Mel Robbins

CNN Commentator & Best-Selling Author

Mel Robbins is best known for delivering one of the most popular TEDxTalk’s in the world: “How To Stop Screwing Yourself Over”. Mel’s provocative and compelling views on leadership, courage and human potential have earned her international attention and invitations to train executive teams at some of the world’s leading brands such as The PGA Tour, PwC, CISCO Systems, Johnson & Johnson, and Chase Business.

Mel is an award-winning on-air analyst for CNN and drives millions of page views for as one of their most prolific opinion writers. She’s been named “America’s Outstanding Talk Show Host” by The Gracie Awards and has hosted original shows for A&E, Fox and Cox Media. She’s appeared as an expert on a wide range of talk shows, from Oprah to Dr. Phil, Fox News to Good Morning America. Mel is a contributing editor for SUCCESS Magazine and is continually featured in publications like The New York Times and Inc. Magazine.


Jeff Baldwin

VP of Franchising and Development | Donatos Pizza

Jeff Baldwin is Vice President of Franchising and Development for Donatos Pizza, recently voted one of the 9 best franchises by QSR Magazine for its great products and strong metrics. He has leveraged his 23 years in real estate development and franchising to help redesign and transform a new Donatos image to enhance guest experience and begin a new path of company growth beyond the 155 restaurants open today. The company philosophy, “Every Piece is Important”, is a great indicator of the culture of people and care for its products. Beyond serving great pizza, the company has a strong sense of family and desire to give back to the community; a foundation of the 60-year old “startup”. Prior to pizza, Jeff spent 12 years with Tim Hortons leading restaurant development across the US and 10 years in Midwest commercial development.

Kevin Bazner

President & CEO | A&W Restaurants

Kevin Bazner is a 47-year veteran of the restaurant industry and has been with A&W Restaurants for 24 years. In 1988, Kevin took over the International Division of A&W, based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2000 he was made President and COO served in this role until 2003 when Yum! Brand’s purchased the brand. Kevin then served as President and COO of Smoothie King Corp. He returned to A&W as President and CEO in October, 2011. Kevin is committed to the long-term development of the iconic 97-year-old chain and continues to head the day-to-day operations and development of A&W’s International business.

Nicolas Bernadi

Partner and Board Member | La Boulange

Speaker bio coming soon!

Cherryh Cansler

Managing Editor |

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

Paula Carren

VP of Account Management | Fishbowl

Paula is a veteran data driven, marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience developing compelling, guest-centric marketing strategies that drive brand awareness and sales. As Fishbowl’s Vice President of Client Success, Paula helps clients leverage data to profile guests, understand behavior, and drive profitability. She is passionate about helping clients achieve success through their relationship with Fishbowl. Prior to joining Fishbowl, Paula managed the digital efforts for several large brands in the supplement industry.

Brad Christian

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.

Reggie Coachman

VP of Franchise Operations | Schlotzsky’s

As Schlotzsky’s Vice President of Franchise Operations, Reggie Coachman oversees franchise operations for Schlotzsky’s 350+ unit franchise system. A leader with more than 35 years of restaurant industry experience, Reggie joined FOCUS Brands in May 2010 and has since overseen the division’s branding strategy that has exceeded annual operating plans and driven measurable business development. Reggie’s monumental accomplishments have earned him the 2012 FOCUS Brands Steve Romaniello Leadership Award for his tenacious work for creating the vision, direction and development needed to execute a successful business unit.

Scott Crane

CEO | Rave Restaurant Group

As CEO, Crane is the big cheese at Rave Restaurant Group, Inc. He joined Rave in January 2017, charged with driving culture, growth and success at both Pie Five Pizza Co. and Pizza Inn. An entrepreneur at an early age, Crane honed his food chops leading some of the most well-known brands in the industry. He most recently served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Smashburger, where he led its development from a two-unit start up concept in 2007 to a global company with more than 330 locations. Previously, Crane was Executive Vice President at Fugate Enterprises, Inc., one of the largest Pizza Hut franchisees in the country, where he was responsible for the operation of 210 Pizza Hut units, in addition to Taco Bell, Wing Street, Sonic and Blockbuster Video locations.

Scott Davis

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.

Laura Rea Dickey

CEO | Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

Laura Rea Dickey currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Laura served as the Chief Information Officer for eight years, and made the transition to CEO after excelling in her previous role. Laura has worked in the marketing and information technology field for over 15 years, and has led the marketing, IT and training departments at Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. during her time there. After graduating from Texas Christian University in 2001, Laura went on to work at agencies such as Murray Brown Creative Group, The Richards Group and The Point Group. Through her years of agency experience, Laura worked with brands such as W Hotels, American Heart Association, Blue Mesa, La Madeline and Chick-Fil-A. Laura’s specialty is the intersection of technology and marketing, turning data insights into brand and business solutions. In her time as CIO of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., Laura implemented countless new initiatives to improve the Dickey’s brand and better the business as a whole. Laura found a way to merge technology and barbecue to create a way to better serve Dickey’s customers as well as the business, and has made Dickey’s a technology leader in restaurant industry.

Jason Dowd

VP of Culinary | Moe’s Southwest Grill

Jason Dowd is a seasoned Vice President of Culinary and Research & Development Corporate Executive Chef with the unique combination background of Fine Dining Culinary experience and Fast Casual Operations knowledge, with the ability to draw these skill sets to add value for the customer, culinary & beverage team, company, and community. As Corporate Executive Chef, Vice President of Moe’s Southwest Grill Jason is bringing his passion of Southwest flavors to life for the 650+ current Moe’s restaurant locations. This opportunity allows Jason to work with the Focus Brand’s cross functional leadership teams and draw on his Fine Dining culinary background for flavor development and creative thinking, as well as his Operations experience to create highly satisfying and sales driving dishes for Moe’s Southwest Grill guests.

Stephen Dutton

Consumer Foodservice Analyst | Euromonitor International

Stephen Dutton is a Consumer Foodservice Analyst at Euromonitor International, analyzing the global foodservice industry. In this role, Stephen provides insight into the consumer trends, key markets, competitive landscape and growth opportunities in the global foodservice space to help companies make informed business decisions. Stephen has a master’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University and has spent years working and traveling abroad.

Steve Erickson

President | PDQ Restaurants

Speaker bio coming soon!

William Eudy

Corporate Executive Chef | McAlister’s Deli

William Eudy brings more than 20 years of culinary experience to his current role as Corporate Executive Chef for McAlister’s Deli, where he oversees the menu concepts and kitchen operations for the company’s 380+ restaurants. Since joining McAlister’s in April 2015, Will has been responsible for bringing a wholesome, clean approach to crafting McAlister’s menu items from recipe development and sourcing, to the building of each dish. Along with a focus on handcrafted food and beverage offerings, Chef Will assists purchasing in the selection of quality products and strategic partners, while finding ways to improve current vendor relations and efficiency. Chef Will’s commitment to providing fresh ingredients and consistently high-quality food and service to McAlister’s guests has been integral as the brand continues to expand its footprint across the country.

Anand Gala

Founder & CEO | Gala Holdings International

Anand is the founder, president and CEO of Gala Holdings International, a diversified holding company with operations in consulting, restaurant development and management, and real estate development and investment. He has spent the past 30 years in various executive capacities within the Restaurant Industry. The Restaurant Division focuses on the development and management of nationally recognized chain restaurants, both franchised and proprietary, throughout the western United States. Current portfolio brands under ownership and operation include Fresh Griller and Famous Dave’s BBQ locations. Prior brands have included: Del Taco, Applebee’s, Jack in the Box and Seattle’s Best Coffee.

Scott Goodrich

Chief Operating Officer | Uncle Maddio’s Pizza

Scott Goodrich is Chief Operating Officer for Uncle Maddio’s Pizza, an almost 50 unit in 15 states, fast casual style pizza brand with hand-crafted pizzas, salads and Foldwiches. His responsibilities include franchise field support, operational processes and procedures, training, and new store development.  Scott joined the company in Feb. 2014 and is part of the Integrity Brands executive team. Scott was recruited by the Murrell Family, founders of Five Guys Burgers in Fries, in March of 2005. During his career at Five Guys, Scott developed operational procedures and policies that sustained the massive growth of the Five Guys franchise system over an 8-year career. This growth included over 200 new stores in back to back years, and brought the system store count from 25 to over 1200.  Scott developed the Franchise Business Consulting program and was recognized for his ability to build true “business partner” relationships with the Five Guys’ franchisees.

Phil Greifeld

President & CEO | Captain D’s

Phil Greifeld, President & CEO of Captain D’s, is a proven industry leader with a highly successful track record of growing sales and profits in fast-paced, multi-unit restaurant chains. Since taking the helm in 2010, Phil has led an exciting brand transformation of Captain D’s. In 2013 the Nashville Post named Phil its CEO of the Year. Prior to Captain D’s, he served as President & CEO of Huddle House, Inc. which evolved into a sophisticated restaurant operating company under Phil’s leadership. Prior to Huddle House, Phil co-founded a retail start-up company based in Stamford, Connecticut.

Jason Herron

Director of Marketing | Simmons Foods

Speaker bio coming soon!

Keith Hill

Co-Founder | I Love Bacon

Keith Hill’s first job 22 years ago, was in fast casual dining as a teenager. As he came of age, he soon moved into the challenging bar and nightclub business. He cut his teeth there, opening and helping build several very successful companies. I Love Bacon Food Truck burst onto the scene in the 1st quarter of 2014 and immediately gained notoriety with 4 “Best Food Truck In The City” awards from different organizations. ILB is currently moving into the brick & mortar business as well as adding more trucks to the fleet.

Sunny Ilyas

Founder/CEO | Vale Food Co.

Speaker bio coming soon!

Donna Josephson

Chief Marketing Officer | Fazoli’s

As CMO for Fazoli’s, Donna Josephson is responsible for all brand marketing, advertising, new product development, menu strategy, pricing, public relations, communications, field marketing and franchise support. In 2015, she was recruited and charged with spearheading strategic marketing initiatives for the brand and its aggressive growth strategy. Prior to joining Fazoli’s, Josephson served as the VP of marketing for McAlister’s Deli where she led the executive team in redefining the brand positioning. Josephson received her bachelor’s degree in Business from Ball State University where she graduated with honors. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Management from her alma mater.

Prakash Karamchandani

Co-Founder & CEO | Balance Grille

Prakash Karamchandani is one of two co-founders of Balance Pan-Asian Grille: a fast casual chain of Asian-fusion restaurants located in Northwest Ohio. Balance is somewhere between a restaurant and a tech Company. iPad-based employee management software, future-forecasted inventory for daily prep lists, cloud-based employee communication, and replacing managers with data analysts are just some of the ways Balance is on the cutting edge. Recently ranked on’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers list, Prakash is looking to position his brand for nationwide growth. Prakash also serves on the board for Food for Thought, a non-profit focused on eliminating food insecurity.

Sean Kennedy

President | Cowboy Chicken

Sean Kennedy is 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.

Brad Kent

Executive Chef | Blaze Pizza

Brad Kent has always focused on the taste and science behind food. He quickly learned that food was more than just ingredients put together. His natural talent evolved from dorm room creations as a marketing major at the University of Southern California to his first business as a tapas and small plate catering company. Kent studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and later earned a food science degree at Cal State Long Beach. After honing his craft on a private yacht, he opened Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles. Kent is responsible for creating Blaze Pizza’s recipes and manufacturing partnerships.

Jae Kim

Founder | Chi’Lantro

Jae Kim is the Founder of Chi’Lantro, an award-winning Korean BBQ-inspired restaurant, mobile food truck and full-service catering company. Born in Seoul, Korea, Jae moved to the United States when he was 12 years old and grew up in California. As an immigrant raised by a single mother, Jae overcame challenges throughout his life to achieve his dream of owning a successful business. Using everything he had, Jae maxed out his credit cards and used his entire savings to create the successful multi-location business that is now Chi’Lantro. Jae is a proud member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and recently landed a deal on ABC’s “Shark Tank” with real estate mogul and business expert, Barbara Corcoran.

Cynthia Koplos

Executive Director | KFC NCAC

Speaker bio coming soon!

Michael Lastoria

Co-Founder, CEO and Creative Director | &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.

Kevin Lee

CEO | Sushiyaa Franchising

Kevin Lee has over a decade of experience conceptualizing mere ideas into business models and launching new brands and expanding concepts. He is a lifestyle brand and small business development leader and currently leading Sushiyaa Franchising to re-identify the value of the concept. As part of this initiative, the company implemented a third-party customer loyalty program and signed up more than 10,000 members within a five-month period. He also helped build the delivery platform with nearly no investment by leveraging ‘passing tipping point’ technologies. After seven months of its launch, it has reached over 3.5% of the total sales

David Littlefield

Director of Hospitality & Training | Billy Sims BBQ

As the newly appointed Director of Hospitality & Training, David Littlefield trains Billy Sims BBQ franchisee and company-owned management and crew on his proprietary formula for creating powerful and productive hospitality environments. David is the founder and creator of the Hospitality Personality Training Program and Hospitality Feedback, which he has begun implementing at Billy Sims BBQ. His Hospitality Personality Training Program is intended to motivate customer service professionals to think positively, work creatively and respond to guest’s needs with enthusiasm and passion. David’s reputation as a motivator and trainer has provided him the opportunity to earn his exemplary reputation as a turn-around specialist.

Kira McCabe

Associate Director, Digital Media | Tropical Smoothie Café

Kira McCabe is not a Georgia native but has felt right at home in Atlanta over the last three years. Kira currently supports Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand as the Associate Director of Digital Media. Most recently with Church’s Chicken, Kira has been growing her career and passions around the philosophy of a digital ‘ecosystem’ to help integrate and revamp a brand’s digital approach. As the industry pivots towards digital, Kira is focused on ensuring key digital pillars are established to adopt, optimize and scale new strategies. Highlighted by her recent recognition of the 2016 Rising Marketing Star Award from the Association of National Advertisers.

David McDougall

President & CEO | Back Yard Burgers

David McDougall is President and Chief Executive Officer of Back Yard Burgers, Inc., a better burger restaurant company based in Nashville, TN. After joining the company in 2013, David has led the successful turnaround of the brand through three years of revenue growth, improved unit-level economics, better franchise relations and a return to Back Yard Burgers’ roots of delivering great tasting food. David’s background includes more than 35 years of food service and franchise experience in both quick and full service, specializing in operations, development and international business. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Certified Franchise Executive designation (CFE).

Jim Mizes

CEO & President | Blaze Pizza

Jim Mizes is President and CEO of Pasadena-based Blaze Pizza, LLC. Jim has spent more than two decades building restaurant brands, including Taco Bell, Noah’s Bagels, Jamba Juice and, most recently, as President of Freebirds World Burrito, LLC. Jim joined Blaze Pizza founders Rick and Elise Wetzel in June of 2013 to help build the fast casual artisanal pizza brand. At the time, Blaze Pizza had two restaurants. Today it has more than 200 locations across 32 states and Canada and will end 2017 with about 250 restaurants. Jim earned a B.A. in Economics from Dartmouth, and an MBA from what is now UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

Maira Morales

Corporate Executive Chef | Schlotzsky’s

As Corporate Executive Chef of Schlotzsky’s, owned by FOCUS Brands, Maira leads the Research and Development (R&D) Department where creation of new menu items, limited time offers (LTO’s) and directing the department are all part of her everyday tasks. In this new role under Maira’s leadership, the team will continue developing recipes and menu offerings which will be seen in over 350 locations worldwide. Prior to her current role, Chef Maira Isabel was the Executive Chef at Disney World Golf Courses and has also been featured in numerous television shows in the United States, Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America.

Chad Newton

Culinary Director | Asian Box

Seasoned Chef Chad Newton started Asian Box with Partner Frank Klein in 2012 to bring Palo Alto authentic, healthy Asian street food in a fine-casual environment. Since opening, Newton has helped grow the brand from a single unit to seven with plans to grow to 12 by the end of 2017. Responsible for oversight of the menu with wife and Executive Chef Grace Nguyen, Newton also oversees quality and consistency at all five locations and is responsible for opening and training staff. Newton has also played a large role in expanding the catering arm of the Asian Box business.

Aaron Noveshen

Founder & CEO | The Culinary Edge

A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Aaron Noveshen is an award-winning chef, restaurant entrepreneur, and leading authority in food product development. He is the founder of The Culinary Edge (TCE), America’s leading food innovation agency that creates and launches holistic, profitable and distinctive food and beverage experiences for both local and national brands. TCE Clients include a who’s who of the top food and restaurant companies in America such as Starbucks, Jack in the Box, AMC Theatres, Marriott, First Watch, McAlister’s Deli and Eat Smart Produce. Detailed case studies showing the direct impact of The Culinary Edge’s work can be found here. In addition to founding TCE, Aaron is also co-founder of Pacific Catch Restaurants and more recently, South Bay restaurant chain Starbird Chicken. Aaron is a Director Emeritus of the California Restaurant Association and is a former Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

James Park

CEO | Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh

James Park is CEO of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, the leader in fast casual authentic Mediterranean cuisine. James is a savvy marketing and operations executive who champions and activates all things brand. He excels at transformational leadership by humanizing the intangibles and developing programs that are purposeful and lasting. For the past 10 years, James has served in executive leadership roles for some of the most well-established and fastest-growing concepts in the fast casual, QSR and retail environments: Which Wich, 7-Eleven and Charley’s. In addition, James’ international experience includes substantive contributions in Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Venezuela and Brazil.

Rob Pellicano

Sr. Director of Marketing | Custom Culinary

Rob Pellicano joined Custom Culinary in 2007 and is currently serving as the organization’s Senior Director of Marketing where he leads the development and execution of their brand, product, and channel Marketing strategies. Rob has a passion for enabling customer innovation with an insight-driven orientation. This passion is best exemplified through the conception, launch, and leveraging of the Custom Culinary FLAVORIQ platform, designed to provide customers with a collaborative, immersive, and experiential approach to food, flavor, and insight delivery. Prior to joining Custom Culinary Rob held a number of roles within the Unilever Foodsolutions Marketing department. Rob has over 20 years of Foodservice Marketing experience with culinary flavor systems.

Pat Peterson

Executive Chef, Beefsteak | Think Food Group

Pat Peterson is the executive chef of Beefsteak, José Andrés’ vegetable-centric fast casual, where he is responsible for menu development and back of house operations for all current and future locations. Pat joins Beefsteak with more than 27 years of experience in the restaurant industry and has developed menus and kitchen systems for large national brands. He comes to Beefsteak from Focus Brands where he led culinary research and development as VP/ Executive Chef for Moe’s Southwest Grill. Prior to that, he spent 19 years at Ruby Tuesday where he served in various operations and R&D roles, ending his tenure as VP of Culinary for Emerging Brands. In addition, he has developed menus and support systems for a variety of full service and fast casual concepts. Pat brings a wealth of knowledge of the fast casual segment, as well as valuable experience in executing culinary programs in multi-unit companies and franchise operations.

Stephen Polanski

Senior Vice President | Buxton

As senior vice president, Stephen holds a leadership position within Buxton’s retail consulting division. For more than nine years Stephen has built relationships with retail, restaurant, and franchise clients to help them identify ways to solve business challenges using customer analytics. Stephen’s clients include Wingstop, Regis Salons, ALFA Insurance, Checkers and Rally’s, and Huddle House. He has spoken at industry conferences such as the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, Restaurant Leadership Conference, and Restaurant Finance & Development Conference. Before joining Buxton, Stephen was as a professional golfer. He received his bachelor’s degree in business management from Texas Christian University.

Patrick Renna

Chief Financial Officer | Wahlburgers

Patrick is the CFO of Wahlburgers, a Boston based burger restaurant founded by Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg, and celebrity brothers Mark and Donnie Walhberg. Patrick was most recently CEO at Boloco, a fast casual globally inspired burrito chain, where he also served as CFO for four years. Prior to that Patrick was CFO at Sebastian’s Café and Catering, where he spent four years overseeing all financial and administrative policies and procedures for the company; this included leadership during the company’s most profitable growth period. Previously, he held CFO positions at Fresh Concepts, which operates fast casual restaurants under the name Fresh City and Souper Salad, as well as FiRE+iCE, where he also served as President. Patrick began his career with New England Restaurant Company, a Chili’s franchisee and owner of Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, a 90 unit casual dining chain.

Steve Schulze

Co-Founder & CEO | Nékter Juice Bar

Steve Schulze is co-founder and CEO of Nékter Juice Bar. Leveraging personal savings and an SBA loan, Steve and his wife Alexis have built the company in seven years into a predominant restaurant and lifestyle brand, offering fresh, clean, nutritious juices, smoothies and acai bowls made without processed ingredients, artificial flavors, added sugars, or unnecessary fillers. With more than 80 locations in six states, over 900 employees and nearly $50 million in annual revenue, Nékter is expanding nationally through corporate and franchise growth with plans to grow to 425 restaurants by 2020. Prior to launching Nékter, Steve worked for consumer-based companies in various sales, marketing and management capacities.

Berge Simonian

CEO | Salata

Speaker bio coming soon!

Kellie Sirna

Co-founder and Principal | Studio 11 Design

Kellie Sirna, co-founder of Studio 11 Design, has spent over a decade molding her client-first design philosophy a set of principles that is reflective in each of the firm’s projects. From concept to budget and design execution, Kellie focuses on keeping the client involved and informed, a philosophy that gives the firm and her service a boutique feel. Kellie and partner, Stacy Elliston created a boutique firm around a curated group of creative, diverse designers that all bring something different and unique to each space. Kellie got her first peek into the design world when she accepted a position as a buyer for interior art & accessories while finishing her second degree, adding a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the University of North Texas to her resume.

Stewart Slocum

CMO | Newk’s Eatery

Stewart Slocum, CMO Newk’s Eatery, has received the “Excellence in Innovation” award from the National Restaurant Association and “Innovator of the Year” award from Nightclub & Bar magazine.  His hospitality career launched with Jack Daniel’s Grill at T.G.I. Friday’s, where he spent 9 years on the U.S. and International teams.  His career has included leadership roles at marquee companies including Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Denihan Hotels, Patina Restaurant Group and LeDuff America, along with partnerships with James Beard and Michelin-awareded chefs including Joachim Splichal, Stephan Pyles and Jonathan Beno.

Ryan Smolkin

Founder & CEO | Smoke’s Poutinerie Inc.

Speaker bio coming soon!

Andrei Stern

Co-owner | SuViche

Since 2012, Andrei has served as Chief Financial Officer for SuViche Group. During this time, Stern has been able to secure multiple investments that have aided in the rapid growth of the brand. In addition, the processes he established have led SuViche restaurants to profitability well above the restaurant industry’s average. Prior to his role as CFO Andrei managed SuViche’s first location in Brickell as Front of the House Manager. He spent time familiarizing himself with the businesses’ intricacies for each position. The experiences he gained were vital to the construction of the financial processes and models that helped SuViche become a true company. The metrics he established to track schedules, labor, expenditures, and food costs has helped the brand’s viable and sustainable development.

Jim Steinberg

Director of Enterprise Partnerships | LoyaltyPlant

Jim Sternberg leverages his vast experience in pairing leading brands with winning mobile and digital initiatives to head the Enterprise Partnerships team at LoyaltyPlant. He comes from a solid marketing and business development background which focuses on e-commerce, search marketing, user experience and conversion and campaign optimization. Jim is passionate about transforming the face of mobile marketing for restaurant chains using the disruptive force of the LoyaltyPlant platform. Prior to joining LoyaltyPlant, Jim was the Director of Sales for AppFlyer and the VP Digital Specialist at Equifax. He holds an MBA from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, NYU.

Jeff Sturgis

Chief Development Officer | McAlister’s Deli

Jeff Sturgis has nearly 20 years of experience in the areas of franchise sales, franchise development and franchise strategy. In his current role with McAlister’s Deli, Jeff is responsible for the strategic planning and execution of all franchise development activities. Prior to joining McAlister’s, Jeff was the Founder and President of Franchise System Advisors, a consulting and strategic planning firm focused on the franchise industry. At Franchise System Advisors he worked with franchisors to help them evaluate, develop and implement successful franchise sales & development strategies. Prior to founding FSA, Jeff spent 3 ½ years as the Vice President of Franchise Development for Fantastic Sams Hair Salons. Prior to Fantastic Sams, Jeff spent 4 ½ years as the Regional Vice President of Franchise Sales for FOCUS Brands. In this role, Jeff was responsible for all US franchise sales activities for Carvel Ice Cream and Cinnabon.

Patrick Sugrue

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 at The Gallo Winery and The Coca Cola Company before working for well-known brands including Honey Baked Ham, Fearman’s Pork, Inc. and Sofina Foods. Since joining Saladworks, Patrick has led the company in a brand positioning study, creating and implementing an innovative strategic plan, and driven the launch of new menu items, a systemwide remodeling project and a technology bundle, all with 2017 comp sales up 8 percent. Patrick is committed to empowering franchisees and driving unit-level profitability and top line revenue as well as providing global brand leadership.

Biju Thomas

Owner/Founder | Biju’s Little Curry Shop

Biju Thomas is a professional chef and creator of Biju’s Little Curry Shop — a fast casual restaurant serving made-from-scratch food inspired by his youth in Kerala, South India. Biju’s Little Curry Shop is the first fast-casual concept to explore the heart and soul of Southern Indian cuisine in an easy-to-grasp and guest-friendly format. Thomas, a former competitive cyclist and author of the Feedzone cookbooks, has cooked for many top athletes in the world. Biju’s Little Curry Shop currently has four Colorado locations and was the first in-store, chef-driven concept to open in a Whole Foods Market.

Jim Thompson

VP of Operations | Chicken Salad Chick

Jim Thompson, VP of Operations at Chicken Salad Chick, has over 25 years of leading operations teams that also includes Wendy’s, Kings Family Restaurants, Papa Gino’s and D’Angelo. At Chicken Salad Chick, Jim has built operations, training and management systems from the ground up that have been integral to Chicken Salad Chick’s growth from six locations to over 65 in just three and half years. Chicken Salad Chick has earned recognition for its successful growth including being named one of Nation’s Restaurant News “Hot Concepts”, Fast Casual Magazines Top 100 in 2015 and #37 among Inc. Magazines Top 500 fastest growing US companies in 2016.

Jayson Tipp

Former SVP Strategy & Chief Development Officer | Papa Murphy’s International

Jayson Tipp is a nationally-recognized and sought-after expert in consumer analytics, market strategy and execution with a reputation for converting insights into strategies that deliver results. Most recently he was Chief Development Officer for Papa Murphy’s International developing and executing growth strategies across franchise sales, real estate, and technology. Jayson also served as SVP, Marketing for PMI while the organization posted 14 consecutive quarters of sales growth. Prior to PMI, Jayson served in analytics and strategy roles for redbox, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and Starbucks. Jayson also has a 25 year career as a semi-professional jazz composer, performer and recording artist with his band Under The Lake.

Kimberly Turman

Digital Marketing Manager | Pie Five Pizza Co.

As the original member of the Circle of Crust, Kimberly Turman brings over a decade of restaurant experience to her role as Digital Marketing Manager at Pie Five Pizza Co. The most crustworthy of the bunch, Turman directs the digital content strategy for the leading fast casual pizza brand including email and digital campaigns, web content and manages all social media channels. In addition, she is a geo-targeting ninja and specializes in creating a hyperlocal presence for franchise and corporate locations. Under Turman’s direction, Pie Five utilizes its 300,000 members of the Circle of Crust program to survey members on promotions, flavor profiles and consumer data that allows Pie Five to consistently WOW customers.

Danny Walsh

Director of Reporting and Analytics | Firehouse Subs

Danny Walsh, director of reporting & analytics, Firehouse Restaurant Group, Inc. (FRG), is responsible for the reporting needs and data integrity for Firehouse Subs, a frugal company with projected 2017 revenues of more than $700 million. Walsh joined Firehouse Subs as a crew member when there were just four restaurants in the system more than 21 years ago. Since that time, Firehouse Subs has grown significantly (projecting 1,125 restaurants at the end of 2017) and so has Walsh’s leadership within the brand. He served as the financial reporting manager for six years, senior manager of reporting & analytics for one year and was promoted to director of reporting & analytics in 2013. Under his leadership, Firehouse Subs won the 2015 Hospitality Technology Magazine Breakthrough Award in the category of Enterprise Innovator for the implementation and development of the Station Pulse business intelligence dashboard and a scorecard that measures nine key performance indicators (KPIs). Also, in June of this year, Firehouse Subs won a Nucleus Research ROI Award for Station Pulse as well. Walsh’s continued focus is on analyzing the systemwide sales and operational performance of Firehouse Subs restaurants.


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