAmerica; Central America’s largest sustainable banana and palm producer, and as Oaktree Capital’s Board representative for Quiznos. Prior to his Advisory practice, Ben enjoyed 18 years with YUM! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) as President Long John Silver’s and A&W restaurants. GM YUM! Latin America, and VP Business Development/CFO for YUM! Asia.
Director of Editorial | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Director 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.
VP of Client Success | Fishbowl
Paula Carren is a veteran data-driven marketing professional with over 25 years of experience crafting compelling, guest-centric marketing strategies that drive brand awareness and sales. As Fishbowl’s Vice President of Client Success, she and her team partner with clients to help them leverage data from multiple sources to understand who their guests are, how their guests interact with their brand, and the most profitable ways to engage guests. She is passionate about helping clients achieve success with Fishbowl. Prior to joining Fishbowl four years ago, Paula worked in the supplement industry where she managed the digital efforts for several large brands.
Managing Director | Market Force Information
Brad Christian has served as Managing Director at Market Force Information for the last ten years. He is responsible for consulting and customer experience program design for numerous restaurant organizations in North America. With a focus on driving location performance improvement, he provides guidance on customer experience measurement tools and analysis to help client organizations drive increases in guest satisfaction, loyalty and financial performance. Brad is based out of Norcross, Georgia.
Marketing Systems Director | Urbane Cafe
Christi Christian is the Marketing Systems Director for Urbane Cafe, a fast-casual sandwich and salad concept from Ventura, CA known for their healthy and delicious meals. Christi specializes in integrating new marketing systems including the development, design and launch of Urbane’s mobile app and loyalty program. She aligns the business with the heart of the community while bringing passion and energy to the brand through strategic marketing efforts. As a mother of four, wife and senior fourth degree black belt, she brings an abundance of experience and energy to the job.
President, North America | FOCUS Brands, Inc.
Paul Damico joined FOCUS Brands in 2008 as President of Moe’s Southwest Grill. In October 2015 he was named President, North America with responsibility for overseeing Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s Bakery & Café and their more than 4,000 locations that generate more than $2 billion in revenue. Paul has previous experience with SSP America, where he was the Chief Operating Officer responsible for the operation of 42 airport properties in North America, Canada and the Caribbean for the 170-unit restaurant concessions company. Prior to that, Paul was cofounder and Vice President of Operations and Concept Development for FoodBrand.
President | CoreLife Eatery
Scott Davis is an Executive and Innovator in the Fast Casual Restaurant industry. Scott served at the Chief Concept Officer of Panera Bread from the brands inception until December 2015. In his role of Chief Concept Office Davis oversaw all food and bakery product development, category and menu management, restaurant design and sustainability. In addition Davis was a member of the executive strategy team for Panera and confidant to CEO, Ron Shaich, for over twenty years. During his tenure at Panera, Scott led many key initiatives that drove the long-term success of Panera Bread as it became a leader in the Fast Casual segment of the restaurant industry.
CEO and President | Chicken Salad Chick
Scott Deviney joined Chicken Salad Chick as CEO and President in May 2015. Prior to his leadership at Chicken Salad Chick, he served as CEO of SDZ, an Atlanta-based, multi-unit Wendy’s franchisee. Scott enjoyed a career in banking preceding his restaurant leadership roles, serving as SVP with SunTrust Bank and VP of Fifth Third Bank as a restaurant industry specialist at each premier financial institution. As CEO of Chicken Salad Chick, Scott brings extensive leadership and a wealth of restaurant management experience. Since his appointment, he has built a remarkable team of extremely talented professionals with the shared vision and foresight to lead the brand.
CIO | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants
Laura Rea Dickey is CIO for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants. She has worked in marketing and information technology for over 15 years. With an area of focus in business intelligence and aligning brand development with data insights, Laura has experience with a wide variety of clients at agencies such as Murray Brown Creative Group, The Richards Group and The Point Group. Her past clients have included Brach’s Candy, W Hotels, Texas Health Resources, American Heart Association, Blue Mesa, La Madeline, Chick-fil-A, Zom Realty, UCR and Fairfield Development. Laura specializes in the intersection of data, information technology and marketing, turning data insights into brand and business solutions.
Director of Marketing | Nestlé Professional Beverages
Jenny is a marketing professional with over 20 years of beverage experience in both foodservice and CPG industries. She has managed large beverage portfolios across North America with multiple brands, diverse offerings, and within both commercial and non-commercial channels. Prior to joining Nestle Professional Beverages, Jenny held senior level marketing positions in the apparel industry and with a market research firm.
Head of Global Strategy and Business Development | EPSON
As a seasoned technology and business development executive, Joel is focused on the effective deployment of relevant technology solutions in the hospitality and retail markets. He has street level experience as an entrepreneur having developed one of the largest POS companies in Canada, and was founder of a market leading data analytics company, Livelenz that provided real-time analytics to over 10,000 restaurants on behalf of Subway, Arby’s and a handful of other QSR brands. Today Joel is responsible for setting the global strategy and business direction for EPSON’s OmniLink Merchant Services or “cloud” initiative.
Chief Sales Officer | LevelUp
As LevelUp’s Chief Sales Officer, Christina Dorobek is responsible for helping restaurants and retailers increase revenue and loyalty. Before joining LevelUp in 2009, Christina worked at the Center for Women & Enterprise, an organization that promotes economic independence through entrepreneurship. Since then, Christina has helped grow LevelUp into one of the largest loyalty, engagement and mobile payment platforms in the United States. As a part of LevelUp’s executive team, Christina is known for her energetic approach, expertise in the restaurant industry and passion for helping brands create fantastic mobile experiences.
President | Penn Station
Craig Dunaway has been President of Penn Station since 1999. Before joining Penn Station Inc., Craig was a partner at the regional accounting firm of McCauley, Nicolas & Company, LLC in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he had worked since 1982 in various staff and managerial positions. Dunaway formerly had ownership interests in a Papa John’s franchisee that owned 11 stores, and he served as the secretary/treasurer for that Papa John’s franchisee. In addition, he had ownership interests in Coastal Cheesesteaks, LLC until June 2011 and in Louisville Cheesesteaks, LLC until January 2014, both of which are Penn Station franchisees.
Founder and CEO | Zoup!
Eric Ersher is Founder and CEO of Zoup! Fresh Soup Company, a Michigan-based fast-casual soup concept he founded in 1998. As the top executive of this growing franchise organization, Eric has overall responsibility for strategic planning, concept evolution, quality and franchise support. He also leads the company’s staff in building and protecting the Zoup! brand and shaping the company’s culture. Before creating Zoup!, Eric was owner of Michigan Foods, which manufactured and distributed custom spice blends, pre-mixes and prepared soups to chain restaurants. Prior to that, he practiced law in Detroit.
Consumer Foodservice Strategy Analyst | Euromonitor International
Elizabeth Friend is Senior Foodservice Strategy Analyst at Euromonitor International, where she has covered the global restaurant space since 2011. She has a background in investment research and securities trading. Professional interests include studying consumer behavior all over the world, tracking what people eat and how they live their lives.
National Account Manager | SCA Americas – Tork
Tracey Fullington is National Account Manager for SCA Americas. She is an accomplished sales management professional with over 20 years of experience, who is dedicated to serving restaurants in a sustainable way. Tracey promotes SCA’s line of Tork products and hygiene initiatives to national account foodservice concepts with corporate headquarters based in the Southeastern United States. Since 2007 she has been responsible for maintaining and growing a portfolio of high profile national foodservice concepts with locations that cross regional boundaries.
COO | Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill
As COO of Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, David Goldstein has been an integral part of the company’s strategic planning and future growth since 2007. He has an extensive background in the fast casual sector as a restaurant industry veteran with more than 30 years of progressive management, operations and R&D experience. During his career, David has been involved at the executive level in the expansion of three restaurant concepts, including TGI Friday’s, Kenny Rogers Roasters and Baja Fresh. His considerable experience in organizing and directing successful efforts to establish new enterprises, enhance business volumes and build profitable operations is a valuable asset to the Sharky’s organization.
CEO & Founder | Slapfish
Andrew Gruel, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, is currently the CEO and Founder of Slapfish Restaurant Group, the award-winning food truck turned international brick and mortar, based out of Huntington Beach, CA and Co-Owner of Butterleaf Restaurant and Two Birds Chicken. Andrew has appeared on multiple television series including his most recent role as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped Junior. He was recently the Host of FYI Series “Say It To My Face” as well as a judge on Food Network’s “Food Truck Face Off.” He has made appearances on the TODAY show, PBS, Cooking Channel, and has been featured in numerous publications.
Vice President | Visualogistix
As Vice President of Visualogistix, Trevor Hansen, focuses on understanding the retail/restaurant industries and their current realities. He examines the latest trends to understand how they relate to the evolution of technology and how this impacts business practices. Trevor ensures Visualogistix is helping clients by providing tools to strengthen their brands, maintain brand consistency, attract new customers and increase cost efficiencies. With more than two decades of experience in the technology and printing industries, Trevor has been part of the evolution to expand marketing solutions through the use of technology. He has worked extensively with franchise networks, retailers, restaurants and many other industries helping them achieve their brand objectives.
CEO | Veggie Grill
Steve Heeley is CEO of Santa Monica, CA based Veggie Grill, the leading fast casual, veggie-centric concept in the US. He is a veteran of the restaurant industry, having had leadership responsibility for every aspect of the business throughout his career. Steve was an early leader in the fast casual space and has served as CEO of three separate companies and COO of three companies, among other responsibilities. Prior to Veggie Grill, Steve was President and CEO of Earl of Sandwich, LLC, a high-volume fast casual sandwich brand. Steve led the company’s 30% annual growth throughout the US and internationally.
Lindsay Hollister Heffner
Owner/Director of Sales & Marketing | The Pie Hole Los Angeles
Lindsay Hollister Heffner is Owner & Director of Sales & Marketing for The Pie Hole Los Angeles. After graduating with a B.F.A in Theatre Performance from Miami University of Ohio, Lindsay moved to LA to pursue an acting career. Since then, Lindsay has appeared in over 18 films and 30 TV roles. In 2011, she founded The Pie Hole Los Angeles with her family. Their goal was to bring back the “All American” pie and coffee shop by only focusing on their deep love for the art of good pie. Armed with family recipes, and the passion to bake fresh, from scratch sweet and savory pies, the family watched the business grow from one location to four in Southern California. The Pie Hole has upcoming locations planned in Glendale, Tokyo, and Venice.
Mary Kay Hyde
Vice President of Marketing | HotSchedules
As Vice President of Marketing at HotSchedules, Mary Kay Hyde is responsible for driving the strategy and execution of all marketing activities. Prior to joining HotSchedules in 2011, she managed global strategic customer programs at Dell where she created and grew their Global Customer Reference Program, CIO Advisory Board and Executive Sponsor Program. The rest of her career was spent in various sales and marketing roles at Hewlett Packard and Maxim Integrated Products. Mary Kay graduated from Texas A&M University with a Master of Arts in Communications and from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Communications.
Founder, Culinary & Brand Innovator | KJ Culinary
Food is life for Kazia. As the leader of KJC’s strategic and culinary projects, Kazia brings a distinct combination of food industry experience and strategic branding to the table. She’s helped build brands within large global companies like Pepsi and Dunkin’ Donuts. She’s guided smaller brands like Annie’s, EVOL and Illegal Pete’s to brand and product success. She is tastefully inspired. She is embarrassingly professional. And boy does she love to eat. Kazia attended culinary school at El Txoko del Gourmet in San Sebastian, Spain, and spent time working in the kitchen of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
CEO & Co-Founder | Blazing Onion
David Jones is CEO & Co-Founder of the Blazing Onion, which profiles both a technology driven fast-casual restaurant as well as a full service sports lounge and new whiskey bar, making it a hybrid in the evolving fast casual segment. David has also been a Subway franchisee for over 15 years and is a strong voice in the company for franchisee rights. He serves on multiple boards/councils including Board Chair on the local Seattle/Tacoma advertising board for Subway, Vice President of the Snohomish County Softball Umpires Association and is a council member of the National Restaurant Association’s Fast Casual Industry Council.
President | Cowboy Chicken
Sean Kennedy, President of Cowboy Chicken, a system named by Forbes as one of 5 Little Restaurant Chains to buy Into in 2012.
Sean and his team take their customers’ trust and security very seriously and have come up with some ways to attack the problem of identity theft and credit card security head on. They are also breaking just about every norm when it comes to serving southern chicken.
Director, Retail, Restaurant & Brand Solutions | RetailMeNot
Rob Kenny is currently focused on helping restaurants and brands increase their revenue and guest traffic. At RetailMeNot, Rob serves as Director, Retail, Restaurants and Brand Solutions. He leads a team responsible for deepening relationships with restaurants, brands and retailers in North America. Prior to RetailMeNot, Rob spent nine years at McDonald’s Corporation, leading the process for operationally friendly, consumer driven business and marketing plans for over 700+ owner-operator and company owned restaurants. In addition to his restaurant experience, he spent seven years in the sports marketing industry, leading sponsorships, sales and promotional marketing integration with prominent teams across the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA and professional soccer leagues. Whether it’s been restaurants or sports, his mission has been “getting butt’s in seats”
Chief Brand Dude | Mariposa Restaurant Holdings, Ltd.
Conor Kerlin is Chief Brand Dude & Co-Founder of Mariposa Restaurant Holdings, a company now with 39 total fast casual restaurants across New Zealand. Originally from Oregon, Conor and his family moved to Auckland in 2005 to open Mexicali Fresh, the first California Style Mexican fast casual concept in New Zealand. His first foray into business was a multi-media company, Giraffe Entertainment, which specialized in video, film, design and creative vision. He is responsible for the overall experience and brand touch points, including internal culture, technology implementation and marketing strategy funneling all the way down to end customer vibes.
SVP, Brand Strategy, West Coast | BuzzFeed
Jennifer Klawin is SVP, Brand Strategy for BuzzFeed’s West Coast where she oversees a growing sales and brand strategy team. Jen has more than 15 years of experience consulting top global brands on digital and social marketing campaigns and previously, served as the Director of West Coast Sales for Tumblr and a Client Partner at Facebook. She also spent 7 years at Yahoo! after beginning her career in publishing with Meredith Corporation and Working Woman Magazine. Jen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young daughters.
CEO and President | Asian Box
Frank Klein is CEO and President of Asian Box, a lifestyle fast casual restaurant group he co-founded. Frank cares deeply about staff engagements and in this day of heavy competition for labor provides an interesting perspective on attracting and retaining key staff. Frank has consulted with some of the biggest names in the restaurant industry and takes pride in his work also for The District of Colombia Public Schools as well as minority concession owners in The National Parks. His business endeavors focus heavily on sustainability in operations, care for the Earth’s resources and building sustainable and profitable operations with a socially conscious mindset.
CEO | CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries
Srini Kumar is the CEO of CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, the largest craft brewery casual dining restaurant operator in the country with restaurants primarily operating under the Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants and Rock Bottom Breweries & Restaurants brands. As CEO, Srini brings more than three decades of industry leadership experience to the company. Previously, Srini served as head of Pearle Vision where he led the brand to strong positive growth with double-digit EBITDA growth for the franchised system. Srini also had a successful career with Dunkin Brands and held several positions including chief brand officer of Baskin-Robbins Worldwide.
CEO & Co-Founder | &pizza
Michael Lastoria is CEO & Co-Founder of &pizza, the first Washington D.C. based fast-casual pizza concept rapidly expanding in the Mid-Atlantic region. He set out to create a different kind of pizza shop – one where experience is the focal point. Every shop reflects the culture and people of its neighborhood and quality ingredients are combined in inventive ways. An entrepreneur at heart, Michael began his career in 2002, founding Innovation Ads, a leading marketing and media services company. Michael has also founded several other notable performance-based advertising and hospitality companies. His ventures have received national recognition including features in Entrepreneur Magazine and a variety of entertainment publications.
Senior Director, Global Product Marketing | NCR Corporation
Jon Lawrence helps to define the overall product and solution strategies for NCR Hospitality and bring those strategies to the hospitality market. He is passionate in working to understand the key challenges that our customers need to solve and then diligently working with his colleagues and industry leaders to define solutions to address those key challenges. Jon has worked in delivering technology solutions for nearly 25 years. For much of the last two decades, Jon has held roles of increasing responsibility in product management, product marketing, implementation, sales, and customer support for leading technology providers in this space including the former Radiant Systems, BlueCube Software and RedPrairie (now JDA).
Executive Director of Operations | ML Foods, LLC
Eric Lavinder is the Executive Director of Operations for ML Foods, LLC. In this role Eric oversees all field operations for corporate and franchised locations, our construction department, distribution and logistics, vendors, new store opening process, compliance and brand standards. Prior to ML Foods Eric was the Director of U.S. Non-traditional Operations and Business Development for Quiznos. Prior to that, he was Regional Director of Operations for the Northeast at Quiznos. Eric has also served in various other operational and business development roles in banking, restaurants and real estate before joining Quiznos. Eric also owned and operated restaurants as well as a real estate company.
COO | Clutch
As Chief Operating Officer, Brad Marg is responsible for the company’s daily operations and marketing initiatives. He manages teams responsible for customer service, account management, marketing and human resources. Brad leads with strong knowledge and experience in the retail, foodservice, SMB and luxury goods sectors. Prior to joining Clutch, he managed retail initiatives, drove innovation and managed cross-channel operational support at ARAMARK. Additionally, Brad has a broad range of expertise in finance, strategic development, operations and management. Brad is a graduate of Villanova University and holds a BS in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Marketing from Temple University.
Regional Vice President-Major Accounts | Oracle Hospitality
John McCarthy is the Regional Vice President-Major Accounts for Oracle Hospitality responsible for sales in the central region of the US. Prior to Oracle Hospitality, John spent 17 years with MICROS Systems in various roles. With over 20 years of experience in the Industry, John has been helping restaurants leverage technology to increase revenues and maximize efficiency in their operations.
President & COO | Blaze Pizza LLC
Jim is the “founder’s best friend” turning brand vision to reality through systems, values based leadership, culture, and a common purpose. Over the past 25 years, Jim has worked with multiple start-ups to rapidly scale. At Blaze Pizza, Jim has led expansion from 2 restaurants to 80+ in just over 2 years. Prior to Blaze Pizza, Jim was president of Freebirds World Burrito and CEO & president of Club One (a health club company). Jim successfully scaled Noah’s Bagels from 8 to 130 restaurants in 3 years and then was part of the executive team that built Jamba Juice from 50 to 450 restaurants in 5 years. Jim led the 59/79/99 Run for the Border campaign at Taco Bell that resulted in 60% same store sales growth in 1990.
President & Founder | Starbird & The Culinary Edge
Aaron Noveshen is the president and founder of several companies that envision and embody the future of food including The Culinary Edge, The Culinary Edge Ventures, Pacific Catch restaurants and Starbird. He is recognized as a leader in the QSR, fast casual, and super premium fast food segments and is regularly asked to speak on panels and moderate discussions about the state of the industry. Aaron also serves on the Board of Directors for the California Restaurant Association and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association in San Francisco.
Founder | What Big Brands Know
Gerry O’Brion is the Founder of What Big Brands Know and the creator of The Restaurant Formula, a program for attracting new, profitable customers to your restaurant. The Formula was created from the strategies used by the best, most successful restaurant concepts. The strategies work in any restaurant regardless of their budget. Gerry began his career in marketing at Procter & Gamble, working with brands such as Crisco, Tide, Mr. Clean, and Spic & Span. Next, he managed Coors Light, became VP of Marketing for Quiznos and then VP of Marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers.
Founding Partner | Goode Partners
David is a founding partner of Goode Partners, a private equity firm that focuses exclusively on investment opportunities in the restaurant, retail, apparel, direct marketing, and branded consumer product sectors. The firm has established itself as a partner of choice to entrepreneurs by leveraging its unique combination of investment capital, a team of professionals with experience investing in and operating some of the world’s premiere consumer brands and an extensive industry network. Investments in the restaurant sector have included Chuy’s, Elephant Bar, Marie Callender’s, Mimi’s Café, and Rosa Mexicano. David is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
CMO & Co-Founder | Pincho Factory
With 13 years of interactive design experience, Otto Othman has led creative teams on award winning campaigns for clients such as FIAT, Coca Cola, Chrysler and Sprint. Otto is the Co-founder of the award winning burgers and kebabs restaurant called Pincho Factory in Miami. Leveraging social media and technology, Pincho Factory has created a very loyal following/cult in Miami. After winning the 2015 Food Network Burger bash, Pincho Factory has grown into 5 locations and has 10 under development with plans to reach 50 locations signed by the end of 2018.
Co-Founder & CEO | Boloco
John Pepper is the Co-founder and CEO of Boloco, a 17-unit fast-casual restaurant chain with locations throughout New England. He is also a founder of EEApp, Inc., a technology platform built to dramatically improve the overall experience of hourly and low income workers in their place of employment. EEApp (temporary name) is currently in Beta phase at a number of restaurants in NYC and Boston. John is a co-founder and board member of restaurant chain B.Good (27 units, Boston) and Southeast Asian Noodle-focused Kigo Kitchen (2 units, Seattle). He was the Winner of the 2012 Regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for New England.
Senior Vice President | Buxton
Stephen Polanski is Senior Vice President of Buxton, a leading provider of customer analytics. Stephen leads Buxton’s retail, restaurant and franchise consulting teams. For nearly a decade Stephen has worked to build relationships with his clients to help them to get the maximum benefit from customer analytics and create and execute successful growth strategies. Stephen’s clients include Wingstop, Famous Dave’s, Which Wich and UFC Gym. Before joining Buxton, Stephen was as a professional golfer. He received his bachelor’s degree in business management from Texas Christian University.
Vice President Marketing | Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt
With more than 20 years of marketing and sales experience for the restaurant, high tech and hospitality industries, Karen Porter leads her team and several agencies to conceptualize and implement local and national market strategies for Orange Leaf’s global brand, which encompasses more than 300 stores. At Orange Leaf, Karen manages market research and planning, and provides strategic direction for promotions, advertising, digital and social media communications strategies, public relations and franchisee communications. Previously, Karen was the Director of Marketing at Destination Hotels overseeing the hospitality, real estate and resort development marketing programs and budgets for Suncadia resort, a 6,400-acre resort community in the Pacific Northwest.
President | LJR Hospitality Ventures
Larry is President of LJR Hospitality Ventures, a consulting firm that provides profitable solutions to private equity, owners and operators of restaurant companies. Having led multiple companies, he is one of the original innovators and leaders in fast casual and is past chair of the Fast Casual Industry council.
President & CEO | SpenDifference
With more than 25 years of experience in the foodservice business, Maryanne’s expertise spans all facets of the industry. She has overseen the strategic supply chain activities for a multi-concept restaurant company as well as lead initiatives and teams in both operations and training. Her breadth of experience includes management and executive positions with Rock Bottom Restaurants Inc., VICORP Inc., CA1 Services, and Sky Chefs Inc. She is currently a member of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), and the Women’s Foodservice Forum.
Vice President of Field Operations | Firehouse Subs of America
Meg Rose is Vice President of Field Operations for Firehouse Subs of America where she oversees operations and compliance for the 970+ unit, fast casual restaurant chain. A leader with more than 27 years of restaurant industry experience with some of the largest chain concepts in the nation, Meg joined Firehouse Subs in 2007 as Franchise Business Manager. Meg’s monumental accomplishments and passion for serving others earned her the 2011 Culture Award for her work on behalf of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. In 2015 Meg was named as one of the Women of Influence by the Jacksonville Business Journal.
Senior VP of Brink Software | PAR
Paul Rubin is extremely passionate about technology. He has more than 23 years of development experience and more than 18 years in the hospitality POS market. Paul started out as a cashier at McDonald’s early in his career, and has evolved into a respected developer, integrator, and team leader at companies such as Jack-in-the-Box and Starbucks. In 2008, Paul and his team launched Brink POS, a cloud-based POS solution that was designed for the multi-unit restaurant operator to successfully and seamlessly run their business today while being ready for tomorrow’s industry demands. Through acquisition, Paul and his Brink POS team joined the PAR family in September, 2014.
Roberta Vaccaro Salerno
President, CEO | Integrated Control Corp.
Founder, CEO & President of Integrated Control Corp. with a mission to improve the quality, operations and profit of every restaurant, operator and brand.Roberta Vaccaro Salerno has served on the boards of several national organizations including the National Minority Business Council; speaks nationally on the topic of design for high service environments including the WFF’s Leadership Conference on the topic of Women and Risk as well as their Mentor Program. Recognized as one of the Top 50 Women on Long Island, she holds numerous copyrights, patents and trademarks for her design innovations and has received the Long Island Innovator of the Year Award.
Vice President of R&D and Product Innovation | Rave Restaurant Group
Patty Scheibmeir is Vice President of R&D and Product Innovation for Rave Restaurant Group, the parent company for Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza Co. Prior to joining RAVE, she ran her own consulting business doing R&D, innovation and marketing work for companies like Papa Murphy’s, Frito Lay and Applebee’s. As a food scientist, Patty invented the stuffed crust pizza and worked on many other product development projects including, (Pizza Hut) The P’Zone, Twisted Crust, Sicilian, The Insider, (KFC) Kentucky Grilled Chicken, Famous Bowls, (Papa Murphy’s) Fresh Pan Pizza, (Applebee’s) Sizzling Entrées.
Chief of Marketing Officer | Wetzel’s Pretzels
Jennifer Schuler is the Chief of Marketing Officer of Wetzel’s Pretzels where she is responsible for the development of the brand, store design/experience, new products, promotions and marketing/advertising of the concept. She joined the Wetzel’s Pretzels team in October 2014 and has overseen the company’s digital strategy since that time, implementing social media programs that have cultivated brand advocates and driven measurable traffic and sales. Jennifer developed her passion for food and expertise in brand management in her 5 years in brand management at General Mills, working on brands like Big G cereals and Yoplait yogurt. After General Mills, Jennifer served in executive positions in marketing and operations for a private equity backed consumer healthcare company and an education tech start-up.
Co-Founder and CEO | Nekter Juice Bar, Inc.
Steve Schulze is Co-founder and CEO of Nekter Juice Bar. Starting from scratch in 2010 with personal savings and an SBA loan, Steve and his wife and co-founder Alexis have built Nekter Juice Bar into a predominant restaurant and lifestyle brand by offering higher quality juices, smoothies and acai bowls, made only with fresh, natural, and unprocessed ingredients – something not found at similar concepts. Within six years, Nekter has grown to 57 locations in five states, more than 700 employees and nearly $40 million in revenue. Nekter recently announced plans to grow to as many as 300 locations across the United States in the next five years with both franchise and company-owned restaurants. Prior to launching Nekter, Steve worked for consumer-based companies in various sales, marketing and management capacities.
Chief Development Officer | Paris Baguette
Larry has over 20 years of restaurant and franchise experience with leadership roles in both operations and development. In his current role with Paris Baguette, Larry is responsible for corporate growth as well as all aspects of developing and leading the franchise business. Prior to Paris Baguette, Larry was VP of Development for Ruby’s and VP of Operations and Development for Yogurtland. Larry began his career in food service in 1995 when he founded Juice it Up. Over a 13 year span the company grew to over 180 stores. In addition to starting Juice it Up, he was also a franchisee with two brands.
Vice President of Corporate Communications | Firehouse Subs
Cecily Sorensen is Vice President of Corporate Communications for Firehouse Subs. On a daily basis, she leads the strategic direction of public relations, crisis communications, internal communications, government affairs, and special events for the brand that is fast approaching 1,000 restaurant locations in the United States and Canada. Cecily graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Communication and a Master’s in Mass Communication.
COO | The Halal Guys
Mike Speck is a 25 year restaurant operations and training veteran, who recently joined The Halal Guys as their COO, after the brand’s decision to launch a worldwide franchise program. His previous experience includes VP of HR and Training for Qdoba Mexican Grill, as well as various HR and operations positions in company and franchisee roles with brands like Cici’s Pizza, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Boston Market and Einstein Bagels. Mike has also served as a past chairman for the National Restaurant Association HR Executive Group.
Director of Franchise Development | HuHot Mongolian Grill
Laura Sporrer is Director of Franchise Development at HuHot Mongolian Grill. Laura’s career in franchise development started 10 years ago at Quiznos corporate, where she paved the path for their first ever online disclosure of the FDD. Her work includes franchise marketing, campus and airport development, FDD management, as well as market development and planning. In her current role she is responsible for all aspects of franchise recruitment (with a limited budget). Her efforts resulted in HuHot’s largest number of leads in 2015 and several new signings.
Director, Business Development | Heartland Commerce, A Global Payments company
Matt Steiger has over 25 years supporting technology initiatives in the restaurant industry by directing sales and marketing efforts for companies delivering best in class solutions. His background includes officer level positions with responsibility for marketing, key account sales, strategic alliances and general management. Now focused on strategic account development he directs programs to enhance market awareness of Heartland Commerce. Matt represents the Heartland Commerce portfolio of products and services to ensure growth in market share and profitability. He also initiates and cultivates relationships with key executives at restaurant enterprise companies to achieve strategic business goals identified by the customers, and Heartland Commerce, to derive mutual value. He also provides project oversight for major account system deployments and supports RFI/RFP responses for the company.
CMO | Long Range Systems
As Chief Marketing Officer for Long Range Systems, Michelle Strong is responsible for LRS’ product strategy, marketing programs, client services, corporate communications, and sales support. Joining LRS in 2012, Michelle assumed oversight of LRS’ marketing, branding, and product development to enhance LRS’ repertoire of messaging and tracking solutions. Today, Michelle works closely with LRS’ clients, business partners, and operating units to assess market needs, uncover emerging trends, understand competitive offerings, and recommend product strategies that best position LRS to address on-site communication and tracking needs with integrated hardware and software offerings.
President & CEO | Saladworks
Patrick Sugrue brings more than 20 years of experience in the food industry and extensive executive expertise to his role as President and CEO of Saladworks. Patrick began his career in consumer packaged goods at The Gallo Winery and The Coca Cola Company. He continued his successful career in the food industry as Chief Operating Officer of Honey Baked Ham, President and Chief Executive Officer at Fearman’s Pork, Inc. and as President and Chief Operating Officer at Sofina Foods. The Detroit native has also worked closely as a consultant with several private equity groups and currently sits on the Board of Directors for Imvescor Restaurant Group. Patrick is committed to empowering franchisees and driving unit-level profitability and top line revenue as well as providing global brand leadership.
SVP of Strategic Growth and Chief Legal Officer | Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Andrew Thengvall is the Sr. VP of Strategic Growth and Chief Legal Officer of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, the fast-casual restaurant concept is known for its made to order food including, lean ground beef steakburgers, Vienna Beef hot dogs and shoestring fries, as well as dessert treats prepared with a choice of chocolate or vanilla frozen custard. Andrew enjoyed a career as a law firm partner prior to venturing into the restaurant sector. As Sr. VP of Strategic Growth, Andrew is focused on taking Freddy’s into new markets and exploring value added opportunities.
Vice President of Operations | Cousins Subs
Jason Valentine is Vice President of Operations at Cousins Subs—a Wisconsin-based, fast casual sub shop. Previously, Jason played an active role in his father’s multi-unit Cousins Subs franchise system where he acquired intimate knowledge of what it means to be a franchisee. He believes that four core operational foundations (100% Guest Focused; Quality, Service and Cleanliness; People Development Plan; Servant Leadership) play an integral role in Cousins Subs’ success. People and culture are his number one priorities along with a strong belief that a culture focused on serving others will lead to both business and personal success.
President | HuHot Mongolian Grills
Linda Vap is the president and founder of HuHot Mongolian Grill. An experienced restaurant executive, Linda has an impressive 35-year career in the restaurant industry. She is responsible for overseeing all departments of the company with a focus on finance, accounting, and company development. Linda has considered herself a mentor to many young business people during her career. Linda’s current focus is on HuHot Mongolian Grills, the brainchild of Linda, Dan, and their son, Andy. The first HuHot location replaced a struggling Godfather’s Pizza restaurant, and opened in 1999. Shortly thereafter in 2002 HuHot sold its first franchise. Conservative yet steady growth has followed and HuHot now spans most of the Midwest with 59 locations in 16 states. During development, the Vap team put a heavy emphasis on the development of the pan-Asian flavors of their 12 signature sauces. Either instincts or luck have positioned HuHot well for current trends and Linda expects strong growth to continue.
President and CEO | Yalla Mediterranean
As a seasoned restaurant-industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience building successful concepts from the ground up, David Wolfgram introduced Yalla Mediterranean to Northern California in 2014. David began his career in the restaurant industry in the 1970s managing Hedon Place, an independent restaurant in Chicago. He later joined Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), a multi-concept restaurant company, at which he held a variety of positions for a number of establishments. In 1991, he co-founded Maggiano’s Little Italy and the Corner Bakery Café. He then led the development of the fast-casual concept BoudinSF before joining Black Angus Steakhouse.
CMO | Newk’s Holdings
Retail and foodservice industry veteran Alan Wright joined Newk’s Eatery in 2013 bringing 23 years of expertise in franchising, marketing and operations management to the rapidly growing fast casual chain. Prior to Newk’s, Alan served in various executive roles, including as Vice President – Franchise Division, at The Krystal Company, the oldest quick service restaurant chain in the South where he worked for more than a decade. Before that, he was Vice President of Marketing for Olan Mills, tasked with transitioning the company from outbound telemarketing dependence to an advertising and direct marketing approach to customer acquisition. Through the years, Alan has developed the ability to successfully identify opportunities, develop focus and provide strategic opportunities for enhancing competitiveness and profitability.