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Live Event


More speakers will be added in the coming weeks. Check back for updates.
Keynote Speakers
Danny Trejo
Actor, Restaurateur

Join NRN’s Editor-in-Chief, Sam Oches for a fascinating discussion with famed actor turned restaurateur and cookbook author, Danny Trejo.

From years of imprisonment to helping troubled youth battle drug addictions, from acting to producing, and now on to restaurant ventures, Trejo’s name, face, and achievements are well recognized in Hollywood and beyond. Trejo’s expanding restaurant empire includes Trejo’s Tacos & Cantina and Trejo’s Coffee & Donut, with a fifth restaurant opening in downtown Los Angeles in March.

Trejo shares his love of food in Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A. and Trejo’s Cantina, a book about cocktails, snacks & amazing non-alcoholic drinks from the heart of Hollywood (release April 2023).

Join us at Lone Star Pool where keynote speaker Danny Trejo will be on hand for a meet and greet. No “closing” vibes for CREATE! Instead, let’s kick off CREATE 2024 to be held in October 9-11, 2024 in Nashville.

CREATE Speakers
Sam Oches
Nation's Restaurant News
Briana Valdez
Founder & CEO
Stacy Peterson
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Stacy Peterson joined Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams as the Chief Executive Officer in December 2022. A Certified B Corporation, Jeni’s is dedicated to making the finest ice creams the world has ever known and bringing people together. Founded in 2002 by James Beard Award-winner Jeni Britton, the company today has more than 75 scoop shops across the country, a robust online store for nationwide shipping at, and a rapidly growing presence at national retail stores like Whole Foods, Publix, and Safeway, as well as regional retailers.

Prior to Jeni’s, Stacy worked for Wingstop Restaurants, Inc. in various leadership roles across Marketing, Innovation, Technology, and Operations. During her nine years at Wingstop, Stacy was responsible for overseeing the revenue driving initiatives for the brand, including culinary innovation, omni-channel advertising, modernizing national marketing capabilities, and building a digital and delivery business. Previously, Stacy held various leadership roles at FedEx Office, Service King, and CBRE.

Ron Ruggless
Senior Editor
Nation's Restaurant News

What excites you about the future of this industry?
Hospitality will remain the core, no matter the changes

What is your all-time favorite meal?
Osteria Francescana - Modena, Italy

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I can tap dance.

Jessica Tomlinson
Vice President of Culinary
Ford's Garage USA
Andrew Smith
Managing Partner
Savory Restaurant Fund
Robin Robison
Chief Operating Officer
Modern Restaurant Concepts

What are you responsible for at your company?
Operations, training, restaurant services, technology

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Fast casual brands focused on better-for-you food that is delicious!

What excites you about the future of this industry?
The ability to innovate and change to meet consumer demand while providing great opportunities for people to grow in the restaurant industry.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Crab Ramen with truffle butter broth

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I used to drive a school bus!

Jeff Chandler
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
Paul Damico
Fuzzy's Taco Shop

Paul Damico is an accomplished and well-respected executive with over 35 years of food service experience in the hospitality industry. Paul's career includes top leadership roles in premium organizations, including Host Marriott, FoodBrand, LLC, Creative Host, SSP America, FOCUS Brands portfolio of restaurants, Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill, and Global Franchise Group. In August of 2021, he was named Chief Executive Officer of Experiential Brands, parent to Fuzzy's Taco Shop.

In 2008, Mr. Damico was recruited to Moe's Southwest Grill (a Roark Capital/Focus Brands company) as President of the organization. Over six years, he grew the company from 200 locations to 680, leading the industry in new restaurant openings and culinary development. During his time with Moe's, Mr. Damico delivered 23 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales growth and was named by Fast Casual Magazine as a Top 26 Executive.

In the middle of the pandemic, in 2020, he was recruited as CEO to lead Global Franchise Group, made up of over 2,000 restaurant locations under Great American Cookie, Marble Slab Creamery, Hot Dog On A Stick, Pretzel Maker, and Round Table Pizza. In early 2021 he successfully sold GFG to Fat Brands.

Following the sale of Global Franchise Group, he partnered with Atlanta-based NRD Capital and was named CEO of Experiential Brands, a new restaurant holding company with Fuzzy's Taco Shop as the first portfolio brand.

An active member of the restaurant industry, Mr. Damico is an International Franchise Association Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) and a Board Member of the National Restaurant Association Fast Casual Industry Council. Mr. Damico has also served on the Georgia Restaurant Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association Advisory Boards.

Scott Taylor
Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux
Adenah Bayoh
Founder & Owner

Adenah Bayoh embodies the American dream. At age 13, she escaped the civil war in her native country of Liberia, immigrated to the United States and is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in her home state of New Jersey. Inspired by her grandmother, who owned a restaurant in Liberia, Adenah is now the owner of 7 restaurants including 4 IHOP franchises in northern New Jersey. She opened her first IHOP in Irvington Township, New Jersey at the age of 27, making her one of the youngest franchisees in the country at that time. Because of the success of this flagship location along with her other business ventures, she is the second largest employer in Irvington.

In late 2017, Adenah launched Cornbread, her first independent fast casual, farm-to-table, soul food restaurant, which she co-founded with fellow entrepreneur, Zadie B. Smith. They recently opened their second Cornbread in downtown Newark. Additionally, in keeping with Adenah’s mission of bringing high quality food and services to urban communities, in late July she launched her latest restaurant concept, Urban Vegan, in downtown Newark.

Steph So
Head of Digital Experience
Shake Shack
Holly Petre
Digital Editor
Nation's Restaurant News
Bryce Fluellen
Executive Director of Social Equity Franchise & Philanthropy
Andre Vener
Dog Haus
Nathaniel Ru

Nathaniel Ru is the Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of sweetgreen, leading the brand and their award-winning creative team. His passion for storytelling has led him to work at the unique intersection of food, lifestyle and social impact. He oversees a team of thinkers and marketers who use creativity and storytelling to help redefine what the fast-food industry will look like in the years to come.

Nathaniel and his co-founders started sweetgreen in 2007, opening their first location in Georgetown, DC, just three months out of college. Their vision is to be as ubiquitous as traditional fast-food, but far more transparent and honest. Since inception, sweetgreen has served over 200 million healthy meals.

Nathaniel graduated from Georgetown University and lives in Los Angeles.

Alicia Kelso Headshot
Alicia Kelso
Executive Editor
Nation's Restaurant News
Christi Ravneberg
Director, New Product and Development
Nation's Restaurant News
Joanna Fantozzi
Senior Editor
Nation's Restaurant News

What are you responsible for at your company?
I'm the technology reporter at Nation's Restaurant News

What excites you about the future of this industry?
I'm excited about the definition of restaurant expanding to mean so much more: digital presence, ghost kitchens, CPG, and the metaverse.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
My mom's Sunday dinner (pasta and meatballs with 'gravy')

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I got married twice because of the pandemic, with one small wedding and one large party, so technically I have two wedding anniversaries!

Andy Hooper
Hart House

As CEO of Hart House, a new modern plant-based quick service restaurant chain set to reinvent the fast-food industry, Andy Hooper is on a mission to revolutionize every aspect of the restaurant industry from the food to the customer experience, to the needs of employees. With more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Hooper is a proven leader and expert on people development, operations, brand, and technology. He has led diverse multi-unit teams for domestic and international brands, developed technical product and driven culinary innovation, increased talent development and guest satisfaction/engagement and is responsible for rapid expansion and shaping brand culture.

Most recently, Hooper served as President, COO, and CPO for &pizza, where he led the business through rapid growth and transformation with the opening of three new markets, built a world class leadership team, and oversaw the development of the proprietary &pizza operating system, an adaptive intelligence system responsible for the automation of enterprise functions that fueled the digital transformation of the business. During his tenure, &pizza delivered best-in-class unit volumes and returns on capital, fueling multiple rounds of growth capital and increasing enterprise valuations. Previously, Andy served as Chief Innovation Officer & Chief People Officer at Cafe Rio Mexican Grill and held various positions with Burger King Corporation. Hooper is excited to lead the Hart House team, delivering ground-breaking food that delights their guests and shatters the expectations of what plant-based food can be. He currently resides with his family in Washington, D.C.

Gregg Majewski
Craveworthy Brands

Gregg Majewski is the former CEO/COO/CFO of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and founder of Craveworthy Brands, a growing portfolio of diverse, relevant and highly efficient brands built on an unbeatable proposition for both consumers and prospective franchisees. In the Craveworthy Brands emerging concepts category, the company owns, operates and franchises Wing It On!, The Budlong, Krafted Burger Bar + Tap and Lucky Cat. Its legacy brands category features, Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill and Flat Top Grill, all formerly part of Mongolian Concepts for which Majewski previously served as CEO. While at Jimmy John’s, Gregg expanded the company from 33 restaurants to 300 open and another 600 sold. He implemented and restructured all 300 of Jimmy John’s restaurants’ operational standards by introducing new systems, procedures, management incentive programs, training programs, franchisee enablement and shifting marketing strategies toward grassroots and a focus on freaky fast delivery. As a senior business executive who has established a resounding executive career of over 23 years in Food & Beverage, he has held instrumental roles in developing and guiding leaders to restructure working relations, revitalizing company ethos and conceptualizing concepts that have resulted in multi-million-dollar growth. As a founder and executive recognized for his capabilities in business transformation and business development, Majewski specializes in influencing board and stakeholder decisions, introducing new revenue streams and developing novel strategies that values human capital while championing business goals simultaneously.

Michael Schatzberg
Michael "Schatzy" Schatzberg
Managing Director
Branded Restaurants
Juan George
858 Partners

Juan (JG) George is the Co-Founder of 858 Partners, a boutique restaurant technology management & investment firm that he co-founded with his former CRO in January 2023. 858 Partners provides go-to-market expertise, capital, and connections to restaurant technology organizations possessing the ingredients to achieve extraordinary success within the Enterprise Restaurant Vertical. Prior to launching his agency, JG was the former SVP of Enterprise Sales at Olo (NYSE: Olo), the leading on-demand commerce platform for the multi-unit restaurant space. JG joined Olo as a Seed Stage start-up and over the course of a 15+ year run helped the company go public on the NYSE under the ticker OLO. Olo’s growth story is a masterclass in focused, lean, and efficient GTM execution in a period of market excess.

Tiffany Derry
TD Concepts
Lauren Fernandez
Principal, The Fernandez Company
CEO & Founder, Full Course
Jason McGowan
Co-Founder & CEO

Jason McGowan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Crumbl, America's fastest-growing gourmet cookie company. Prior to bringing friends and families together over a box of the best cookies in the world, Jason built We're Related, an app that helped connect 120 million users to their families, founded a ring company called EMBR, helped design and build Nintendo TVii, and was top 40 under 40 in BusinessQ Magazine. He is a proud American Citizen, who recently immigrated from Canada. He thrives on working with brilliant people in creating simple, high-quality, products and services that can improve the lives of others and impact society for the better. Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and seven children, competing in board games, golfing, and traveling.

Leigh Anne Zinsmeister
Group Managing Editor
Nation's Restaurant News

What excites you about the future of this industry?
All of the emerging brands that are finding ways to thrive in such a weird environment.

What is your all-time favorite meal?
I'm a breakfast girl: A Belgian waffle and crispy bacon with a mimosa

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I once won a Grey's Anatomy trivia contest and ended up using a full day of PTO on a random Tuesday to collect my prize: Meeting one of the stars.

Mario Del Pero
Partner, DOM Food Group
Founder, Mendocino Farms
Otto Othman Headshot
Otto Othman
Co-Founder & CEO

What are you responsible for at your company?
Lead our above store team and brand every day.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
PINCHO is an elevated Latin street food concept centered around burgers + kebabs. Foods you know, with flavors you've never experienced before.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
Food will always be something that brings people together. No matter what new technology is launched, we will always sit down and break bread together. Always focus on hospitality and you will always win.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Sushi Nigiri at Hillstone

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I got suspended for 9 days of school in 9th grade for hacking into the school computer network.

Maria Rivera
Smalls Sliders

Maria is a grassroots executive with more than 20 years of experience leading multi- unit and omnichannel retail and food service companies. Maria simplifies issues and builds organizations to hold a stronger position in the customer eye. She is known and recognized for her transformational work in some of the most relevant brands in the Retail & Restaurant space (Krispy Kreme, Darden Restaurants, TGI Friday’s, The Walt Disney Company). Given today’s massive disruption in consumer behavior, she brings a unique perspective, at a time where reimagining brands faster than the rate that consumers are reimagining themselves truly matters. With a strong ability to connect brands to purpose and differentiation, Maria is known to put people at the core of what matters most and unlocking capability to drive performance. In late 2022, Maria was named Chief Executive Officer for Smalls Holding, LLC, the parent company of Smalls Sliders. With over 40 units in its development pipeline, the brand has garnered a fanatical guest following being named one of Nation’s Restaurant News Breakout brand of the Year. Most recently, Maria served as Krispy Kreme’s US President, where under her tenure revenues grew from $300M to ~$1B and delivered increased EBITDA growth YOY. As part of her progressive growth vision, Maria and her team expanded Krispy Kreme’s omnichannel strategy, adding innovative layers across e commerce, and points of access expansion. Before Krispy Kreme, Maria served in a variety of executive roles for Logan’s Roadhouse, TGI Friday’s, Darden Restaurants, Caesar’s, Hilton, and The Walt Disney Company, where she led critical implementation strategies in M&A, operations, supply chain, technology, development, and business intelligence. Maria was at the forefront of navigating the global pandemic creating an enterprise response team while driving innovation which surpassed shareholder expectations and earning “best in category” industryleading food safety recognition. Maria is passionate about championing DE&I initiatives and has advocated for minority Employee Resource Groups and increased female representation in the industry. A visionary leader who sees this new era of disruption filled with possibilities to reimagine companies, brands, and leadership models, Maria’s superpower is strengthening the cultural fabric that unlocks agility and that drives speed to market.

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

What excites you about the future of this industry?
Operators are going to incorporate an expanding variety of cuisines and flavor combinations in their food & beverage offerings.

What is your all-time favorite meal?
Honey roasted duck with young ginger at a restaurant near the Bangkok government headquarters.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I despise raw tomatoes.

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