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Jason Rusk
SVP Restaurant Operations | Wonder
Jason Rusk leads the Restaurant Operations group at Wonder, a VC-backed food-tech startup company whose goal is to be the super app for mealtime bringing high-quality food from chef-backed restaurants. Wonder’s accelerated growth strategy of new brick-and-mortar locations gives guests the ability to order across multiple restaurants and cuisines in under 35 minutes through a fully integrated end-to-end platform. Prior to Wonder, Jason served as Chief Business Development Officer of Red Robin, where he oversaw Franchise Operations, Food & Beverage, Supply Chain, Development, and Off-premise channels. During his tenure, he helped scale Red Robin from a regional brand to over 550 locations nationwide. He led the strategy for Red Robin’s future, from new prototype to interior design and in-restaurant experience. Most recently he spearheaded the rollout of Donatos Pizza, the foray into on-demand services including delivery, catering, and online ordering, which contributed more than $500 million to the top line.


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.
Nabeel Alamgir
Founder & CEO | Lunchbox
Nabeel Alamgir is the founder and CEO at Lunchbox, the enterprise restaurant technology company boosting customers like Papa Ginos, Chopt, Walk On's and more. Starting out at Bareburger as a busboy, Nabeel worked his way up to the position of CMO and then went on to build this restaurant tech company made by operators.
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.
Jon Asher
CMO | Nekter Juice Bar
As Chief Marketing Officer at Nekter Juice Bar, Jon Asher leads brand development and marketing, brand partnerships, franchise marketing, technology enhancement and innovation, menu innovation, and product development with a core focus on ensuring a fresh, frictionless and fun omnichannel marketing experience across all customer touchpoints in-store, online and out-of-home (OOH). He was responsible for transitioning Nekter’s loyalty program from punch cards to a pioneering mobile app with more than 2 million members and recently led a successful rebranding effort that helped propel Nekter Juice Bar to its position as one of the most successful next-gen juice bar brands in the country with more than 210 locations. Jon began his career as an Aerospace Analyst before switching over to marketing in the biotech, outdoor and fitness retail sectors, and now enjoys promoting a healthier lifestyle in the QSR space.
Dave Baer
COO | Mahana Fresh
Mitch Baker
VP of Marketing | Robeks
Mitch Baker brings extensive marketing experience across multiple industries to his role of Vice President of Marketing at Robeks Juice. Baker leads the marketing team and its support agencies, focusing on brand building and local store marketing initiatives. He emphasizes the importance of the franchisee community as key to Robeks’ success and aims to foster this partnership to drive growth. Previously, Baker co-founded a coffee and juice concept where he was integral to the brands’ creation and marketing strategies. His career also includes roles at Blockbuster Video, Blockbuster Music, the American Cancer Society, and Walt Disney World, demonstrating his diverse and robust marketing background.
Louis Basile
Founder | Wildflower
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.
Craig Blum
Chief Enthusiast & Founder | Johnny Doughnuts
Craig Blum is the heart and soul behind Johnny Doughnuts, a beloved Bay Area institution known for its delectable, handcrafted doughnuts in both classic and inventive flavors. Craig's journey began in 2010 with a simple yet revolutionary idea: to elevate the humble doughnut using locally sourced, organic ingredients and to share these treats from a traveling food truck. Today, Johnny Doughnuts boasts four brick-and-mortar locations, with one more on the way in 2024, and a fleet of food trucks. The shop has been recognized as one of the top 5 doughnut shops in the country by Food Network.
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.
Mike Burns
CEO | &pizza
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
Darden Coors
CEO | Salad Collective
Darden Coors is the Head of Lettuce (CEO) of Salad Collective, LLC, LLC, a Golden, CO-based fast casual restaurant group comprised of three health-conscious brands, MAD Greens, Snappy Salads, and Tokyo Joe’s and a total of 61 locations. Coors joined the company in December 2013 when the Coors family enterprises purchased a majority stake in MAD Greens which had 12 restaurants. She led the concepts’ rapid growth and market expansion, its merger with Snappy Salads in 2019, and its acquisition of Tokyo Joe’s in 2022. In addition, Coors serves in various leadership roles with other family enterprises. Prior to Salad Collective, Coors held a variety of in-house legal counsel positions with public and privately held Coors-family enterprises, including ACX Technologies, Inc., Graphic Packaging International, and CoorsTek, Inc. in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Ottawa, Canada.
Ian Courtnage
CEO | Evergreens
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.
Jesse Deshield
Sr. Director of Franchise Operations & Innovations | Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe
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.
Victoria Fausnaught
Franchisee | Crumbl Cookies and Eggs up Grill
Alex Fayn
Co-Founder & CEO | S-NET Communications, Inc.
Alex Fayn founded S-NET Communications in 2006 with the mission to provide companies large and small with quality customer service and cutting-edge cloud communication solutions that meet the needs of a rapidly changing business environment. Under his leadership, S-NET has grown from its early days as a VoIP pioneer to the leading cloud service provider it is today. A tech-savvy problem solver by nature, Fayn is responsible for the long-term strategic vision for S-NET and is directly involved in product innovation, finance, sales, marketing and strategic customer management. He enjoys spending his free time with his three sons, as well as skiing, fishing, camping or at the gym.
Jason Ganahl
Founder | GQue BBQ
Jason Ganahl, founder GQue BBQ, is a celebrated figure in the world of Barbecue. There isn’t anything he hasn’t done in BBQ. As a competitor, He is a KCBS certified BBQ judge, has won a combination of 19 Grand and Reserve Grand Championships in professional BBQ contests. Perfect scores in each category, Including a Team of the year award and induction into the RMBBQA Hall of Fame. Following the success as a competitor Jason opened his first Restaurant in Westminster Colorado in 2018. Since opening, GQue Has received Countless Best of Awards and has been featured on Food Network and Cooking Channel. GQue BBQ now has 7 locations in the front range including Empower Field, Home of the Denver Broncos and Coors Field Home of the Colorado Rockies.
Tony Giardina
Supply Chain Operations Director | Big Chicken
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.
Michelle Harden
Chief Operating Officer/ Managing Partner | Messner Reeves
Michelle Harden is COO and Managing Partner at Messner Reeves LLP. A former nurse, Michelle has extensive experience in defending catastrophic injury cases and multi-district, multi-plaintiff personal injury cases. She has significantly focused her practice on representation of physicians and other health care professionals as well as healthcare entities. In addition to a very active litigation and trial practice, she frequently represents health care providers in matters involving the Colorado Medical Board, the Board of Nursing, and other credentialing entities, and represents these providers in administrative law hearings. Beyond litigation, she serves as a trusted advisor to many clients on a wide variety of topics and acts as general counsel to several entities. She has received numerous awards and recognitions, including 5280 Magazine Top Lawyers, Super Lawyers and US News & World Report Best Lawyers and was awarded the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association Professionalism Award in 2020 and was named a Notable Woman in Law by BizWest Colorado in 2021. Michelle has maintained the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale Hubbell since 2014. She has served on various boards and is currently the President of the Zarlengo Foundation Board and a member of the Denver Broncos’ Javonte Williams Foundation Board.
Casey Hilder
Director of Marketing | Starbird
Casey Hilder, Director of Marketing for Starbird, has led the brand to become a defining force in the super-premium QSR segment since joining in 2018. Under his leadership, Starbird has expanded from three to fourteen restaurants, achieving over 25% comp sales growth for four consecutive years. Hilder spearheaded successful LTOs and the development of Starbird's virtual concepts. With over 12 years of experience, Hilder launched Starbird’s TikTok, growing to 125,000 followers in under two years, and implemented a loyalty program, increasing app usage to 200,000 users. He holds a bachelor's degree from Xavier University.
Troy Hooper
CEO | Hot Palette Holdings
Troy Hooper joined Pepper Lunch as one of the three global business unit CEO’s for the brand, and oversees Pepper Lunch’s parent company in North America, Hot Palette America. Troy brings 30 years of unparalleled experience in hospitality, operations management and executive leadership to this role, which has fueled Pepper Lunch’s infrastructure development, growth efforts, and brand deliverables, creating a fruitful franchise model for the North American market. Throughout his career, Troy has successfully built new concepts, rebranded existing restaurants, and improved well-established venues for iconic brands. Troy’s decades of experience and business acumen brings a breadth of knowledge to the rapidly growing global brand, Pepper Lunch.
R.J. Hottovy
Head of Analytical Research |
R.J. Hottovy, CFA is Head of Analytical Research for He has covered the restaurant, retail, and e-commerce sectors for nearly 20 years. He has held several analyst positions in the past, including Global Consumer Equity Strategist at Morningstar and equity analyst roles at William Blair & Co. and Deutsche Bank. Hottovy also brings a wealth of experience with early-stage investments as an investor and member of the investment committee for the IrishAngels Venture Capital group. He has worked with more than 100 early-stage consumer and technology companies, advising on more than $200 million in capital raises and other buy- and sell-side M&A transactions. Hottovy is also a member of the Chicago Seed Co. network, a group of Chicago-area investors focused on early-stage food & beverage companies. Hottovy's efforts have been recognized by several financial and trade publications, including CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Barron's, BusinessWeek, and Forbes.
Amy Huff
Partner | Messner Reeves
Amy Huff helps clients create a vision for their matters, while also providing skilled advice on various complex real estate issues. Clients value her ability to provide real-life solutions to challenging problems based on their unique and individual needs. She offers a competitive perspective in a variety of areas, including real estate transactions, entity formation, contract negotiation, and corporate governance. Clients range from national and local restaurant concepts to commercial developers to health care providers, including pro bono legal services for non-profit organizations.
Stacey Kane
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer
Stacey Kane has more than 25 years of experience working with multi-unit restaurant chains as a Head of Marketing and Marketing Consultant. She has worked with such brands as California Tortilla, Think Food Group, Subway and East Coast Wings. Known for her incredible creativity and obsession with data she was one of the pioneers of using social media in the restaurant space and has been named a Top 20 Movers and Shakers by Fast Casual Magazine five times. Her passion is leading emerging brands as they scale for growth. Currently, Stacey is a fractional CMO for several fast casual brands including Fresh Baguette, Garden Catering, HCK Hot Chicken, Mahana Fresh and Mamoun's Falafel. Kane is passionate about the industry. She has been a National Pro-Start Judge for 3 years and after serving as a consultant, she was asked to sit on the board of CORE:Children of Restaurant Employees in 2022. CORE’s mission is to provide short-term financial relief to food and beverage service employees with children when navigating a qualifying circumstance.
Sean Kennedy
President & CEO | Cowboy Chicken
As president and CEO, Sean Kennedy has been instrumental in establishing Cowboy Chicken as the premium fast casual restaurant brand that pioneered wood-fired rotisserie chicken. Sean has worked to refine the menu, build operational systems, grow system-wide sales and strengthen store financial performance. He launched Cowboy Chicken’s franchise program that helped to pave the way for today’s national expansion and has built a strong corporate team to support franchise development, real estate, construction, training, marketing and franchise support efforts. During his leadership, the brand has been included in Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list every year since 2011 and in 2017 won the Emerging Chain of the Year award from Restaurant Business.
Josh Kern
CEO | SPB Hospitality
Josh Kern is the Chief Executive Officer for SPB Hospitality. Josh is a passionate leader with a track record of creating powerful and high-performing marketing and business teams across a variety of brands and channels. He is a decisive and skilled leader, exceptional innovator, and brand builder. Josh most recently served as President of Concepts at SPB Hospitality, overseeing marketing, culinary, beverage, supply chain, and information technology. He has previously held leadership positions with several successful restaurant groups including Quiznos, American Blue-Ribbon Holdings, Smashburger, and Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts.
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.
Luis Lara
SVP, Business Development | Consolidated Concepts
Luis Lara is the Senior Vice President of Business Development for Consolidated Concepts, a Buyers Edge Platform company. Luis started working in restaurants when he was 16 years old. After graduating college, Luis worked with restaurants as a financial analyst for BMO Bank in Chicago and has also helped build customer databases and loyalty programs for restaurants. Today, Luis leads all new business development efforts and initiatives for Consolidated Concepts. His team works closely with emerging, regional and national restaurants, virtual and ghost kitchen operators, channel sales partners and supply chain consultants, private equity and venture capital firms. Luis enjoys working with clients and finding the right solution for their specific needs. Luis is also an Investor in EMERGING Fund, the leading growth equity fund for restaurant-entertainment concepts and restaurant technology.
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.
Fox Lisica
Head of Global Information Technology | Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Justin Livingston
VP of Franchise Development | Ziggi's Coffee
Brian Loeb
VP of Marketing | Cheba Hut
Brian Loeb is the Vice President of Marketing of CHēBA Hut Franchising Inc. Brian has been with the brand since 2019 when Cheba Hut was only 18 shops nationwide. He has had a seat on the Leadership Team since his arrival, helping build foundational elements of the brand, and has influenced the success of Cheba Hut’s rapid growth across the United States. Loeb has been a key player in leading an internal team that focuses on marketing vision and strategy, including the launch of a National Rewards program and the development of the restaurant's first mobile app. In summary, Brian’s role as VP of Marketing underscores his significant contributions and lasting impact in the fast-casual dining space.
Hannah Lopez
Director of Marketplace, Food Service | Plant Based Foods Association
Hannah Lopez is an accomplished brand developer and marketing expert with a strong background in creating better-for-you food and beverage brands within the retail and hospitality industry. With an unwavering passion for promoting healthier choices and sustainable living, Hannah has taken on the pivotal role of Foodservice Director at the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA). PBFA is the nation's only premier trade association for leading plant-based food companies and Hannah is dedicated to championing, fortifying, and uplifting both members and the entire plant-based foods sector.
John Lucas
VP of Brand & Franchise Development | Farmer Boys
John Lucas is an industry veteran with over 35 years of hospitality and restaurant experience. In his role, John ensures Farmer Boys upholds our consistent operational standards and delivers a high-quality, reliable guest experience in every restaurant. Additionally, Lucas oversees all the system’s franchised locations and is responsible for building upon Farmer Boys’ high service standards at those locations. Lucas joined the Farmer Boys team in 2017 as a franchise business consultant and now serves as the Vice President of Brand and Franchise Development.
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.
Jack Mashini
Co-Founder & Franchisor | Wing Snob
Jack Mashini is the proprietor and operator of Wing Snob, a restaurant chain based in Warren. The rapid expansion of Wing Snob can be attributed to the strategic approach taken by Mashini and Brian Shunia. In the early days, both Mashini and Shunia dedicated themselves to the first restaurant, working tirelessly seven days a week until they were confident enough to take a step back. This hands-on approach was replicated with each new location, leading to years of relentless work as they built their teams and established the systems necessary to ensure the smooth operation of their growing enterprise. Today, Mashini’s focus has shifted towards refining these systems and expanding their customer base. Wing Snob launched their redesigned mobile app and the overhaul of their loyalty rewards program, Snob Perks. For Mashini, Wing Snob is more than just a business. He affectionately refers to it as his “third child”. The pride he feels for what he, Shunia, and their teams have accomplished in less than six years is immense, and they are only just getting started.
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.
Milton Molina
VP of Store Technology | Marco's Pizza
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!
Janet Monroe
CEO | ClusterTruck
Janet Monroe's leadership at ClusterTruck is underscored by a strategic approach that combines legal acumen with business savvy, honing the company's competitive edge. As CEO, Monroe has steered the company's strategic direction towards innovation in the food delivery industry. Her tenure is marked by a commitment to driving efficiency, fostering strategic growth, boosting community presence, and tackling new challenges head-on. Under Monroe's guidance, ClusterTruck has taken its first steps into franchising. A reflection of her calculated and thoughtful leadership style, this endeavor is aimed at amplifying ClusterTruck’s innovative model across new markets while maintaining the company's core values of efficiency and superior service. Monroe's dedication to scaling the business thoughtfully ensures that each new franchise upholds the high standards that have become synonymous with the ClusterTruck brand, reinforcing its role in shaping the future of food delivery.
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.
Chris Newcomb
CEO & Co-Founder | Newk's Eatery
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.”
Amy Peart
CEO | HYVE Brand Concierge
More than 15 years ago, Amy Peart dove into the franchise marketing world, kicking things off at HYVE Brand Concierge, which used to be called UMI Marketing Solutions, as an Account Manager. With a lot of elbow grease, a vision in her mind, and a commitment to being the best, Amy became a driving force behind turning HYVE into a big name in the business. Being named CEO in 2020 only further amplified that drive! Amy is all about HYVE, and she's just as dedicated to making sure her partners and clients knock it out of the park. From building solid ties to providing HYVE's signature white-glove service, her motto is simple: "We take care of the details so you don't have to" – and that's been one of many keys to success from day one.
Curtis Pollard
CEO | Momotoko Ramen Restaurants
Curtis Pollard is an entrepreneur and CEO of the Nordics largest Ramen Chain, Momotoko. With over 20 years in the restaurant industry, Curtis has taken the focus on operational efficiency and development of internal systems to improve profitability and sustainability within the restaurant and service industry. Immigrating from Australia to Finland 11 years ago, Curtis has opened over 20 restaurants in various categories. Momotoko being his main interest currently the business has grown from 3 Locations to 15, in 2 countries, since his joining of the business as COO in 2019. "Throughout the COVID ordeal, the Momotoko team has had to find new ways to motivate and drive employee engagement in the businesses interests, We have done this through a new way of presenting training and career development which I will present at the summit.”
Andrew Pudalov
Founder & CEO | Rush Bowls
After 15 years of working his way up through the competitive ranks of NYC’s financial sector, Andrew Pudalov made a conscientious decision to leave his most recent position as Global Head of Fixed Income Derivative Trading at National Australia Bank to pursue an interest he felt was a virtue of higher importance. While he worked his entire adult life for a number of prestigious financial institutions to achieve an expertise in institutional fixed income derivative trading, he simply felt it time to gratify another more altruistic ambition he had always held. Andrew founded Boulder’s University Hill District’s first all-natural bowl/smoothie bar in the fall of 2004, providing a healthy alternative to the common “Hill” fare. After enormous success, Andrew launched a line of frozen grab-n-go bowls soon to meet the ever-mounting demand. Today, he operates Rush Bowls retail, wholesaling, and franchising with over 100 stores in various stages of development throughout the US.
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.
Jenn Saunders-Haynes
Director, Global Catering | Subway
As the Director of Global Catering at Subway, Jennifer Saunders-Haynes is responsible for driving the growth and profitability of the off-premises business across all markets and channels. She has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, with a focus on catering, off-premise sales and marketing, and franchising relationship management. Jennifer has successfully restructured the entire Subway Catering business, resulting in year-over-year sales lift, increased operational efficiency, and enhanced customer satisfaction. She has also integrated over 13,000 locations with ezCater, capturing millions in lost revenue. As a subject matter expert in all cross-functional aspects of catering, including marketing, operations, technology, and packaging, Jennifer is passionate about creating innovative solutions, system process improvements, and quality assurance standards that ensure the satisfaction of franchisee partners, vendors, and corporate counterparts.
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, 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.
Shokouh Shafiei
President/CEO | DSA Signage
Shokouh Shafiei is a seasoned executive with 20 years of diverse leadership experience in Heavy Industrial Manufacturing. Her expertise expands across Engineering, Operations and Supply Chain. Her focus on Turnaround & Restructuring allows her to identify growth opportunities and develop highly profitable businesses that operate to their fullest potential.
Max Sheets
Founder & CEO | Chick N Max
No stranger to the restaurant industry, Max Sheets got his start as a teenager scraping cheese off pans in a Pizza Hut kitchen. In the early 2000s – after having already spent 23 years in real estate and development for such brands as Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Smashburger and Ted’s Montana Grill – he began mulling over the idea of a franchise concept that would accommodate the ever growing movement towards red meat alternatives. In 2017, he founded Chick N Max, a next generation fast casual franchise specializing in almond wood smoked chicken and wings, chef-crafted sandwiches and golden fried tenders.
Chris Smith
Co-Founder & CEO | 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.
Daniel Smith
President | Rusty Taco
Daniel Smith, President of Rusty Taco, brings over two decades of executive leadership experience to the fast-casual restaurant industry. His career began with a 26-year tenure at Claim Jumper Restaurants, culminating as VP of Operations. Smith has also held key roles at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, Bonefish Grill, and became a multi-unit Pieology franchisee; most recently, he served as the COO at Hopdoddy Burger Bar. Smith is passionate about harmonizing processes and systems to deliver exceptional guest experiences and aims to enhance operations and refine marketing strategies in his new role at Rusty Taco.
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.
Julie Swift
Founder | Foodservice Womens Alliance
Considered more “cowboy” than “corporate”, Julie Swift’s experience and leadership span across Foodservice sales and marketing in senior and executive leadership roles along with two years of service in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging as an Inaugural DE&I Board member with Advantage Solutions. Today, as owner of Julie-Swift, LLC, she deploys her over 30 years of experience spent at companies like French’s Foods and McCormick in helping clients gain greater effectiveness in the Foodservice marketplace. In addition to her consulting business, Julie is the Founder of the non-profit organization, Foodservice Women’s Alliance. Julie, along with the FWA Board, aim to fill a wide gender gap prevalent in Foodservice, recognizing this gap is exponentially so for women of color.
Susan Taylor
President and CEO | SJB Brands, LLC
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.
Marla Topliff
Strategic Franchise Consultant | Kathleen Wood Partners, LLC.
Marla Topliff is presently the Strategic Franchise Consultant at Kathleen Wood Partners, LLC., who worked with restaurants such as Suzy’s Swirl, Big Chicken and Cornbread Farm to Table. Previously she was President of Rosati’s Pizza for 22 years, where she led Rosati’s Pizza to become included in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500, Top 100 Pizza Companies by Pizza Today and in the Top 300 Franchise System by Franchise Times. She was also the corporate media spokesperson and managed vendor and store relationships as well as human resources. As Chairman of the National Restaurant Association’s Pizzeria Council, she was the 2012 Keynote Speaker at the International Pizza Expo. As a member of the International Franchise Association, she served on the membership and convention planning committees and was named one of the top 24 women in franchising by Franchise Update Magazine in 2014. Marla has also been featured in Entrepreneur, Suit Magazine, Chain Pulse Magazine and written many blogs for
Suzie Tsai
CEO | Bonchon
Suzie Tsai is CEO of Bonchon, a global leader in Korean fried chicken. Bonchon operates more than 140 restaurants in the U.S. and 450 worldwide. Recently named one of Fast Casual’s Top 25 Executives, Suzie joined Bonchon in August 2023 as Chief Growth Officer and was appointed Chief Executive Officer in January 2024. Suzie is a Korean American and has been in the hospitality industry for 20 plus years. Before joining Bonchon, she was in leadership roles at Chili’s Grill & Bar, On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina and KidZania USA.
Anand Tumuluru
CEO & Co-Founder | Loop
Anand Tumuluru is the CEO and co-founder of Loop, a SaaS co-pilot for delivery profitability helping 1000s of locations across the nation's top brands like Dave's Hot Chicken, Freddy's and Mo'Bettahs. Over the past decade, he wore several hats as a restaurateur, AI researcher and was most recently at Uber witnessing the growth of delivery. He believes that the future of food is going to be shaped heavily by data driven insights on consumer behaviour and an AI based co-pilot for operators to take control of everything from guest experience to finances.
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.
Jeremy Vitaro
Chief Development Officer (CDO) / Head of International | Qdoba
Jeremy Vitaro has been with Qdoba since March 2024. He has more than 20 years of development and franchising experience with diverse brands in the food industry. Most recently, he was Chief Development Officer for Little Caesars Pizza, leading their global growth from 2021-2024. Prior to that, Jeremy was with Dunkin’ Brands (Dunkin’ Donuts & Baskin-Robbins) for 18 years in roles of increasing responsibility in Operations, Finance, Development and International. Jeremy also has extensive experience working overseas and speaks multiple languages, having worked earlier in his career in Europe for both the Benedict Group in the franchise education segment and Casoni SpA in the wine and spirits industry. Jeremy received a Bachelor’s degree from UCLA, a Master’s degree from Stanford University, and an MBA from Colombia University.
Samir Wattar
Chief Operating Officer | Layne's Chicken Fingers
Doug Willmarth
President | MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes
Doug Willmarth is the President of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a growing 90-unit fast casual restaurant company where he is working to revitalize the brand and accelerate unit growth. Throughout his career, Doug has specialized in building iconic brands and creating sustainable sales growth in restaurants and consumer retail. In addition to MOOYAH, Doug’s restaurant experience includes roles as Chief Brand Officer for Mongolian Concepts, Chief Marketing Officer at Wingstop, and Director of National Marketing for Pizza Hut. Doug started his business career in CPG marketing at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, and served 9 years as a Naval Aviator.

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