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Our Speakers

Hear from these industry leaders and experts during Restaurants Rise LIVE! July 22 – August 20.
July 22nd – August 20th
Gerald Drummond
Executive Chef, Campbell’s Foodservice
Nancy Kruse
Founder, The Kruse Company
Bret Thorn
Senior Food & Beverage Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News
Alan Kahn
Vice President of Foodservice, Idaho Potato Commission
Greg Boggs
Senior Chef, Campbell’s Foodservice
Kevin Kearns
Senior Vice President, Restaurant Network, Grubhub
Peter Bruce
Supervisor Restaurant Operations, Flanigan’s
Nancy Luna
Moderator, Senior Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News
Ric Gruber
Owner & General Counsel, Billy Bricks Wood Fired Pizza
Adam Wilson
Director of Restaurant Success, Grubhub
Ron Ruggless
Moderator, Senior Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News
Steve Holmes
Co-founder, ShiftPixy
Alan Liddle
Sr Editor of Data & Event Content, Nation’s Restaurant News/Restaurant Hospitality
Alice Elliot
Moderator, CEO, The Elliot Group
Joanna Fantozzi
Moderator, Associate Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News/Restaurant Hospitality
Lisa Jennings
Moderator, Editorial Director, Nation’s Restaurant News
Kevin Matier
Vice President and General Manager, North America Foodservice
Sarah Lockyer
Group Director & Publisher, The Restaurant & Food Group
Kelli Valade
President & CEO, Black Box Intelligence
Chris Rippey
Head of Industry, Restaurants Marketing and Business Development, Google
Jerrod Melman
Executive Partner, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Alp Franko
Founder, The Local Culinary
Rick Petralia
Director, Culinary Innovation Fazoli’s Restaurants
Chef Adam Moore
Chef & President, Flashpoint Innovation
Burge Diemer
VP of Marketing, The Habit Burger
Elizabeth Blau
Founder & Ceo, Blau + Associates
James H. Pogue II
Ph.D, President/CEO, JP Enterprises, LLC
Claudia San Pedro
President of SONIC®
Jill Waite
Chief Human Resources Officer at Portillo’s Hot Dog
Frank Tucker
Former Global Chief People Officer, Taco Bell Corp
Tim Chilson
Vice President Growth Solutions@ Datassential
Nicole West
Vice President Digital Strategy and Product Chipotle Mexican Grill
Adam Werner
Managing Director, AlixPartners
Tim McLaughlin
Co-Founder & CEO. GoTab
Gregg Frazer
VP of Hospitality, Stone Brewing
Mike Vichich
CEO & Co-Founder, Wisely
Scott Lawton
CEO & Co-Founder, bartaco
Matt Eisenacher
SVP Brand Strategy & Innovation, First Watch Restaurants
Joe Lam
Director of Consumer Insights, Impossible Foods
Terry Splane
Head of Foodservice Marketing, Impossible Foods
June 2nd – 5th
Charlie Morrison
Chairman & CEO, Wingstop
Toby Espinosa
VP of Business Development, DoorDash
Nicole Milnthorpe
Chief Financial Officer, Smokey Bones
Burton Heiss
CEO, Buddy’s Pizza
Bob Okura
Vice President of Culinary Development/Corporate Executive Chef, The Cheesecake Factory
Kaffee Hopkins
Director of Brand Marketing Sterling Hospitality/Marlow’s Tavern
Scott Barton
Divisional President, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Chef David DiGregorio
Chef/Partner, Osteria Via Stato
Jack Li
Haiku Master, Datassential
G.J. Hart
CEO, Torchy’s Tacos
Anita Adams
Chief Executive Officer, Black Bear Diner
Scott Absher
Co-Founder, CEO & CFO, ShiftPixy
Tara Dugan
Director of Consumer & Marketplace Insights, National Pork Board
Erin Murray
Director of Consumer Solutions, Datassential
Bob Gibson
Chief Revenue Officer, Jolt
CJ Lewis
Co-Founder & COO, Jolt
Geoff Alexander
President, Wow Bao
Dan Simpson
CEO, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café
Maeve Webster
President, Menu Matters
Denyelle Bruno
CEO, Tender Greens
Michael Lastoria
CEO and Co-Founder, &pizza
Jeff Chandler
CEO, Hopdoddy
Catherine Golding
Business Development Manager Meat & Livestock Australia
Michael Miller
Director of Foodservice/Vending Marketing-North America, Mondelez International
Chris Hollander
CMO, Panera
Talita Ramos Erickson
General Counsel (Americas) & CEO (Restaurants), Barilla Group
Brian Whitney
Vice President of Enterprise Sales, Appetize
Gje Greene-Wallace
Director of Marketing, Fish City Grill
Rick Badgley
EVP, Chief People & Administrative Officer, Brinker International

Charlie Morrison
Chairman & CEO, Wingstop

Charles R. Morrison has served as Wingstop President and Chief Executive Officer since June 2012, and a member of our board of directors, since September 2012. Prior to joining Wingstop, Charlie was Chief Executive Officer of Rave Restaurant Group, a publicly traded international pizza chain, from January 2007 to June 2012. Charlie has also held multiple senior leadership positions during his more than 20 years of restaurant experience, including serving as President of Steak & Ale and The Tavern Restaurants for Metromedia Restaurant Group, as well as various management positions at Kinko’s, Boston Market and Pizza Hut.

Toby Espinosa
VP of Business Development, DoorDash

A. Toby Espinosa joined DoorDash as its 70th employee to launch new markets, sleeping on air mattresses in office floors in Atlanta, Phoenix and Vancouver to get DoorDash off the ground. Four years later, Espinosa has grown the business development team from three people to 75. His team was responsible for securing DoorDash’s top national partners, including McDonalds, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A. Espinosa also personally signed the company’s largest deals, including its big expansion into grocery delivery with Walmart.

Nicole Milnthorpe
Chief Financial Officer at Smokey Bones

Nicole Milnthorpe is Chief Financial Officer of Smokey Bones, a full-service restaurant delivering good food, good drinks and good times in 61 locations across 16 states. Nicole has more than 20 years of experience in financial services including Big 4 and C-suite executive positions in national restaurant organizations including Shula’s Steakhouse and Deloitte. Named by the South Florida Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, she graduated from the University of Miami and is a CPA.

Burton Heiss
CEO of Buddy’s Pizza

Burton Heiss joined Buddy’s Pizza as CEO in July 2019. With more than 20 years of experience as a leader in the restaurant industry, Heiss has worked with an array of businesses throughout his career – including Nando’s and Baja Fresh. In his role as CEO at Buddy’s, Heiss is focused on strategic expansion of the Detroit-based brand throughout Michigan and eventually the Midwest. Heiss received a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational communication from Pepperdine University.

Gerald Drummond, Executive Chef, Campbell’s Foodservice

Chef Gerald Drummond has more than 30 years of experience in the foodservice industry. His expertise includes overseeing operations, facilitating new product launches, leading culinary teams and developing menus for a variety of esteemed establishments throughout the US and Mexico. He uses techniques and inspiration from his culinary background in Italian, Mediterranean, French, Cuban and modern Japanese cuisines to infuse unique flavor into the amazing work he does every day at Campbell’s Foodservice.

Prior to joining Campbell’s Foodservice in 2017, Chef Gerald held positions at Starr Catering Group and STARR Restaurant Organization—including renowned Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia, China Grill Management and River Station Restaurant. A track record of consistent advancement and culinary creativity makes Chef Gerald an invaluable addition to the Campbell’s Foodservice team.

Bret Thorn, Senior Food & Beverage Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News

Award winning columnist Bret Thorn is senior food & beverage editor of Nation’s Restaurant News and senior editor of Restaurant Hospitality with responsibility for spotting and reporting on food and beverage trends across the country for both publications.

From 2006 to 2008 he also wrote the Kitchen Dish column for The New York Sun, covering restaurant openings and chefs’ career moves. He joined Nation’s Restaurant News in 1999 after spending about five years in Thailand, where he wrote articles about business, banking and finance as well as restaurant reviews and food columns for Manager magazine and Asia Times newspaper. He joined Restaurant Hospitality’s staff in 2016 while retaining his position at NRN.

A magna cum laude graduate of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., with a bachelor’s degree in history, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Mr. Thorn also studied traditional French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris.

His monthly column in Nation’s Restaurant News won the 2006 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for best staff-written editorial or opinion column.

He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Burton Heiss
CEO of Buddy’s Pizza

Burton Heiss joined Buddy’s Pizza as CEO in July 2019. With more than 20 years of experience as a leader in the restaurant industry, Heiss has worked with an array of businesses throughout his career – including Nando’s and Baja Fresh. In his role as CEO at Buddy’s, Heiss is focused on strategic expansion of the Detroit-based brand throughout Michigan and eventually the Midwest. Heiss received a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational communication from Pepperdine University.

Jeff Chandler
CEO of Hopdoddy

Growing up in the restaurant industry managing teams for over twenty-five years, Jeff Chandler’s extensive experience and impressive background led him to HopdoddyBurger Bar in 2016 where he has passionately taken charge as Chief Executive Officer. His proven track record for building and leading teams that grow stronger while growing larger further fortifies the award-winning brand. Under Jeff’s leadership, Hopdoddy has poised itself for significant growth by improving operating and financial results, reinforcing brand pillars, securing and solidifying vendor/partner/board/founder/team member relationships and by successfully recruiting world-class leadership talent in Operations, Finance, Development, People, Training and Marketing. These changes, coupled with the company’s strong performance, continues to drive his efforts toward expansion.Prior to Hopdoddy, Chandler double-majored in Finance and Business Administration at the University of Washington and played football for the nationally ranked Washington Huskies, all while pursuing his passion for hospitality. During college, Chandler served as a Supervising Regional Bartender for RAM International, a privatelyheld, multi-concept casual dining and brewing company. After college, Chandler steadily rose to become president and managing operator at RAM, just 12 years after starting at the company. During his rise in leadership, Chandler was responsible for developing strategies and initiating tactics necessary for the company’s significant and successful growth throughout seven western states by strengthening the brands, improving the internal culture, building world-class teams and driving same store sales and improved margins. In 2014, Chandler signed on as Chief Executive Officer of Opper-MelangRestaurants, an independently owned, multi-concept restaurant company, in Seattle, Washington. As CEO, Chandler was responsible for building the foundation for sustainable, significant and rapid growth by investing in people and infrastructure while strengthening operations and improving the outward facing brand pillars. Opper-Melang successfully increased unit count 70% in 2 years across four western states under Chandler’s leadership. One of Chandler’s favorite quotes comes from Navy SEAL & author, Jocko Willnk: “Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team.” Chandler applies that mentality to his day-to-day, forever striving to raise the bar for his business, his team, and the restaurant industry at large.

Burge Diemer
VP of Marketing, The Habit Burger

Burge Diemer recently joined the Habit Burger and Grill as Vice President of Brand Marketing responsible for Product Marketing, the Promotional Calendar, Local Store Marketing and various guest-facing brand initiatives such as Curbside Pick-up.

Prior to joining the Habit Burger, Burge was Vice President of Strategy for Boston Market overseeing Brand Strategy and Third-party Delivery Relationships.

Previously, Burge held various leadership roles at Jack in the Box including Vice President of Product Development leading the company’s most successful product launches.

Elizabeth Blau
Founder & Ceo, Blau + Associates

With an impressive career spanning more than three decades, James Beard Award Nominee Elizabeth Blau is the founder and CEO of restaurant development company Blau + Associates, and is widely credited with transforming Las Vegas into the world-class culinary destination it is today. A renowned restaurateur, Blau’s skilled touch defines her work in Las Vegas and around the world. 

A graduate of the prestigious Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Blau began her career in New York with legendary restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, proprietor of the iconic Le Cirque, and worked with him to expand the brand to Las Vegas. After opening Le Cirque at the Bellagio, Blau was recruited to Mirage Resorts as Vice President of Restaurant Development. In that role and in her subsequent evolution to EVP of Restaurant Development and Marketing for the Wynn Las Vegas, Elizabeth developed and oversaw every aspect of food and beverage concept creation, development, operations, and promotion for hundreds of restaurants. With her vision, Blau inspired award-winning chefs, and convinced them to venture to Las Vegas and join with her in transforming the culinary culture and dining experience there. This quantum leap forward and focus on fine food, were revolutionary to the once buffet focused dining scene.  

Elizabeth founded Blau & Associates in 2002 and made it into one of the foremost restaurant development and consulting companies in the field. She went on to open a series of successful restaurants across Las Vegas.  

In 2012, Blau and husband chef Kim Canteenwalla embarked on their first solo independent venture, Honey Salt. The next year, Blau & Associates partnered with Buddy Valastro, star of TV’s Cake Boss, to open Buddy V’s Ristorante on the Las Vegas Strip. The fine-dining restaurant Andiron Steak & Sea followed in Las Vegas in 2015. For the Parq Vancouver Resort & Casino, which opened in 2017, Blau conceptualized, developed, and assembled a world-class portfolio of five restaurants, including a new location of Honey Salt in the JW Marriott, which they continue to operate today.

Blau has appeared as a judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Martha Stewart Show, and is an annual judge for Hotels magazine “Great Hotel Restaurant” list. Elizabeth co-starred on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup as one of the Season 3 investors. In 2017, Blau and Canteenwalla co-authored “Honey Salt: A Culinary Scrapbook,” which was named Best Cookbook of 2018 by Food & Beverage Magazine.

Elizabeth’s many honors and awards include the 2006 recipient of the IFMA Gold Plate Award, Cornell’s 2017 MMH Outstanding Alumna of the Year Award from the School of Hotel Administration and 2019’s Stevie Award for Women in Business. In February 2020 Elizabeth was honored as the Silver State Award’s Innovator Award, which honor excellence in the state of Nevada and most recently has been honored as 2020’s Cornell Hospitality Innovator of the Year.

She serves her profession and community in many capacities, including as a trustee of the Culinary Institute of America, as an International Advisory Board member for the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, serves on the Global Advisory Board at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, as chairwoman of the Culinary Council of Three Square Food Bank in southern Nevada and on the State Board for Communities in Schools.

Most recently, Elizabeth has launched and co-founded The Women’s Hospitality Initiative (WHI), a Las Vegas-based 501 c3 nonprofit venture committed to developing and implementing programs for women to grow and achieve leadership programs positions in the restaurant community. Under Elizabeth’s stewardship, WHI will work to identify and increase opportunities for women leaders, while providing a platform for them to connect, influence and grow in academic, networking and workplace settings.

Elizabeth lives in Las Vegas with her husband Kim, their son Cole, and their two golden retrievers Brookie and Dodger.



James H. Pogue II
Ph.D, President/CEO, JP Enterprises, LLC

Dr. Pogue provides thought leadership to leaders and organizations as they address Race, Diversity, Inclusion and Bias; directly and significantly. He is the creator of The No-Nonsense Experience (NNE): the four-part series of discussions on Race, Diversity, Inclusion and Bias. The NNE leverages cohort learning, expert facilitation, and other well-researched best practices to move Leaders and Teams to deep and impactful change.

His expertise and experienced content delivery take the form of Keynotes and Toolkits, thought-provoking Workshops and Webinars, and Executive Coaching. Dr. Pogue supports leaders in making the decisions that attract, engage, and retain talent at all levels.

His military service, scope of research and work as an entrepreneur give him tangible examples of the critical balance between leaders and followers on teams. He provides professionally researched data, partnered with highly engaged training to improve organizational behavior and the bottom line.

Adam Werner
Managing Director of AlixPartners

Adam helps restaurants, retailers, foodservice and consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) companies drive transformational change. His more than 25 years of experience helps clients lower costs and drive revenue growth by his emphasizing of sustainable improvements in customer and product profitability, procurement, supply chain, overhead, and operations. Adam has held interim leadership roles, served as an expert witness, and led large and complex international assignments, often when his clients have wanted to grow or improve in other markets. Adam has an MBA from the University of Michigan. His research and work in the restaurant and food-and-beverage sectors have been profiled and cited in such publications and news outlets as the “Wall Street Journal,” Fox News, the “Financial Times,” Reuters, and Bloomberg.

Gregg Frazer
Vice President of Hospitality, Stone Brewing

Gregg Frazer currently serves as Vice President of Hospitality for Stone Brewing. Stone Brewing operates numerous bistros, tap rooms and breweries in California and Virginia. During his tenure with Stone, Gregg has helped to open bistros in China, Germany and Napa, California. Gregg joined Stone from Umami Burger in LA, where he served as COO. During his time with Umami, Gregg oversaw locations in California, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and Japan. Gregg was responsible for launching the Impossible Burger at Umami, making them the first multi-unit operator in the US to carry the Impossible Burger. Frazer joined Umami Burger from VooDoo BBQ, where he oversaw the entire operation for the company’s corporate stores and franchise locations as the Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Chef. A long-established industry veteran, Frazer’s long career as a Chef and restaurant executive has taken him from fine dining establishments such as Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, to the Four Seasons resorts in West Palm Beach, Florida and Sydney, Australia. Frazer holds a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and an MBA from National University in La Jolla, California.

Tim McLaughlin
Co-Founder & CEO, GoTab

Since 2016, Tim McLaughlin has served as Co-Founder and CEO of GoTab, Inc., a leading contactless ordering and payment platform serving more than 500 large & mid-sized full-service food & beverage establishments in almost 30 states and growing. An experienced executive and board member, McLaughlin led Siteworx, Inc., a mid-sized digital experience agency with clients including PayPal, Goldman Sachs, VeriSign, Bain & Co., and Thermo Fisher Scientific, to a successful PE exit in 2013. Subsequent to Siteworx, Tim co-founded and operated Caboose Brewing Co., an upscale brewery and farm-to-table concept based in Fairfax, Virginia. Many of GoTab’s most important features were incubated at Caboose.

Mike Vichich
CEO & Co-Founder, Wisely

Mike Vichich is Wisely’s CEO and Co-founder. Wisely enables restaurants to personalize every aspect of their guest experience in the restaurant and online. Wisely’s solutions — table management, marketing automation, and guest sentiment — have attracted innovative brands both large and small, including bartaco, Chuy’s, First Watch, Lazy Dog, and many more. Mike grew up as a server, and after college worked on customer acquisition and retention at Accenture, where his clients included American Express and Microsoft. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife and two sons.

Matt Eisenacher
SVP Brand Strategy & Innovation, First Watch Restaurants

Matt Eisenacher is currently the Senior Vice President, Brand Strategy and Innovation at First Watch Restaurants. Prior to joining First Watch in 2019, Matt was the Chief Concept Officer for Piada Italian Street Food based in Columbus, Ohio where he was responsible for the branding, marketing, IT and business development efforts as the concept expanded nationwide from 16 units in 2013 to 41 in 2019. Prior to joining Piada, Matt spent 12+ years in the Consumer-Packaged Goods industry across a variety of food & nutrition brands working for Nestle USA, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Abbott Nutrition. Matt received a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Management from Ohio University and his MBA, specializing in Marketing, from The Ohio State University.

Scott Lawton
CEO & Co-Founder, bartaco

Scott Lawton serves as CEO and Co-Founder of bartaco, a coastal-inspired restaurant serving fresh, upscale street food in a relaxed environment. Bringing over twenty years of leadership experience in the hospitality arena, Lawton rejoined bartaco, under the new private ownership of L Catterton, overseeing the concept’s overall vision and growth. Prior to becoming CEO, Lawton was Chief Operating Officer of Barteca, managing development, day-to-day operations and personnel recruitment. For over seven years, Scott led bartaco’s growth from zero to fifteen stores, 60+ million in sales operating in eight different states. While President, the brand achieved five consecutive years of double digit, same-store sales growth while maintaining 29% store level EBITDA. Lawton previously held key leadership roles with Tribeca Grill, Buckhead Life and Big Time Restaurants.

Nancy Kruse
Founder, The Kruse Company

The best-known menu analyst in the foodservice industry, Nancy Kruse is a recognized authority and widely quoted spokesperson on food and menu trends.

In 1997 Nancy founded The Kruse Company, based in Atlanta and dedicated to assessing trends and directions in food, menu and restaurant concepts. She authors a column devoted to what’s happening on the menu that appears monthly in Nation’s Restaurant News; in addition, she creates content and delivers the State of the Plate keynote address for NRN’s annual MUFSO conference.

In demand as a speaker, she has addressed national and state restaurant associations, as well as major restaurant and supermarket organizations, food manufacturers and distributors and promotion boards across the US and around the world.

Prior to founding her own company, Nancy served as Executive Vice President for Technomic, Inc., where she conducted a wide range of consulting assignments for Fortune 500 food and restaurant companies.

Alan Kahn
Alan Kahn is the Vice President of Foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission and has 25 years of Foodservice experience. He is a seasoned & skilled marketing professional, best known for his success in developing and introducing new items and programs to the market.

Prior to the Idaho Potato Commission, he had successful tenures at Ore-Ida Foods, McCain Foods USA and the J.R. Simplot Company, and was primarily involved in sales, marketing strategies and new product development for both retail and foodservice products. As a member of the Executive Team at the J.R. Simplot Company, his responsibilities included business acquisitions, corporate alliances, joint ventures and the development of innovative foodservice products.

Alan’s positive attitude and energy encourage and enable others with whom he works. He earned his business degree from the University of Houston.

In his free time, Alan enjoys fly-fishing, snow skiing, fitness training, and restoring his ’68 Camaro.

Greg Boggs
Senior Chef, Campbell’s Foodservice

Greg Boggs is currently a Senior Chef for America’s Meals and Beverage at Campbell’s Soup Company. His responsibilities include creating gold standard formulas for many retail brands and leveraging culinary trends and insights to drive innovation.

Greg joined the company after completing an internship with Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute (CCBI). Greg is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Greg has received Certified Chef de Cuisine through the American Culinary Federation and has earned several medals for hot food competitions. Greg also competed in and won the 2016 Research Chef Association Culinology Competition.

He started his culinary career working under James Beard Best Chef Southeast Finalist Johnathan Lundy in his hometown Lexington, KY.

Kevin Kearns
Senior Vice President, Restaurant Network, Grubhub

Kevin is the Senior Vice President of Grubhub’s Restaurant Network. He’s responsible for all aspects of revenue generation for the restaurant network which includes the sales, success and fulfillment departments.

Previously, Kevin was Chief Revenue Officer for 4C Insights, responsible for revenue generation across the globe. Prior, Kevin was the CRO for ShopperTrak, where he was responsible for all aspects of revenue generation including client success and marketing. During his tenure, Kearns helped ShopperTrak exponentially grow revenue and guided the company through its acquisition by Tyco. Kearns has also held executive roles at WorkflowOne and Huthwaite, where he was President and CEO. An author, Kearns’ book Escaping the Price-Driven Sale was published by McGraw Hill in 2007. Before joining Huthwaite, he spent nearly a decade at Moore North America (now RR Donnelley) working in a variety of sales positions. His main focus was building teams to sell and deliver outsourcing agreements with large corporate clients and healthcare service providers.

He holds degrees in economics & business administration from the University of Iowa.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kearnskevin/

Peter Bruce
Supervisor Restaurant Operations

Peter joined the Flanigans family in August 2016. Currently, Flanigans operates 22 restaurant locations with an additional 3 more being added this year. Flanigans is a laidback family-run restaurant anchored by a commitment to exceptional food and drink, warm hospitality, great value and good fun. A beloved South Florida institution since 1959.

Peter was the former Director of Hospitality for Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino. Gulfstream hosts the Florida Derby, Sunshine Millions and Pegasus Cup.

Ron Ruggless
Senior Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News

Ron Ruggless serves as a senior editor for Informa Connect’s Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN.com) and Restaurant Hospitality (Restaurant-Hospitality.com) online and print platforms. He joined NRN in 1992 after working 10 years in various roles at the Dallas Times Herald newspaper, including restaurant critic, assistant business editor, food editor and lifestyle editor. He also edited several printings of the Zagat Dining Guide for Dallas-Fort Worth, and his articles and photographs have appeared in Food & Wine, Food Network and Self magazines.

Phone: (214) 366 4391

Email: Ronald.Ruggless@Informa.com

Social media:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/RonRuggless

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ronruggless

Instagram: @RonRuggless

TikTok: @RonRuggless

Steve Holmes
Co-Founder, ShiftPixy

Steve Holmes, a seasoned human capital management (HCM) executive and accomplished entrepreneur, is co-founder of ShiftPixy. With nearly 30 years of experience in human resources services, Holmes has established a track record for helping small and midmarket businesses (SMBs) through Fortune 500 companies drive efficiency in HCM initiatives and has successfully founded and sold five human resources services businesses, all of which are still operating today.

Alan Liddle
Sr Editor of Data & Event Content, Nation’s Restaurant News/Restaurant Hospitality

Alan is Senior Editor of Data and Event Content for The Restaurant & Food Group at Informa connect, including Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality, Food Management and Supermarket News. He joined Nation’s Restaurant News in 1984 with responsibility for covering Northern California and the Pacific Northwest and later added chief photographer duties, initiated NRN’s regular technology coverage and was involved in early development of NRN Online. Alan is senior researcher and data analyst for NRN and SN market data products, including Top 200 and SN75, and helps develop and present educational programs for MUFSO, Food Safety Symposium and webinars. A graduate of the California State University at Fullerton and a former daily and weekly newspaper reporter, he lives with his wife and two sons in Salinas, California

Alice Elliot
CEO, The Elliot Group

Alice Elliot, CEO of The Elliot Group, is universally recognized as one of the foremost advisors in executive search, human resources, and leadership. Sought out for her expertise within the restaurant, hospitality, retail, lifestyle, and service industries, Alice was recently named Nation’sRestaurant News’“2019 Norman Award” winner and will be the recipient of The Culinary Institute of America’s 2020 “Augie Award.” Alice has been highlighted in the 2015 and 2019 Nation’s Restaurant News’ “The Power List”, QSR Magazine’s “20 Most Influential Restaurant Leaders”and Eater’s“Meet the Underground Power Brokers of NYC Dining: Restaurant Consultants”. She was also featured on “CBS This Morning Saturday” for her collaboration on “The Underground Culinary Tour,” as well as a speaker on Bloomberg Radio, offering insights into business trends and innovation. She has spoken at many industry events including the Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators Exchange Conference (MUFSO), International Foodservice Management Association (IFMA), Chain Operators Exchange Conference (COEX), The Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) Annual Conference, The Multicultural Foodservice Hospitality Alliance Conference (MFHA), The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Salute to Excellence, and the Annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen.

Alice is the recipient of several awards, including the coveted Women’s Foodservice Forum’s Trailblazer Award and the prestigious Roundtable for Women in Foodservice’s Pacesetter Award. She sits on the Board of Trustees of The Culinary Institute of America and was inducted into the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s College of Diplomats in 2010 for her tireless work bringing public awareness to the hospitality industry.

By leveraging informed intuition, technology, and cultural and business intelligence, under Alice’s leadership for over thirty-five years, The Elliot Group successfully pairs talent and companies in ways that unlock growth, and make futures happen. Private equity firms, public and private companies of all sizes, retain The Elliot Group to act as partners, thought leaders, and strategic advisors. Alice and The Elliot Group have a long legacy of innovation, offering educational, and unique contributions to the industry. This includes curating and donating The Elliot Group Memorabilia Collection to the NRAEF in 2015, which is currently housed in America’s Restaurant Gallery. Additionally, The Elliot Group hosted the Elliot Leadership Conference for over 25 years. This premier industry event has featured business icons including Stephen Covey, Jim Cramer, Dave Thomas, Norman Brinker, and more. In addition, Alice co-founded The Elliot Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to executive leadership development and committed to the next generation of leadership.

Joanna Fantozzi
Associate Editor, Nation’s Restaurant News/Restaurant Hospitality

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality. She covers political/cultural issues and news for both publications and has more than seven years of experience writing about the restaurant industry. Her editorial coverage ranges from independent restaurants around the country to some of the biggest brands in food and beverage, including Starbucks, Domino’s, and Papa John’s. Joanna’s work has also appeared in Business Insider, The Daily Meal, Forbes, and Vice.

Lisa Jennings
Editorial Director, Nation’s Restaurant News

Lisa Jennings has been with Nation’s Restaurant News for 15 years as an editor and reporter, stepping into the role of executive editor in March 2020. She has also served for two years as executive editor of Restaurant Hospitality. Prior to joining NRN, she spent 11 years at The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., primarily as food editor. She lives and works in Los Angeles

Kevin Matier
Kevin joined the Campbell’s Canada Foodservice team as a Sales Representative in Calgary, Alberta, in 1990. Since then, he has held several Sales and Marketing roles with increasing responsibility. In 2005, he was named Vice President and General Manager, Canada Foodservice. In 2009, he relocated to Campbell’s WHQ in Camden, NJ and was appointed Vice President and General Manager, Retail Perimeter. In 2011, Kevin was appointed Vice President Sales and Customer Insights for North America Foodservice, National Accounts and Retail Perimeter businesses and in 2013 he was named Vice President Sales and Marketing North America Foodservice.

He is responsible for the Campbell’s North America Foodservice business, including Foodservice products like Soups, Sauces, Beverages and Baked Snacks with brands like Campbell’s, V8, Pace, Prego, Pacific, Pepperidge Farm, Snyder’s, Lance, Kettle Chips and Cape Cod in the United States and Canada.

Kelli Valade
President & CEO, Black Box Intelligence

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” Aristotle’s wisdom has guided Kelli Valade’s career since the age of 16, when she landed her first restaurant job as a hostess. It was there Kelli found the same hospitality, the same love of great food and the same connection around the table she’d experienced her entire childhood, cooking and eating Italian food around her grandmother’s kitchen table in New York. Kelli discovered early where her passion for life intersected with work, and she’s built a career living out that passion.

Determined to make a big impact on the industry she loved, Kelli worked her way through school, earning a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and an MBA from Syracuse University. She rose to General Manager of a local restaurant at age 21, then her people-first style quickly directed her career to Human Resources, where she led HR, Recruiting and Compensation for national chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.

Kelli then spent over 20 years at Brinker International in various roles including SVP of Human Resource for Chili’s Grill & Bar, and later serving as Chief Operating Officer. In 2016, she became the first female President in the brand’s history and was responsible for 80,000 + ChiliHeads and more than 1,600 restaurants in 31 countries and two territories. In this role, she established a clear vision and bold strategies, cultivated a purpose-driven culture and executed the biggest menu change in the brand’s history, all with uncompromising dedication to the guest, and her team members.

In 2019, Kelli joined restaurant insights powerhouse Black Box Intelligence™ as the CEO and President. Black Box Intelligence is the leading provider of data and insights to the restaurant industry with a product suite that is the industry standard for operators seeking to achieve best in class performance. With the largest and most reliable set of real restaurant data in the marketplace, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes more than 300 companies, over 2.8 million employees and over $75 billion in annual revenue.

To give back to the industry, Kelli serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) and on the executive committee of the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). Kelli also served alongside her daughter Morgan on the Allen Chapter of National Charity League (NCL) and currently sits on the Board of Trustees for the Shelton School in Dallas. A compelling and passionate keynote speaker, she also frequently speaks to students and professionals across the industry, sharing best practices and lessons from her lifelong journey.

Kelli has been recognized often by the industry she loves. Nation’s Restaurant News added her to their Top 50 Power List in 2017, The Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo gave her the Beacon Award in 2016 and Dallas Business Journal named her a Woman Worth Watching in 2013.

Together with her husband Don and their two children, Morgan (19) & Christian (17), Kelli has lived in Texas long enough to be called a native, but her heart (and her accent) remain firmly rooted in New York. You can connect with her on Twitter @kvpalooza, find her on Facebook or just follow the scent of the homemade meatballs. They’re worth the trip.

Chris Rippey
Head of Industry, Restaurants Marketing and Business Development, Google

Chris Rippey serves as Head of Industry, Restaurants Marketing and Business Development at Google where he oversees a team of professionals that provide thought leadership and digital marketing solutions across all of Google’s advertising platforms. Prior to that he held the Head of Agency development role at Google where he lead a team that worked with large advertising agency holding companies with the mission to create synergies between the companies. Before his agency role, Chris held various sales roles at Google working within the Financial Services and travel industries.

Chris joined Google in 2003 from AOL, where he was a manager within AOL’s distribution and affiliate marketing division where he focused on AOL Broadband partnerships with cable companies in the Midwest region. Prior to that he worked within AOL’s Interactive Marketing sales organization focused on AOL’s Shop@ platform. He is a founding board member for The Harbor Light Foundation, a non-profit focusing on providing programming for children along the autism spectrum. Chris received his BA from Gettysburg College and resides in Connecticut with his wife and 3 children.

Jerrod Melman
Executive Partner, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

Jerrod Melman is an Executive Partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. He has opened restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. In 2008, Jerrod, along with his partners, opened HUB 51 and lower-level club SUB 51 in downtown Chicago.

Since then, he has opened more than a dozen LEYE restaurants including RPM Italian, RPM Steak, Bub City and Three Dots and A Dash. Since graduating from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Jerrod has worked with other renowned hospitality groups, including BR Guest Hospitality and Union Square Hospitality Group in New York as well as In-N-Out Burger in Arizona.

In addition to building the RPM and San brands of restaurants, Jerrod and his partners have introduced several new projects, including Bub City and Joe’s Live – a restaurant and music venue in Rosemont, IL and Italian-American comfort food restaurant, il Porcellino.

In December 2017, the team behind Ramen-San introduced Sushi-San, a casual sushi spot in River North, followed by two additional Ramen-San locations in Chicago’s Fulton Market and Ramen-San Deluxe in Streeterville neighborhood in 2018.

In 2019, Jerrod and his partners introduced Pizzeria Portofino and RPM Events, and in January 2020, RPM Seafood opened, all three part of the multi-concept project on the Chicago Riverfront.

Rick Petralia
Director, Culinary Innovation
Fazoli’s Restaurants

I have been with Fazoli’s for 6 years.  I have been in the restaurant industry for 20 years with both culinary and operations experience with companies such as Darden and Panera Bread.  My responsibilities at Fazoli’s are:  Leading the culinary team in the development of core and LTO menu items, as well as streamlining operational processes

Chef Adam Moore
Chef & President, Flashpoint Innovation

Adam Moore is Chef and President of Flashpoint Innovation, a food and beverage innovation network, located in Chicago, Illinois. Over the course of his food-focused career, Adam has owned his own restaurant to strategizing with Fortune 500 companies around the globe. At Flashpoint, Adam marries his experience with a national network of chefs, scientists and strategists to provide culinary support, product development and foodservice strategy services for his clients. Adam was the recipient of the Most Innovative Product Award at the Research Chefs Association Expo and BIIC Award of Excellence from Bunge North America. Most recently Adam was a featured speaker at The Flavor Experience in Newport Beach, CA and currently sits on their Board of Experts.

Claudia San Pedro
President of SONIC®

Claudia San Pedro serves as president of SONIC®, America’s Drive-In®, part of the Inspire Brands family of restaurants. Inspire is a multi-brand restaurant company whose portfolio includes more than 11,100 Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, SONIC Drive-In, Rusty Taco and Jimmy John’s locations worldwide.

San Pedro assumed her role in January 2018. She joined SONIC in 2006 as vice president of investor relations and treasurer. In that role, she directed financial planning, procurement and investment of funds for the organization and formulated investor relations strategy and oversaw communications with the investment community. San Pedro was promoted to executive vice president and chief financial officer in 2015, and was responsible for SONIC’s financial planning practices, as well as the brand’s relationship with lending institutions, shareholders, and the financial community.

Prior to joining SONIC, she served as the director for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance (OSF). Appointed by Governor Brad Henry in 2005, San Pedro was the first female and first Hispanic to serve as director of state finance for Oklahoma.

Before joining OSF and the Henry administration, San Pedro served as the assistant director of the Oklahoma State Senate fiscal staff and a staff budget analyst for the senate appropriations subcommittees on education, human services and general government.

San Pedro presently serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, BOK Financial, and the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

San Pedro holds an undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma.

Born in Mexico City, San Pedro resides in Oklahoma City with her family.

Jill Waite
Chief Human Resources Officer at Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Jill Waite is Chief Human Resources Officer at Portillo’s Hot Dogs, a restaurant chain with more than 60 locations, headquartered in Oak Brook, IL. Prior to joining Portillo’s in 2019, she held several Human Resources and Operations roles in the retail, grocery and fitness industries with companies such as Sephora and 24 Hour Fitness.
 
Jill was hired to reinvigorate the Portillo’s culture by reclaiming the hearts and minds of our 6,000 Team Members. She is also responsible for building the talent pipelineto support the company’s growth,retaining Team Members who are passionate about creating lifelong memories for our guests, and developing world-class learning and development programs.She has a Bachelor’s degree in Management from University of Florida. Go Gators! Her favorite menu items at Portillo’s are the Italian Beef, cheese fries and chocolate cake.
 
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Management from University of Florida. Go Gators!Her favorite menu items at Portillo’s are the Italian Beef, cheese fries and chocolate cake. She has been married for almost 20 years and is a mom to two boys who have a passion for playing soccer competitively.
 
 

Frank Tucker
Former Global Chief People Officer, Taco Bell Corp

Frank Tucker, former Global Chief People Officer, Taco Bell Corp. As Global Chief People Officer (CPO), Frank Tucker lead the people, culture and communication teams for Taco Bell Corp worldwide. Frank was also the Chairman – now Vice Chairman of the Taco Bell Foundation overseeing the Foundation’s efforts to empower youth to achieve their dreams through program partnerships, scholarships, and fundraisers.

During his tenure Taco Bell became the 4th largest QSR Brand and 2nd most profitable after McDonalds. He also helped the Taco Bell Foundation become world class and increased funds raised annually from $6MM to $40MM.

AS CPO, Frank lead all aspects of human resources at Taco Bell including management and organization development, training, world-class rewards and recognition, international and domestic business partners and employment practices. Outside of HR he established and lead the Restaurant Excellence function – helping to transform the Taco Bell operational platform.

Frank was with Taco Bell for 27 years. Prior to that he held human resources and finance positions with Rockwell International Corporation and Ford Motor Company.

Frank serves on the Board of Jones Coffee Roasters and is the owner of Tucker Family Farms and Terrace Hill Olive Oil Company. He is also an advisor for Clorder.

Frank earned his B.B.A. in Finance with Honors from California State University, Long Beach. He sits on the board and National Trustee Boys & Girls Club of America, Board member of the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club, Is an active member of Habitat for Humanity, Kiwanis International, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and other charitable organizations.

Frank and his wife, Shannon, have two children and reside in Orange County, CA.

Tim Chilson
Vice President Growth Solutions@ Datassential

Tim Chilson, Vice President Growth Solutions@ Datassential, has 25+ years of experience in the CPG & Technology industries, beginning his food & beverage career as a National Sales Manager for the J.R. Simplot Company. For the past 20 years Tim has worked closely with manufactures to implement enterprise trade promotion management, pricing optimization and business intelligence software solutions. Prior to joining Datassential, Tim served in Executive positions for PROS, Tibersoft, AFS Technologies and IRM Corporation. Tim has the rare combination of both industry knowledge and how to utilize technology to maximize profitability.

Nicole West
Vice President Digital Strategy and Product Chipotle Mexican Grill

Nicole West is the Vice President of Digital Strategy and Product at Chipotle Mexican Grill. As a proven leader with close to 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Nicole oversees the development and execution of Chipotle’s integrated ‘customer-first’ digital roadmap. In addition, Nicole is responsible for the products that bring Chipotle’s digital ecosystem to life including Chipotle.com, award-winning Chipotle App and 2,600 Delivery Kitchens located inside Chipotle restaurants. Under Nicole’s leadership, Chipotle’s digital business has achieved significant growth reaching the $1 billion-dollar revenue milestone in 2019. During this time of rapid innovation, Nicole ensures Chipotle’s digital products connect consumers with the Chipotle brand driving exceptional user experiences, sales, convenience and access. In March 2020, Nicole received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hospitality Technology who recognized her dedication to the industry as an influential female executive at their ‘Top Women in Restaurant Technology’ awards. Nicole holds a Bachelor of Science degree in geography and environmental studies and a Master of Public Administration and Environmental Policy degree from University of Colorado, Denver.

Joe Lam
Director of Consumer Insights of Impossible Foods

Joe Lam is Director of Consumer Insights at Impossible Foods. In this role, Joe and his team use research, data, and empathy to identify how to best reach and satisfy Impossible consumers. Joe’s work includes translating consumer and market insights for use by the product, marketing, and sales teams to drive consumer and operator awareness, adoption, and love of Impossible products. Before joining Impossible, Joe led the Consumer Insights team at Whole Foods Market, where he partnered closely with the marketing and merchandising teams on projects like the Whole Foods loyalty program and marketing campaigns like “Whatever Makes You Whole.” Prior to Whole Foods, Joe led consumer insights teams at Annie’s Homegrown and General Mills, where he focused on new product launches including Annie’s Berry Bunnies.Joe has a Master’s in Business Administration from Rice University’s Jones School of Business, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Texas at Austin.

Terry Splane
Head of Foodservice Marketing, Impossible Foods

Terry Splane is head of Foodservice Marketing at Impossible Foods, leading all support functions associated with channel and brand management. Terry joined Impossible Foods in 2018 to expand the company’s presence and growth in the Foodservice industry. Since joining, Terry has been focused on elevating brand awareness, implementing performance-based marketing, developing value-added growth platforms and successfully collaborating with partners to support launch and annual growth strategies. Prior to joining Impossible Foods, Terry held Food and Food Packaging Sales and Marketing Leadership positions with McCormick & Co., Ventura Foods, Huhtamaki and Dart Container Corp. His vast experience in Foodservice and Retail channels comes with a proven track record of continuous improvement and success. Terry has dedicated personal time to support the Industry through the IFMA Board of Directors, Technomic Supplier Advisory Board, MCURC Supplier Advisory Council, IFDA Smart Conference Committee. Terry holds a BA in Marketing and Economics from Washington State University.

Robert Okura, CEC, CCEC, CMRDP
Vice President of Culinary Development/Corporate Executive Chef
The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated

Prior to his 32 years with The Cheesecake Factory Chef Bob Okura worked in a variety of operations, ranging from small ethnic neighborhood restaurants to the fine dining rooms of 4-star hotel/casino resorts. He has received numerous awards among them are the National Restaurant Association’s Menu Development and Innovations Award 2012, Research Chefs Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2008, Chef Magazine’s Chef of the Year 2007, Menu Masters Chef Innovator Award 2003 and Nation’s Restaurant News Top 50 R & D Culinarians 2002.

Chef Bob has been a student of the culinary arts for over 40 years and has studied at various schools across the country around the world including the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Chef Bob is a founding board member of the International Corporate Chefs Association and has been affiliated with other culinary organizations such as The American Culinary Federation, Les Amis d’Escoffier, the Chaine Des Rotisseurs; and the Research Chef’s Association.

Kaffee Hopkins
Director of Brand Marketing Sterling Hospitality

Kaffee is responsible for marketing strategy for Marlow’s Taverns and Sterling Culinary Management. She manages corporate branding and communications to ensure brand integrity and growth. Also develops and implements all marketing communications including advertising, social media, on-line/web media, broadcast, public relations, and sponsorships. As well as directs PR, media and advertising agency partnerships.

Kaffee has 30 plus years of marketing and advertising experience, which includes time on both the agency and client sides of the business. Before joining Sterling Hospitality, she consulted for such notable companies as AGCO, GE, Applebee’s, and Georgia Natural Gas.

Prior to entering the freelance world Kaffee was Vice President/Group Account Director at the Atlanta office of Grey Global. While at Grey she managed accounts such as Cousins Properties, US Franchise Systems (Microtel and Hawthorne Suites), Southern Company, Georgia Power, Icehouse Beer, Miller Genuine Draft, The World of Coca Cola and Cost Plus World Market. Kaffee also worked on accounts for GCI, Grey’s sister PR agency. She was the lead on the PR efforts for the Olive Garden brand as well.

Before joining Grey she was SVP of Account Service for Fletcher Martin. During her five years there she managed several regional and national accounts including Arby’s, Mrs. Winner’s Chicken and Lee’s Fried Chicken, E-Z-GO Golf Cars, Carvel Ice Cream, and Cinnabon.

Hopkins’ career began in the marketing department with Applebee’s International in 1987 when they had a mere 50 restaurants.

Kaffee has served four years on the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executive Group (MEG) board where she is currently Chairman.

Scott Barton
Divisional President, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

Scott Barton is Divisional President at Lettuce Entertain You and oversees concepts from fine dining to fast-casual, delivery and carryout only concepts to private event spaces including Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Osteria Via Stato, Pizzeria Via Stato, Tallboy Taco, M Burger, Ozzie’s Pops & Pretzels and Big City Chicken. Scott joined Lettuce in 1992 as a restaurant manager for Avanzare. Today he works directly with chefs, managers, and partners to develop and grow a variety of Lettuce concepts. Working closely with his management teams, he strives to define and achieve new goals to improve the restaurants and guest experience. His attention to what makes a restaurant successful – genuine hospitality and a focus on details – remains at the core of his operations and training.

Chef David DiGregorio
Chef/Partner at Osteria Via Stato

Chef David DiGregorio attributes his appreciation of food to his Italian family’s tradition of cooking and eating together, knowing as a child that he wanted to be a chef. As part of the Lettuce Entertain You team since 1992, Chef DiGregorio opened Osteria Via Stato in 2004 in Chicago’s River North. The restaurant follows the Italian tradition of seasonal ingredients and local flavors, featuring midwest farmers, produce and purveyors on its rotating menu. Osteria Via Stato’s simple and honest approach has made it a favorite mainstay for today’s epicureans—from neighborhood locals to award-winning chefs and winemakers throughout the world. Osteria Via Stato has received numerous awards including recognition in Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine; as well as being named Best Italian Restaurant in Time Out Chicago. Chef DiGregorio supports organizations close to his heart, including Chicago’s Green City Market, Meals-on-Wheels and United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago.

Jack Li
Haiku Master, Dataessential

Jack Li is Haiku Master at Datassential, a leading food insights agency. During his tenure at Datassential, Jack pioneered the use of menu data to predict future trends for the food industry. Over the past two decades, Jack has led over 500 food research studies across every imaginable topic. Today, Jack leads Datassential’s Haiku division, brining the power of artificial intelligence to food companies.

G.J. Hart
CEO, Torchy’s Tacos

G.J. Hart is the CEO at Torchy’s Tacos, a fast-casual restaurant concept that serves Damn Good tacos to guests in a fun, unique atmosphere at more than 60 locations in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Torchy’s Tacos was founded in Austin, TX in 2006 by a Mike Rypka – a chef with a passion for unique and innovative tacos, a mobile trailer and a red Vespa to deliver Damn Good tacos to the people of Austin.

A highly respected industry leader with 36 years of foodservice operations and management experience, G.J. has a proven track record of growing casual dining concepts. Prior to joining Torchy’s, he served as Executive Chairman and CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, the pioneer of creative dining with a California vibe. Prior to CPK, he served as President and CEO of Louisville-based Texas Roadhouse restaurants where he expanded the brand to more than 450 restaurants in 49 states and two international markets.

In 2012, G.J. was the initial inductee in the James Madison University Hospitality School Hall of Fame. In 2015, he and his wife Heather Hart jointly announced a $3 million gift commitment to JMU resulting in the newly renamed Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management. The intention of this gift is to help young people to be successful in work that emphasizes the importance of serving the public through a career in hospitality.

He is on the National Board of Directors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and serves advisory board memberships with the following organizations: Advisory Board at James Madison University Business School, Thornton Oil, Portillo’s and University of Louisville’s College of Business and Public Administration. He has been an active member of Habitat for Humanity, Volunteers of America, the Special Olympics, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America and was the Founder of the Louisville Metro Police Foundation.

G.J. is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and was named a Top CEO for investor relations by IR Magazine. G.J. has been recognized for his entrepreneurial vision and leadership while leading California Pizza Kitchen’s Next Chapter as a finalist of EY’s prestigious 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Los Angeles and as the recipient of one of the industry’s highest honors, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association’s 2017 Silver Plate Award in the Chain Full Service category.

G.J. was born Gerard Johan Hart in the Netherlands. He and his family immigrated to the US when he was five years old. As a student at James Madison University, Hart worked full-time at the Shenandoah Valley Poultry Company in Bridgewater, VA, to put himself through college and help pay the bills at home. G.J. calls the experience “far from glamorous,” but, he said, it was during those years toiling in the poultry plant that he learned many of the leadership lessons he has followed throughout his successful career in the hospitality industry.

Anita Adams
Chief Executive Officer

Anita Adams assumed the Chief Executive officer role in January 2020. She joined the company in March 2017 as the Chief Financial Officer and was promoted to President in March 2019. Anita has 25 plus years of experience across private and public companies with broad transaction experience and prior to joining the company was the Chief Financial Officer of American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC (2009 – 2017) and part of the executive team that grew the business from $400m of revenue to $1.2 billion managing 5 restaurant brands and a bakery operation. Her experience includes multi-unit & multi-branded organization, mergers and acquisitions, debt financingsand treasury management, restructurings, public accounting, information technology and board and investor relations.

Prior to American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC, Anita was the Vice President – Controller of VICORP Restaurants, Inc. from 2006 through March 2009. From April 2001 to October 2006, Anita was employed by First Data Corporation, Inc., a Fortune 200 global financial services company generating over $10 billion in annual revenue, most recently as the Vice President of Corporate Accounting. Prior to First Data Corporation, Anita held other Controller positions, as well as began her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Anita holds an active Certified Public Accountant license in the State of Colorado.

Scott Absher
Co-Founder, CEO & CFO
ShiftPixy

As co-founder and chief executive officer of ShiftPixy, Scott Absher brings 30 years of experience in organizational development, capital development and employment industry expertise to the company. Absher started his career in product development and support, serving large national retail chains before turning his focus to the employer services industry. Mr. Absher has held a number of high-level executive, business development, sales and marketing and management positions with various companies, building and launching a number of successful product lines and companies focused on business-to-business products and services. Since 1994 Mr. Absher has enjoyed significant involvement in the business services and employer service industries. He has built and trained many national sales organizations and independent agent forces to deliver predictable growth in the business service industry. His work in the development and launch of captive insurance programs and platforms brings a unique and rare insurance competence to ShiftPixy. Mr. Absher has advised firms in technology and business service-related ventures in matters of capital formation, liquidity, and growth strategy. He has been actively involved in the early stage fundraising, business strategy and development efforts of many startup ventures throughout his career. He is a graduate of The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago majoring in Theology.

Tara Dugan
Director of Consumer & Marketplace Insights, National Pork Board

Tara Dugan is responsible for providing insights across the pork supply chain, generating and distributing strategic analyses and relevant data that identify consumer attitudinal and behavioral patterns on behalf of the National Pork Board as well as identifying opportunities for increasing demand for pork. Before joining the National Pork Board in 2018, Dugan worked for McDonald’s U.S. as a marketing manager for menu strategy and innovation as well as a consumer insights manager. Prior to that role, Dugan served as client insights consultant for IRI. Dugan graduated from Roosevelt University in 2008 with a MS in Integrated Marketing Communications and from the University of Illinois in 2005 with a BS in Business Administration and Marketing.  In the Fall of 2019, Dugan joined the Doctorate of Business Administration Cohort at DePaul University.

Erin Murray
Director of Consumer Solutions, Dataessential

Erin Murray has worked in market research and consulting for nearly 25 years, serving dozens of clients in food & beverage with insight for innovation and marketing success. Erin earned degrees in Psychology and Education from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Additionally, she has a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University in Integrated Marketing Communications. Passionate about the opportunities represented by trends, Erin is a marketing instructor at Robert Morris University where she also sits on the Board of Advisors.

Bob Gibson
Chief Revenue Officer, Jolt

As Chief Revenue Officer Bob Gibson leads the growth strategy at Jolt. With over 30 years in the restaurant technology industry, Gibson brings to the table a strong background in marketing strategy, sales and relationship building, and scaling processes and operations at startups to remarkable success. Previously, as GVP at Oracle and MICROS, Gibson rebuilt the sales and operations teams to focus more heavily to mid-market and large tier customers.

CJ Lewis
Co-Founder & COO, Jolt

As a Co-Founder and the COO of Jolt, CJ Lewis knows more about Jolt than almost anyone. He’s worn every hat you can imagine and currently helps coordinate enterprise sales, is an executive sponsor over many of Jolt’s largest strategic accounts, and oversees the HR arm of the company. CJ has a passion for organizational health and radical candor to help make Jolt the best place possible for employees. Before Jolt, CJ really enjoyed his time working as a server at Brick Oven.

Geoff Alexander

President, Wow Bao

After two decades of working with multiple Lettuce Entertain You concepts, Alexander took over as President of Wow Bao in 2009. Under Alexander’s leadership, Wow Bao had revolutionized the way diners interact with restaurants by being a leader in technology. Alexander implemented mobile & desktop ordering, installed self-ordering kiosks, pioneered a mobile gift card & loyalty program, added bicycle delivery, as well as domestic shipping, launched a food truck, and turned Wow Bao into a well-respected social media influencer. Alexander has overseen Wow Bao’s inclusion into airports, NFL stadiums, MLB ballparks, university campuses, and more than 50 grocers sell Wow Bao’s frozen retail line. Recently, Alexander changed the landscape for fast casual dining by introducing a fully front of the house tech enabled environment, where guests order via an iOS or Android device, and pick up their food from an animated personalized cubby.

Dan Simpson
CEO, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café

Before becoming the CEO of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, Simpson previously served as the restaurant’s Chief Innovation Officer from May 2016 through February 2018.

During this time, Simpson was instrumental in the growth of the restaurant brand visiting Taziki’s locations in all 16 states where the chain has a presence, gathering both customer and employee feedback.

Simpson is working closely with Founder Keith Richards as the restaurant plans include having 100 locations open by 2019. The two have worked closely with Taziki’s board and staff to form a clarified purpose, mission and brand values to guide the next 20 years.

He believes that Keith’s vision for his restaurant is an inspiration to so many, and that he has created an environment that combines extraordinary food with meaningful human experience. Simpson says he hopes to help lead the charge to offer fresh, healthy, diverse, and affordable food options to the tables of tens of thousands of people.

Simpson is working closely with Keith Richards to carry out his vision for the next 20 years of Taziki’s, and his passion for working to create the new ‘Mediterranean-Coastal’ design for the restaurants has been an integral part of this process.

The new design elements that Simpson launched for Taziki’s restaurants include community tables established to create a welcoming environment for conversation within the exposed stone and painted white shiplap adorned walls. Shades of bright white and deep ocean blue can be found in the restaurant’s interior accent pieces.

Hanging wicker lanterns provide a warm yet fresh ambiance, highlighting Taziki’s delicious menu teeming with original chef-driven recipes prepared daily from more than 100 fresh produce items as well as more than 60 herbs and spices flavoring the food. All meals are prepared from raw ingredients much like you would use in your own home. Taziki’s does not use fryers or microwaves while preparing meals for customers.

Natural lighting streams from windows and exposed wooden beams in the ceiling provide the experience of dining outdoors. In the back of the restaurant, a community board lists local non-profit events with information about how to participate, furthering the at-home, communal feel.

As a Taziki’s franchisee and managing partner at Fresh Hospitality from January 2015 until May 2016, Simpson learned what customers wanted and observed an over 60% increase in the amount of online and to-go orders in the past five years.

Prior to joining the Taziki’s family, Simpson was also the founder and CEO of ToGo Technologies from May 2012 until January 2015.

Under Simpson’s leadership, expanding Taziki’s technology capabilities for customers including app offerings, accessibility to ordering online as well as a new website is a big focus Taziki’s. They are working to anticipate consumer trends and seeking innovations that enhance guest experiences.

Simpson and his team just launching TAZRewards, Taziki’s rewards loyalty program, that works both in-line and on-line through Taziki’s app, as a way to say thank you to the restaurant’s growing community of loyal guests.

Simpson was also the Chief Development Officer of Dispensary of Hope, Nashville, TN from May 2008 until May 2012. Like Taziki’s Founder Keith Richards, Dan’s heart seeks to tie Taziki’s back to local communities and bring people together over delicious food.

Dan earned his BS from Clearwater Christian College followed by his MBA from West Virginia University.

Maeve Webster
President, Menu Matters

Maeve Webster, President of Menu Matters, is a leading consultant for foodservice manufacturers and operators. She has spearheaded hundreds of major industry studies, and today runs a private consultancy focused on helping manufacturers and operators analyze, understand, and leverage foodservice trends. Maeve’s expertise is in the areas of trend analysis, market assessment, consumer behavior, product testing, and brand optimization. She is a regular speaker at top industry events such as Flavor Experience, World of Flavors, and New Products Conference; has contributed to major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, and CBS and regularly contributes to several industry publications including Flavor & the Menu. Maeve earned her MBA at the University of Illinois and holds a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.

Denyelle Bruno
CEO, Tender Greens

Denyelle Bruno is the President and CEO of Tender Greens, a fine-casual West Coast restaurant concept founded in 2006 that puts an elevated spin on the comfort dishes you love. Each of its 30 kitchens nationwide is run by its own chef who holds food to a higher standard.

Prior to joining Tender Greens, Denyelle spent 20 years in retail leadership roles, most recently as President of Retail Operations at Drybar. A Los Angeles native, she has worked with some of the most renowned brands including Apple, Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Macy’s to name a few. During her time at Apple, Denyelle was one of a seven-member team asked to create a retail experience for Apple Computer, thus conceptualizing and overseeing the rollout of the first 25 Apple Stores. At Drybar, she opened 55 locations in just three years all while maintaining the company culture and enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit of the business.

Denyelle is known for taking brands that are already iconic to best-in-class household names that simply cannot be ignored. Under her stewardship, not only is Tender Greens positioned to grow successfully nationwide, but poised to reach the brand’s higher purpose of transforming lives both within the company and its communities, as well as set the tone for gender diversity in the restaurant space and beyond.

About Tender Greens:
Conceptualized on the West Coast, Tender Greens puts an elevated spin on the comfort dishes you love, delivering inspired food, friendly service and great value in a comfortable space. Each of our 30 kitchens nationwide is run by its own executive chef who holds your food to a higher standard. We explore local markets and experiment with ingredients to create distinctive plates you’ll love. For more information visit www.tendergreens.com or follow @tendergreens on Instagram.

Michael Lastoria
CEO and Co-Founder of &pizza

Michael Lastoria is a serial entrepreneur known for building companies around four core principles: design-driven, culture-centric, brand-led, and most importantly, morally sound. In 2012, he co-founded &pizza, a counter culture pizza brand embodying these values.

Since its conception, &pizza has grown to 32 throughout the East Coast. The company’s success, he asserts, is built on the shoulders of the company’s employees, the &pizza Tribe. He sees them not just as employees, but as both the face of the brand and the core of its business. They live and breathe the brand and its culture, and some tribe members even tattoo their allegiance in ink; “&” tattoos are offered for free by the brand to its Tribe as a demonstration of its commitment to building a cultural movement, not just a product-pusher. Every shop is different, designed around, with, and inspired by the community it serves, often times incorporating local artists’ work into their design.

In addition to &pizza, Lastoria cofounded JWALK, a New York based full service creative agency. After rapid expansion, he and partner Doug Jacob sold the company in 2017 to beauty powerhouse Shiseido.

Catherine Golding
Business Development Manager, Meat & Livestock Australia

Catherine Golding has been in the business of motivating change from the ground up – literally from on-farm to on-menus for nearly 20 years. Catherine joined Meat & Livestock Australia in 2000 and has worked in a number of roles from marketing communications, magazines editor and more recently R&D communications manager before taking up her current role of North America Business Development Manager. In these roles Catherine has been at the forefront of creating and delivering a range of integrated communications programs that have built understanding of business opportunities and motivated business improvement. She aims to share her understanding of Australian food production to grow awareness, encourage and support the foodservice industry to put True Aussie beef and lamb on menus and promote to diners its delicious, high quality and ethical production values.

Michael Miller
Director of Foodservice/Vending Marketing-North America
Mondelez International

Mike has over two decades of experience in both Foodservice and CPG Marketing at Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, and Mondelēz International. He has developed and grown businesses across a wide range of categories (Beverage, Meat, Dressings, Biscuit and Confection) and Brands (Oreo, Oscar Mayer, Kraft, Folgers, Gevalia…). Regardless of the channel, his key to success has been understanding customer needs and developing products and programs to deliver against those needs. Mike is also the proud Father of three boys, Christian (22 yrs.), Nicholas (19 yrs.) and Zachary (16 yrs.).

Chris Hollander
CMO, Panera

Chris Hollander joined Panera in 2010. As CMO, His primary responsibility is overseeing all marketing activities for Panera Bread including brand strategy, traditional advertising, digital communication (both paid and earned), public relations, in-cafe point-of-purchase materials, customer engagement marketing, loyalty, gift card, and field marketing. Chris oversees a team of 60 associates, located primarily in Boston and St Louis.

Prior to Panera, Chris spent 11 years in various Brand Management positions at Pepsi Cola, working on some of their highest-profile brands and initiatives, including stints on Mountain Dew, the Pepsi Lipton Joint Venture Partnership and the Brand Pepsi portfolio. Prior to Pepsi, Chris worked at Interactive Sports, an innovative start-up company focused on bringing digital technology to the sports marketplace.

Chris earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Middlebury College and a Master of Business Administration from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Talita Ramos Erickson
General Counsel (Americas) & CEO (Restaurants), Barilla Group

Talita Ramos Erickson is currently General Counsel (Americas) & CEO (Restaurants) for Barilla, the world’s largest pasta maker. From 2013 to 2016 she also served as Barilla’s first Global Chief Diversity Officer. Before joining Barilla in 2012, she held several in-house counsel positions during her 10-year tenure at Kraft, both in Brazil and the United States. She received a J.D. from Federal University of Parana State in Brazil, an LL.M. in Business Law from Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Law, and an MBA from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. She serves on the Board of The Cradle, a non-for profit advancing the well-being of children, and the Hispanic Alliance for Career Development, a non-for-profit helping Latinx talent achieve their potential. She is recognized as a leader in the U.S. Latinx community, recently including Top 10 Lideres by Hispanic Executive Magazine, Top 50 Most Powerful Latinas in Corporate America by ALPFA, and Chicago United Top 50 Business Leaders of Color.

Brian Whitney
Vice President of Enterprise Sales, Appetize

Brian Whitney leads Appetize’s sales efforts in the Professional and Enterprise space. He brings over 20 years of POS experience to Appetize and has worked with Radiant Systems, NCR and Allure over that term. Brian has worked globally in over 20 countries on 5 continents in industries throughout hospitality, airports, cinemas, stadiums and retail. An avid college sports fan he lives in Atlanta with his wife Monica and daughter Annabeth.

Gje Greene-Wallace
Director of Marketing at Fish City Grill

With more than 15 years of experience in promoting popular restaurant brands, Gje (pronounced “Kia”) Greene-Wallace has the know-how of Generation X but the passion and innovation of a Millennial. Today she’s using those skills as the Director of Marketing at Fish City Grill, where she oversees the public face of 20 casual seafood units across 4 states.  Gje is responsible for the company branding, internal & external communications as well as advertising, social media, on-line/web media, broadcast, public relations, and agency partnerships.  Originally from College Station, and a proud graduate of Texas A&M, Gje and her family live in Frisco, Texas.

Rick Badgley
EVP, Chief People & Administrative Officer at Brinker International

Rick Badgley serves as executive vice president and chief people and administrative officer for Brinker International, Inc. He oversees all aspects of the Team Member experience, corporate communications, government relations, Guest relations and business continuity for Brinker and its brands and leads Chili’s® Grill & Bar global business development.

Rick joined Brinker in 2016 as chief people officer where he helped transform the PeopleWorks team to strategic business partners resulting in record-high Team Member engagement, industry-leading turnover and award-winning training programs. In 2018, he was promoted to his current role and took on additional responsibility, including leading Chili’s international business.

Prior to joining Brinker, Rick served in multiple retail and hospitality leadership roles with TOMS, Starbucks and Wyndham Worldwide. Rick enjoys spending time with his wife, Stephanie, and two boys, Jackson and Cameron. He holds a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management and a master’s in hospitality administration from Johnson and Wales University.

In 2002, he founded a leading marketing and media services company. As co-founder and CEO, Michael oversaw the company’s growth and sale to Seaport Capital a New York-based private equity firm, in 2006.

But perhaps his proudest recognition is that of fair employer. Michael is a recognized and vocal advocate in the Fight for $15, and employs strict policies of paying a fair and livable wage.

He speaks regularly on the value of design thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship. Recent appearances include the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Inc. 5000, WeWork Creator Awards and more.

Michael has been identified as one of the country’s top 25 fast casual executives, and named one of the Washington Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. In 2017, he was awarded the Mort Harris Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Council of America.