Senior Director, Drive Thru Innovation | Scooter’s Coffee
Nathan Lester is a dynamic leader who successfully managed and innovated restaurants. He introduced groundbreaking initiatives like voice-activated drive-thrus, predictive production management, and robotic cooking equipment, enhancing customer experiences and improving business efficiencies. Nathan also excelled in change management, safety, and training, overseeing a team of 100+. Additionally, he led global teams in food safety, sustainability, and quality systems, and implemented cross-functional processes for improved performance. His remarkable achievements highlight his visionary leadership and commitment to excellence in the restaurant industry.
PANELISTS & MODERATORS
CEO | Leasecake
After starting as a Big Four CPA, Taj Adhav managed more than $2 billion in commercial real estate and new business launches over a decade at Disney Development Company and as an Imagineer launching Disney Cruise Line, and Disney Vacation Club. Transitioning into technology, Taj became an early hire at Channel Intelligence eventually leading business development to launch Channel Intelligence as a SaaS data platform which later was sold to Google for $125 million. Recognizing the opportunity to transform the market where everyone in business owns or leases real estate, Leasecake was born. Tenants, brokers, and landlords desperately needed a way to collaborate, share data, and keep track of business-critical events.
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.
President | The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill
Bob Andersen is highly regarded as a restaurant industry leader with a successful track record in growing emerging restaurant brands. He has developed a unique and diverse perspective in all aspects of the restaurant business. His experience spans C-level and senior executive positions; to launching a restaurant start-up; to owning, developing and operating restaurants as a multi-brand franchisee; and serving as an area developer/representative. Brands he has worked with include: Jimboy's Tacos, Sunny Street Cafe, Cowboy Chicken, Twin Peaks, MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, and Boston Pizza. At The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill, Bob is helping the brand carve out a niche in the "fine fast casual" space. The concept currently has 30 locations in 12 states with 48+ units in active development.
President & CEO | Condado Tacos
Chris Artinian serves as President & CEO at Condado Tacos and Tequila, an emerging brand that specializes in tacos, margs and tequilas, with growth plans to double its size by the end of 2023. Chris has over 30 years of restaurant and retail experience, with both private and public companies, and has extensive experience in restaurant and consumer services. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Another Broken Egg, Ted’s Cafe Escondido, and Condado Tacos. Chris joined Condado Tacos to partner with the team in charting the next phase of meteoric growth. He continues to serve as an Operating Director at The Beekman Group.
VP of Enterprise Sales | Revel Systems
Jake Berkowitz is the Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Revel Systems and currently oversees enterprise sales, as well as the sales engineering group. During his tenure at Revel, he’s been responsible for winning some of the company’s key accounts, and has built Revel’s enterprise division from the ground up. Prior to joining Revel, Jake oversaw new market launches for Cake (formerly Leapset), and played a role in the company’s successful acquisition by Sysco Foods. He brings with him a deep understanding of restaurant and retail industries, cultivated from over 10 years of selling experience.
Founder | Avocaderia
Alessandro Biggi is the Founder and CEO of Avocaderia, a seasonally-inspired, fast-casual restaurant with 5 locations throughout New York City. Alessandro started his career at J.P. Morgan and The Boston Consulting Group before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey. He has built and grown successful tech businesses including 20lines, a storytelling app that was acquired by HarperCollins Publishers, and Zooppa, a global creative platform that was merged with TLNT Holdings. Alessandro holds a Master’s degree in International Management from ESADE Business School and a BS in Economics from Bocconi University.
President & COO | Dave's Hot Chicken
Jim Bitticks was promoted from COO to president and chief operating officer of Dave’s Hot Chicken in 2021. A 30-year restaurant operations veteran, Bitticks started in the restaurant industry as a teenager and climbed the ranks at CKE Restaurants to become vice president of operations in the San Diego market. He joined Blaze Pizza in 2013 to lead operations and training and later became chief restaurant officer to help that concept grow from two to more than 350 locations.
Chief Development & Operating Officer | Capriotti’s & Wing Zone
David Bloom's early career in the restaurant and hotel industries included working with and for some of the most iconic brands and leaders in their respective industries where he learned how to strategically accelerate sustainable brand expansion. Having grown up in the restaurant industry in and around NYC, David’s entrepreneurial career began as a large multi-unit franchisee and serving as the SVP of Brand Expansion for Quiznos, growing it from a small regional brand of 18 restaurants to opening over 5,000 locations in 28 countries. Subsequent senior roles included the rapid growth of numerous enterprises including; Clockwork Home Services, Bridge International Academies based in Nairobi, Kenya, Famous Brands International and as President of Office Evolution. Today, David is responsible for all aspects of franchise development and operations for Capriotti’s and scaling a recently acquired fast casual concept Wing Zone to new heights.
VP of Franchise Development | Goodcents
Jami Bond, CFE, is vice president of franchise development for Goodcents. With an extensive background in restaurant marketing and franchise development, she loves helping entrepreneurs launch their own businesses, and she is very proud to work for a company that provides the support franchisees need to thrive. A graduate of Washburn University, Bond holds a degree in marketing and finance. She is a member of Chief, a private network built to drive more women into positions of power and keep them there.
Joe Buonavolanto III
VP of Franchising | The Buona Companies
Joe Buonavolanto is a 3rd generation owner and operator of the Buona Companies (Buona Restaurants & The Original Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Shop). Joe has been an integral part of the company tripling revenues and units since 2011, and is well versed in all things quick-serve and fast casual. In 2022, Joe was promoted to Executive Vice President of Franchising & Growth as the company takes aim on nationwide expansion for it’s Buona Restaurants and Original Rainbow Cone Ice Cream shops. Joe lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and two children.
VP of Events | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Events, Cherryh Cansler spent several years as VP of Editorial managing the Networld’s nine B2B publications. Throughout her 20-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.
Director of Franchise Sales & Development | Biscuit Belly
Executive Chef & Owner | The Market Place Restaurant / Billy D's Fried Chicken
Awarded Fortune Magazine “Green Chef of the Year” two years in a row, Chef William Dissen has been building a multi-restaurant farm-to-table and quick-serve food enterprise from his home in Asheville, North Carolina since 2009. An acclaimed sustainable chef and published author, William is well known for weaving foraged and local ingredients with Southern roots in every dish he creates. Today, William owns and is the culinary force behind North Carolina's fastest-growing quick-serve, farm-to-table restaurant concept, Billy D’s Fried Chicken. With locations at The North Carolina Zoo, Wake Forest University, and Elon University, Dissen is setting a precedent for bringing farm-fresh flavors to students and families. Dissen also owns The Market Place in Asheville, N.C, founded in 1979, which is among the longest-standing classic American restaurants in the country. Dissen also owns upscale Charlotte eatery, Haymaker, a staple in the banking city’s most acclaimed high-end restaurants.
VP, Practice Lead | InMarket
Alicia DiStefano is InMarket’s VP, Practice Leader for the QSR and Dining verticals. Alicia has worked in media and advertising for over 15 years, with experience in location marketing, data as a service (DaaS), programmatic, and self-service media. She previously worked in the restaurant vertical for 10 years, and has shared conference stages with brands like Panera, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, DoorDash, and more. In 2018, Alicia oversaw the team, campaign, and submission to win the I-COM Data Creativity Award for a cost per visit campaign for Outback Steakhouse. Alicia is based in Atlanta, GA.
EVP of Marketing | Hungry Howie’s
Rob Elliott has had an exciting career in franchise marketing, specifically in the quick-service restaurant category. He began his career at Little Caesar's Enterprises in 1980 as a store manager, eventually becoming Vice President of Marketing. Rob left Little Caesar's in 1995 to become Managing Partner of Bozell Worldwide, a top-tier advertising agency. From 1999 until 2003, Rob was Executive Vice President of Marketing for Quiznos Subs, a Colorado-based sandwich franchise. Rob joined Papa Murphy's Take'n'Bake Pizza from 2003 until 2006 as Executive Vice President of Marketing. In 2011, Rob joined the Hungry Howie's family as Vice President of Strategic Marketing. He was promoted to his current role as Executive Vice President of Strategic Marketing in 2015.
VP of Marketing - Fast Casual Division | FAT Brands
Vice President of Customer Success | Orderly by Siftit
CEO | Franchise Founders
As the CEO of Franchise Founders, Matt leads the franchise incubator that builds and invests in start-up brands and emerging franchisors. With a talented team with over 70+ years of combined franchise experience, Matt oversees Franchise Founders’ proven franchise process including branding, marketing, real estate development, training, and location opening. Matt is currently bringing four innovative franchise brands to market: Bobby Chez Gourmet To Go, Patriot Broadband, Frankie Salons, and Sparklean. Previously, Matt was the founder and CEO of Wing Zone. Matt and his partner successfully opened six Wing Zone restaurants in major college markets from 1995-2000. As the visionary of Wing Zone and building a global brand, Matt launched the Wing Zone Franchise System in 2000. As CEO of Wing Zone, Matt led a talented team to successfully open over 150 restaurants throughout the US and six countries. In late 2020, Matt sold a majority interest in Wing Zone. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at Wing Zone.
VP of the Restaurant Vertical | Upside
Ryan Gaylor is the VP of the Restaurant Vertical at Upside. Ryan has over 20 years of experience bringing innovative solutions to the market, as well as finance and capital markets. Ryan’s experience spans across product management, financial analysis, business development, sales and leadership roles at several early and late stage technology companies. Ryan graduated from the University of Michigan and also obtained his MBA from Northwestern.
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.
CEO | Playa Bowls
CEO | Pokeworks
A purpose-driven, groundbreaking C-level Executive, Business Builder and Strategist, Steve Heeley thrives on growing, reviving and catapulting brands into industry leading, multimillion-dollar enterprises. Steve has gained a reputation as an innovator in fast casual and “better for you” food environments — continually identifying and capitalizing on emerging trends. Steve believes in creating cultures of engagement in which a shared purpose and vision drives exceptional financial results, while balancing the health of the team and business. He possesses a natural talent for fostering collaboration, setting up transformational strategies, influencing and building consensus among internal and external stakeholders within PE--backed, and publicly or privately owned organizations. Steve is currently CEO of Irvine, CA based Pokeworks, the largest and leading fast casual poke brand. Pokeworks currently operates in 20 states, as well as Mexico, Asia, and Canada.
Chief Operating Officer & Chief People Officer | Bluestone Lane
Amy Hom is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer at Bluestone Lane. She is leading and driving the culture within the organization, the human resources team as well as other departments such as training and development. In addition to serving as a Chief People Officer, she has led operations in large organizations as well as food safety, training, and culinary teams. Amy has more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry and has served in operations leadership roles for fine dining, casual dining and fast casual brands. Before joining Bluestone Lane, Amy led the North America retail and restaurant operations leadership team for REEF Technology Global, served as the Vice President of Operations with Sweetgreen, Red Robin and was the Senior Operations Director of Wolfgang Puck Catering. She has served in operations leadership roles for California Pizza Kitchen where she built a strong management foundation from where to continue to learn, grow and develop others.
Head of Marketing | Smashburger & JFCNA
Scott Johnson is a seasoned marketing and management executive with over 30 years of experience with a variety of Fortune 500 and growth companies focused on consumer marketing and technology. He has a proven track record of driving results through innovation and creative-driven brand marketing. Through his initiatives and brand leadership, Scott has generated over $1B in incremental revenue, and led major turnarounds at Arby’s and Outback Steakhouse. Since 2016, he has led brand marketing efforts for two of the fastest growing brands in the fast-casual segment, previously at BurgerFi International, and now as Marketing for North America regional JFC brands including Smashburger, Jollibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon.
Restaurant Marketing Consultant
Stacey Kane has more than 25 years of experience working with multi-unit restaurant chains as a Head of Marketing and Marketing Consultant. She has worked with such brands as California Tortilla, Think Food Group, Subway and East Coast Wings. Known for her incredible creativity and obsession with data she was one of the pioneers of using social media in the restaurant space and was named a Top 20 Movers and Shakers by Fast Casual Magazine three times. Currently, Stacey is a fractional CMO for several fast casual brands including and works as a marketing consultant for CORE: Children of Restaurant Employees a non-profit that serves food and beverage employees with children.
Co-Founder | Balance Pan-Asian Grille
Prakash Karamchandani is a self-proclaimed foodie and technology junkie who co-founded Balance Pan-Asian Grille, a nationally-acclaimed fast-casual Asian fusion multi-unit concept based in Ohio. Since starting the venture in 2010, Prakash has been recognized as a Top 24 Fast Casual Executive and a 20 Under 40 recipient. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and met his company’s co-founder. Prakash is a proud husband and father of two.
CFO | Smoothie King
Thomas (Tom) Kim has been Smoothie King's Chief Financial Officer since February 2019. Mr. Kim previously served as CFO at YourCause, a software technology company, and before that at Working Solutions, a business process outsourcing company. Prior to his CFO roles, Tom served in various roles in investment banking and management consulting at Citigroup, MHT Partners and Boston Consulting Group. He holds an MBA from Harvard and a BS in Economics from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Chief Operating Officer | PDQ Restaurants
Co-Founder & CEO | Apóla Greek Grill
Yianni Kosmides is the CEO and Co-Founder of Apóla Greek Grill, a fast-casual brand that has five current locations in Southern California and multiple franchise locations in the pipeline. Yianni is proud of his work in growing the Apóla brand, serving as a leader by example to his employees, being a game changer in his industry and having a positive impact in the community. Apóla is best known for serving the ‘Most Authentic Greek Gyro you can get without buying a plane ticket!’ and that’s due to the passion and dedication with which Yianni approaches his work. Authentic Greek cuisine is an under-represented category in the food industry, but YIanni, along with his brother Stefano has steadily grown Apóla’s presence in the SoCal area.
VP Franchise Business Development | BurgerFi
Steve Lieber is an expert in designing restaurant concepts, the art of pizza making and is a certified pizzaiolo from Italy. As Vice President of Franchise Development, Steve leads the team who sold over 150 franchises to over 50 franchise groups. His team has sold franchises in 20+ states and international deals in Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our teams built systemwide restaurant sales of $100+ million USD in under 5 years. Steve was on opening restaurant teams for 10+ states in the United States. He taught franchisees recruiting techniques, training and operating systems, professionalism, food ordering and preparation, inventory controls, labor controls, local store marketing to increase sales and profitability of all locations.
Co-Founder & CEO | Workstream
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, a mobile-first hiring and onboarding platform for the hourly workforce. He is a Harvard University and MIT Media Lab graduate, a former Product Manager at WeChat, and an investor at Dorm Room Fund. He contributes to Entrepreneur.com, Workstream Blog, and Huffington Post. He splits his time between San Francisco and Utah, and represented the Singapore National Team in basketball.
Co-Founder & CEO | Due' Cucina
Davide Macchi is the Co-founder & CEO of Due' Cucina, a unique fast-casual concept specializing in authentic Italian pasta. Due' Cucina currently operates four locations in Seattle, WA (with one more on the way) and, following a recent equity round, is about to open three additional units in Texas. Prior to Due’, David worked as a strategy consultant for Kearney, and in a variety of management roles in Australia and the US for Rocket Internet and Amazon. Davide studied media, economics, and business administration at University of Bologna, UC Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his MBA in 2016.
CEO | Mongolian Concepts and Craveworthy Brands
Gregg Majewski is the former CEO/COO/CFO of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and founder of Craveworthy Brands, a growing portfolio of diverse, relevant and highly efficient brands built on an unbeatable proposition for both consumers and prospective franchisees. Craveworthy Brands includes Wing It On!, The Budlong, Krafted Burger Bar + Tap and Lucky Cat. Majewski also serves as the CEO of Mongolian Concepts, the parent company to Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill. While at Jimmy John’s, Gregg expanded the company from 33 restaurants to 300 open and another 600 sold. He implemented and restructured all 300 of Jimmy John’s restaurants’ operational standards by introducing new systems, procedures, management incentive programs, training programs, franchisee enablement and shifting marketing strategies toward grassroots and a focus on freaky fast delivery. As a senior business executive who has established a resounding executive career of over 23 years in Food & Beverage, he has held instrumental roles in developing and guiding leaders.
Founder, Director of Analytics | Insight Lime Analytics
MaryBeth Maskovas is the founder and principal analytics consultant from the up-and-coming analytics and data strategy firm Insight Lime. With an international career in digital analytics, she has worked for brands such as KAYAK, Wendy’s, and other major retailers. She solves sticky problems in attribution, data usage, organizational strategy, and making business decisions with data. During her 10+ year career, she has loved working with complex businesses to create impactful change and has done so for notable travel, eCommerce, SaaS, and QSR brands. Insight Lime was founded when MaryBeth repatriated to the US from Denmark in 2020. In the agency's first few years, they have had an 80% client repeat rate, received an average 90+ NPS score, and a 100 NPS rating from the top five highest revenue clients.
Owner & Operator | Boojum
Andrew Maxwell is the owner/operator of Boojum, Ireland's largest chain of Mexican fast casual restaurants. He is passionate about perfecting the intersection of hospitality and technology. A former professional athlete, he has built and scaled businesses on both sides of the Atlantic and is excited to be part of the digital revolution in hospitality. Andrew is a proud husband and dad of 3.
Co-owner | HJ SMS OpCo (Happy Joe's)
CEO | Swig
Rian McCartan is the CEO of Swig, Home of the Original Dirty Soda™ and leader in the customized beverage category. He joined Swig in September 2022, prior to its acquisition by Utah icon The Larry H. Miller Company. McCartan’s leadership has been instrumental during the company’s explosive growth: Swig has nearly 50 corporate locations, will add 25 more in 2023, and recently announced multi-unit franchising. Prior to Swig, McCartan was the former Vice President of Global retail and real estate for See’s Candy, a Berkshire Hathaway Company. In the first half of his career, he held leadership positions with Fortune 500 retailers such as American Eagle Outfitters, Williams-Sonoma, Inc., and Skechers U.S.A. He was also a consultant for several leading startups in the direct-to-consumer space, which led him to executive roles at Will Leather Goods in Portland, Ore., and Tecovas in Austin, Texas. McCartan’s expertise shines in joining emerging brands, pre-scale, and then strategically guiding them through hyper growth and high unit counts.
Vice President, Business Development | UMI
Jason Pierret has over 20 years’ experience helping multi-location and franchise brands effectively market across all locations. A strategic thinker, Jason has a talent for seeing the big picture and communicating in a way that’s relatable and authentic. He’s currently VP of Business Development for UMI Marketing Solutions, a full-service marketing operations partner for fast growing multi-location brands across QSR, and Fast Casual, as well as many other franchise service and retail verticals. As the head of sales and marketing, he brings UMI’s years of expertise on national rollouts, local store marketing and trade area growth to nationally recognized brands like Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Bagel Brands, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. Jason is a husband, and a father to two amazing kids, enjoys time with his family outdoors and is an avid distance runner.
Chief Financial Officer | Farmer's Fridge
Sarah Rigsbee is the CFO at Farmer's Fridge with responsibility for finance, accounting, data analytics, legal and corporate HR. In her role, she leads development of the company's financial plans and forecasts, analysis and communication of performance, and interfaces accordingly with investors. She is also responsible for the full lifecycle of the corporate employee experience, from recruitment to retention and offboarding. Sarah started with the company in 2018 and prior to Farmer's Fridge, Sarah spent nearly 10 years at The Boeing Company, where she held several roles in financial and cost accounting, FP&A and corporate strategy. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters of Business Administration from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She lives in Chicago with her dog and is an avid traveler.
Franchise Owner | PRIMO Partners (Ben & Jerry's)
Phillip Scotton is with PRIMO Partners, the largest and only Black-owned/Black-led multi-unit franchise developer of Ben & Jerry’s, along with other enterprises. While attending the University of North Carolina, Phillip was reintroduced to a hometown scholar, UNC Alum Antonio McBroom, who had recently purchased a Ben & Jerry’s the same year. As the years passed, Antonio and Phillip grew closer. By 2012, Phillip helped to create The Pathway to Leadership Internship program with Ben & Jerry’s and gained the skills needed to become a serial entrepreneur. By 2016, Phillip was immersed in the business as a partner/full-time operator, where he has helped propel the off-premise category to double-digit sales growth each year and they currently tout the No. 1 ranking for Ben & Jerry’s globally. Phillip led the opening of their first Atlanta location, was one of the driving forces behind the acquisition of the Athens and Chattanooga locations, and helped develop locations in central Florida, around the Tampa area, and the Houston, Texas area.
Founder & CEO | Chick N Max
No stranger to the restaurant industry, Max Sheets got his start as a teenager scraping cheese off pans in a Pizza Hut kitchen. In the early 2000s – after having already spent 23 years in real estate and development for such brands as Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Smashburger and Ted’s Montana Grill – he began mulling over the idea of a franchise concept that would accommodate the ever growing movement towards red meat alternatives. In 2017, he founded Chick N Max, a next generation fast casual franchise specializing in almond wood smoked chicken and wings, chef-crafted sandwiches and golden fried tenders.
Chief Marketing Officer | Qdoba Restaurant Corporation
As QDOBA Mexican Eats CMO, Karin Silk oversees strategic marketing and digital initiatives, in addition to leading the menu and off-premises sectors of the business, which includes culinary strategy, third-party delivery partnerships and catering. Prior to joining QDOBA, Silk served as senior vice president of marketing for Rubio's Restaurants, Inc. She also spent seven years with PepsiCo-Quaker Foods. She began her career with Deloitte Consulting, after earning her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College.
CEO & Partner | FUSIAN
Mike Speck has significant experience in Operations, Training, HR, Business Acquisitions and Senior Level Leadership, in both corporate and franchise national high growth casual dining and fast casual service restaurant companies. He is the Chief Executive Officer & Partner of Fusian and CEO, Co-Founder of Paceline Restaurant Partners (FUSIAN development arm) with full responsibility for building the organizational, operational and financial businesses of FUSIAN, and emerging brands; The Wizard of Za and Hunny Bee’s Crispy Fried. In addition, he is also an active Board Member, former CEO with Asian Box. Immediately prior was Chief Operating Officer of The Halal Guys, the New York City most iconic brand.” Other experience with unique brands of Qdoba, Red Robin and Steak and Ale proudly credit a life long good fortune of mentorships. Mike is also a professional mentor at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business and has been a past chairman for the National Restaurant Association HR Executive Group.
Board Member | Kura Sushi USA
President & CEO | Juice It Up!
Susan Taylor is the President and CEO of Juice It Up! and possesses nearly 30 years of restaurant industry leadership experience. Propelled by her extraordinary vision, guidance and commitment to helping franchise owners succeed, Juice It Up! is experiencing record sales as the brand continues to take more ownership of the ever-popular smoothie, bowl, and raw juice segment. A dynamic, people-oriented brand builder, Susan has made huge contributions in furthering the evolution of the brand and taking Juice It Up! to new heights. Leading her team through the many challenges of the past few years to emerge stronger than ever, Susan is instrumental to Juice It Up!’s success.
Sr. Director of Growth | WOWorks
Adam Terranova is the Senior Director of Growth for WOWorks – the parent company of Saladworks, Frutta Bowls, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, The Simple Greek, Barberitos and Zoup! Eatery. Since the formation of WOWorks, he served as Director of Brand Marketing for Frutta Bowls and Saladworks and, prior to that, he held the position of Head of Marketing at Philly Pretzel Factory. Before entering the franchise community, he worked over a decade in the marketing and advertising world in agencies and vendors. Adam has had national recognition from his use of marketing technology, marketing platforms and how to apply them in a way that consumers desire it! He has a keen understanding of how make data driven strategic decisions to help organize chaos in menu marketing and technology to grow sales across all of WOWorks brands.
Founding Partner | Flake Pie Company / ROCTACO
Rick Timmons and his family live in Sandy, Utah and have been in the Utah market for 19 years. Prior to moving to Utah, Rick Timmons was based in Asia where he was a marketing executive in the cellular phone business for 15 years. In 2004 Rick and his family relocated to the Salt Lake City area and he and his brothers became Sonic Drive-in franchisees eventually expanding the business to 21 locations. In mid 2020, Rick and his business partners developed two new food concepts called Flake Pie Company and ROCTACO. They now operate two locations of each brand in Utah. Rick’s wife Carol was the creator of the Flake Pie Company recipes. After a 15 year battle with breast cancer, Carol passed away in early 2023, but her legacy and influence on the brand is still very strong and her daughters have continued the new recipe development. Flake Pie Company won the 2022 Fast Casual Perfect Pitch competition and Rick and his partners are wrapping up preparations for franchising Flake Pie Company later this year.
Director of Marketing & Franchise Sales | Cousins Maine Lobster
Annie Tselakis joined Cousins Maine Lobster in 2021 as the Director of Marketing and Franchise Sales with fifteen years of experience in the Maine lobster industry. She fell in love with the water as a deckhand on a ferryboat in Portland Harbor and her career has evolved to cover the entire coast of Maine as she supported commercial fishing organizations and lobster wholesale businesses. In 2014, she became the first executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association where she advocated for wholesalers and processors at the local, state and federal level. She previously worked in seafood marketing overseeing digital marketing strategies, international trade shows and trade missions promoting Maine lobster to customers worldwide. Annie graduated from Connecticut College in 2004 with a degree in anthropology and photography. She currently serves on the boards of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative and the Lobster Research, Education, and Development Fund.
Founding Partner | Dog Haus Worldwide
Along with his two business partners, André Vener co-founded Dog Haus in April 2010, with the mission of elevating stadium food classics into culinary masterworks. Over the last decade, Dog Haus has expanded from its Pasadena, CA, base to nearly 50 locations from coast-to-coast. André and his partners have spearheaded the craft-casual brand’s rapid expansion by forming alliances with leading ghost kitchen networks, an innovative partnership with Live Nation and the 2020 introduction of The Absolute Brands – a suite of virtual restaurant concepts spun off from several of Dog Haus’ signature menu items, such as the Bad Mutha Clucka. Prior to co-founding Dog Haus, André served as Executive Producer of Pasadena Entertainment, where he produced hundreds of events in venues of all sizes, including The Rose Bowl, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and more. André founded and operated redwhite+bluezz, an award-winning restaurant and jazz club that served great food, wine and live music for eight years.
CEO | Frisch’s
Mr. James Walker is one of the restaurant industry’s most accomplished and sought-after executives, familiar with the QSR, Fast Casual and Casual Theme segments. Walker is an authority in restaurant technology and delivery channels, with a focus on building a best-in-class customer experience, domestic and international development, operations, new product innovation, menu evolution, and brand (re)positioning. Currently Mr. Walker holds the position of CEO for Cincinnati-based Frisch’s® Restaurants, a 75-year-old American Comfort Food, Casual Theme Restaurant brand, famous for its “Big Boy®” burgers. Prior to Frisch’s, Mr. Walker held the CEO position for ultrafast grocery startup, BUYK, located in New York City. Walker has more than 30 years of broad-based, senior level, management experience in the hospitality and retail industries for brands such as Nathan’s Famous®, Baja Fresh®, Cinnabon®, and Subway®.
CEO | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Charles Watson was named CEO in December 2018. In this role, he is responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall franchise performance. He was previously Tropical Smoothie Cafe's Chief Development Officer since 2016 after serving as VP of Franchise Development since 2010. In these roles, Charles was responsible for all development of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand. A veteran hospitality professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, US Franchise Systems, Inc. and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and also holds a Masters of Business Administration from The Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia.
President | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes
Doug Willmarth is the President of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a growing 90 unit fast casual restaurant company where he is working to revitalize the brand and accelerate unit growth. Throughout his career, Doug has specialized in building iconic brands and creating sustainable sales growth in restaurants and consumer retail. In addition to MOOYAH, Doug’s restaurant experience includes roles as Chief Brand Officer for Mongolian Concepts, Chief Marketing Officer at Wingstop, and Director of National Marketing for Pizza Hut. Doug started his business career in CPG marketing at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, and served 9 years as a Naval Aviator.
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