2020 Conference speakers

Learn about the 40+ leading restaurateurs and industry experts who spoke  at last year's Main Street Strong restaurant conference. 


Kofi Amoo-Gottfried

VP, Marketing


Kofi Amoo-Gottfried is the VP of Marketing at DoorDash. Prior to DoorDash, He was VP of Brand & Consumer Marketing at Facebook, having previously served as the company's Head of Consumer Marketing for internet.org. Before Facebook, Amoo-Gottfried was Chief Strategy Officer at FCB New York. He joined FCB from Bacardi Global Brands, where he was the Global Communications Director for the Rum category and the architect for the reinvention of the Bacardi brand. As the Founder and Managing Director of Publicis West Africa, Amoo-Gottfried created and launched the first majority-owned network agency on the African continent and as the Senior Strategic Planner on Nike at Wieden+Kennedy, he crafted the strategy for Nike’s global Beijing Olympics campaign. In 2014, Amoo-Gottfried was named to Ad Age’s “40 Under 40” list and in September 2017, Kofi won ADCOLOR’s “Rockstar” Award. He has a BA in Economics and International Studies from Macalester College. He serves on the Board of Population Services International — the global health and human services NGO dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

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Toney Anaya



Toney Anaya is a government relations executive with over 20 years of international and domestic leadership experience. Toney is known for identifying and developing talent, over-the-horizon strategic thinking, adaptability, and for advancing proactive, solution-driven approaches to corporate issue management. Starting as a regional public affairs lead for Coca-Cola in the Southwestern United States, Toney was soon tapped to lead government relations in the East. Following his regional success, Toney was selected to lead Coca-Cola's US state and local government affairs efforts in Washington DC. Toney was tasked with developing and preparing Coca-Cola public affairs teams in Latin America and Asia via long-term assignments. In his current role as Global Head of Government Relations at DoorDash, Toney is building and leading a team of GR professionals in the US, Canada, and Australia. Toney received his political science degree from the University of New Mexico and his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He is fluent in Spanish. A US Army veteran, Toney first served as a medic with the New Mexico National Guard. He also served as an infantry and judge advocate general officer. Toney and his wife Maggie have two children, Jack and Campbell.

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Alex Askew



Alex Askew received his first job offer as a personal chef at age 14 through a high school vocational work program. After six years of working in restaurants in and out of New York City, he attended the Culinary Institute of America and graduated in 1989. Working in restaurants broadened his experience with different cooking styles and cuisines, which include Cajun and Creole, Holistic, Latin and American fusion. In 1993 Askew co-founded the BCAGlobal which dedicates itself to education, awareness and exposure for people of color seeking career advancement within the culinary and hospitality industry. He was selected as a 2014 National Kellogg Fellow in Leadership and 2020 Castanea Food Systems Fellow. With over 35 years in the restaurant and hospitality field, Askew uses the knowledge and experience of his foundation to further growth and development in the culinary industry, and continues the important, social-change work using food as a nexus and mindful eating as a platform to improve lives in the larger community.

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Basu Ratnam

Basu Ratnam



Basu Ratnam is the founder of a healthy, Indian-inspired cafe called INDAY with four locations in NYC. Prior to founding INDAY, Ratnam was an investor at Sycamore Partners, a $3.5 billion, consumer-focused private equity fund. Prior to his time at Sycamore Partners, Ratnam worked at Bain & Co. as a management consultant, where he worked with Fortune 500 clients in the Tech, Consumer/Retail and Private Equity groups.

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Emma Liem Beckett


Restaurant Dive

Emma Liem Beckett is the editor of Restaurant Dive, a daily digital business publication that offers executives and operators insight into the ever-changing restaurant world, exploring critical issues from AI drive-thru technology to the rise of third-party delivery and COVID-19's impact on the industry.

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Charles Bililies



Charles Bililies is the Founder and CEO of Souvla. A Greek-American, Bililies comes from a family tradition of restaurateurs and is passionate about the hospitality experience. Bon Appetit Magazine dubbed Bililies “the Mark Zuckerberg of fast fine restaurants.”Bililies leads strategic development for the restaurant group and serves as an advisor to partners in the food and tech space.Charles moved to California in 2006 and worked for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry as well as Michael Mina. He holds degrees from both Cornell University and Johnson & Wales University.

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Karen Browne


One Off Hospitality

Karen Browne brings over 20 years of executive leadership experience focused on driving transformational growth and value across some of the most prominent companies in the US. As Chief Executive Officer of One Off Hospitality, Chicago’s acclaimed, multi-James Beard Award-winning hospitality collective, Browne works to build upon the widely-celebrated success of the organization and drive growth opportunities across culinary innovation, private events and catering programs.

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Kirby Bumpus



Kirby has over a decade of career experience centered on public health and wellness. She served as a Program Officer at the Robin Hood Foundation, before spending five years in the federal government at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and as a Senior Policy Advisor at the White House in the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama, working on “Let’s Move”, an initiative promoting nutrition and physical activity for children and their families. Following her policy work, she joined Under Armour in digital marketing where she and her team grew the brand through integrations with popular fitness apps like “MyFitnessPal.” In her current role at sweetgreen, she bridges her passion for public health and business. As Head of Social Impact and Inclusion, she addresses food education and food access to bring sweetgreen’s mission of “building healthier communities by connecting people to real food” to life. Kirby earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford and her Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

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Erin Butler



Erin Butler is based in the DoorDash NYC office and leads the merchant operations team. Her team works directly with partners to help them optimize for delivery via POS integrations, as well as initiatives to drive quality — order accuracy, quick deliveries and low cancellations.

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Steven Clarke


Golden Krust Caribbean Restaurants

Steven S. Clarke is the director of marketing and public relations for Golden Krust Franchising, Inc., a popular Black-owned and operated chain of Caribbean-themed, fast-casual restaurants with more than 120 units in seven states. Clarke has managed the full spectrum of marketing and communications needs for Golden Krust since 2017. Under his leadership, the company has conducted a full rebrand (including restaurant and retail packaging), expanded its market share and profits, grown its retail, wholesale and specialized contract divisions, and attracted a growing number of prospective franchisees to the brand. His expertise includes a deep understanding of market research and analysis, a critical component of the company’s growth strategy. Steven’s multimillion-dollar, multi-state marketing budget supports local and regional advertising and promotion in hyperlocal, traditional, and digital spaces. His portfolio includes all of the company’s digital assets, including a newly redesigned website that supports e-commerce, and the company’s first mobile app, which features a customer loyalty reward program boosting convenience offering order ahead and delivery. Clarke came up in Golden Krust and developed his knowledge of the business by working first as a retail food preparer and server and then as a retail store manager. Shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. John’s University in New York in 2007, Steven returned to Golden Krust and held successive roles of increasing responsibility in production, plant operations, distribution, logistics, and concept development.

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Yuanyuan Cui



Yuanyuan leads the Merchant Analytics team at DoorDash, driving experimentations and key analytical insights on Merchant products, strategies and operations. Before DoorDash, she worked at APT/Mastercard focusing on in-market experimentations for retail and restaurant enterprise merchants. She holds a PhD from MIT.

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2017-headshot - Katie Daire

Katie Daire



Katie Daire leads B2B brand marketing at DoorDash, with a focus on supporting DoorDash’s restaurant partners. She previously led marketing at Caviar, overseeing all aspects of brand and growth marketing, joining the DoorDash team after Caviar was acquired from Square in 2019. Prior to Caviar, she worked at Trulia with experience in both consumer and real estate industry marketing programs. Her favorite thing on DoorDash is looking for East Bay restaurants with family meal deals, and trying them all.

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Christopher Gaulke


Cornell University, School of Hotel Administration

Christopher Gaulke is a lecturer in food and beverage management at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. He teaches courses in foodservice management, restaurant management, purchasing and supply chain management, and entrepreneurship and new product development.

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Jill Gray



Jill Gray and her husband Dario Monni opened Tortello in July 2019. With a global career in marketing and tech, she helped support Monni’s lifelong dream and career in hospitality with their first restaurant. It was named Chicago Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” in 2020 and nominated for the esteemed Jean Banchet Award in it’s first few months. Tortello has earned a place in Chicago’s heart with its Italian charm and commitment to high-quality ingredients and the artisan traditions of pasta-making. Tortello is a casual, counter-service pasta shop and chef-driven restaurant.

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Gonzalo Guzman



Gonzalo Gonzalez Guzman is the chef and partner of Nopalito in San Francisco, California and author of James Beard Award-winning Nopalito ~ A Mexican Kitchen. Nopalito is a vibrant neighborhood Mexican kitchen, celebrating the traditional cookery of Mexico and utilizing a philosophy of purchasing local, organic and sustainable ingredients.

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Marilou Halvorsen


New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association (NJRHA)

Marilou Halvorsen is the President and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association (NJRHA) headquartered in Trenton, NJ. Selected for this position in October 2012, she leads an organization that represents the Garden State's 27,000 eating and drinking establishments, generating $15 billion in annual sales and employing over 315,000 people. Prior to the NJRHA, Halvorsen was the Director of Marketing for one of New Jersey’s largest seaside resorts: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach and Casino Pier in Seaside Heights. Throughout her career, she’s sat on many influential state boards and committees, including the New Jersey Travel Industry Association and Jersey Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. She was also the former Chair of the Governor’s Tourism Conference. Appointed by three separate governors, she was the first woman Commissioner of the Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission, and later chaired the Commission for seven years. In 2015, she was voted one of the top 50 influential business women in the state by NJBiz, and is on the board of the National Restaurant Educational Foundation and an executive board member of the Council of State Restaurants Association. With 30+ years of business, tourism and entertainment industry experience, Halvorsen plans to use that knowledge to increase membership and add value to NJRHA’s programs.

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Tanya Holland


Brown Sugar Kitchen

Acclaimed for her inventive take on modern soul food and comfort classics, Tanya Holland is the Executive Chef/Owner of the internationally renowned and beloved Brown Sugar Kitchen restaurant, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of The Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook and New Soul Cooking. Holland competed on the 15th season of Top Chef on Bravo, was the host and soul food expert on Food Network’s Melting Pot, and appears on the new HBO Max show Selena + Chef featuring Selena Gomez (Holland appears on the August 27, 2020 episode). She is a frequent contributing writer and chef to the James Beard Foundation, and Brown Sugar Kitchen has received multiple Michelin Bib Gourmand awards. She is an in-demand public speaker and lecturer who frequently leads the conversation on inclusion and equity in the hospitality industry.

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Andy Hooper



Andy Hooper is a restaurant industry veteran with 15+ years of people, operations, brand and technology leadership experience. He has led diverse multi-unit teams for both domestic and international brands, responsible for shaping culture, product and culinary innovation, talent development, and guest satisfaction and engagement. Hooper currently serves as president of &pizza, the anti-establishment establishment built on the renown of its creative pies and craft beverages, shop design and the unity of its ampersand-tattooed Tribe of employees. He previously served as the company’s Chief People Officer. Prior to &pizza, Hooper served as the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief People Officer for Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, and earlier in his career he held a variety of leadership roles in HR for Burger King Corporation, both domestically and internationally. Andy holds a degree in Marketing and Human Resources from the University of Miami Business school. He and his family live on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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Chen-Chen Huo


A La Couch / MAC'D

Chen-Chen Huo is a restaurateur and food delivery aficionado based out of San Francisco. He started with a mac and cheese restaurant in 2017 and is now finding new ways to help restaurants reach more customers.

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Stephanie Izard


Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat, Cabra, Tiny Goat

Stephanie Izard, James Beard “Best Chef: Great Lakes” recipient in 2013 and Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef” in 2011, is the Executive Chef and Owner of four Chicago restaurants, along with the forthcoming Girl & the Goat LA. A 2011 James Beard “Best New Restaurant” nominee, Girl & the Goat has been praised by high-profile publications such as Saveur, New York Times, Food & Wine, Better Homes and Gardens and more. Little Goat, Izard’s highly successful follow-up, encompasses a diner, coffee shop, bakery and bar. In March 2016, Izard opened her third restaurant, a Chinese concept called Duck Duck Goat in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. In 2019, Stephanie’s Peruvian-inspired eatery, Cabra Cevicheria, opened on the rooftop of The Hoxton in Chicago. Izard was awarded the coveted title of “Iron Chef” after winning season 1 of Food Network’s Iron Chef Gauntlet. Additionally, Izard was the first woman to win Bravo’s Top Chef (Season 4/2008) and is the only winner of the original version of the show to take home the title of “Fan Favorite.” Among other projects, Izard has a product line called “This Little Goat,” consisting of cooking sauces and spice mixes for home cooks and a nationwide meal kit service called “Girl & the Goat by Stephanie Izard” in partnership with Goldbelly. Izard’s first book, Girl in the Kitchen, was released in 2011 and her second book Gather & Graze was released in April 2018.

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Liz Jarvis-Shean



Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean is Vice President of Communications and Policy at DoorDash. Prior to that, she was Head of Global Corporate Communications at Airbnb and previously oversaw the company's global public affairs team. Elizabeth has managed strategic communications at pioneering companies including Tesla Motors, healthcare technology startup Nuna, and data science firm Civis Analytics. She helped shape and drive research, rapid response and messaging for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and his White House, and held leadership positions at CNBC and political research consultancy IMS, Inc. A native of Sacramento, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Derreck Johnson


Home of Chicken and Waffles

Derreck Johnson, a third generation Oaklander, was raised in West Oakland’s Acorn housing projects, an underserved neighborhood. His mom worked up to three jobs so he could have a better life, and taught him to work hard and selflessly for others, take pride in his community and keep his word. Growing up, Johnson saw people rise in inspiring ways, but also fall tragically. Thanks to his strong extended family and community, Derreck went to high school, then Fisk University, a historic black college in the south. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which promoted brotherhood, service, and community advocacy. After graduation, he came home determined to serve the community that built him. Today, he’s a successful entrepreneur making an incredible difference in Oakland. In 2004, Derreck opened Home of Chicken and Waffles in Jack London Square. The restaurant would become a pillar of the community — a way to help Oaklanders who hadn’t been as lucky as Johnson. Over the years, Johnson has created hundreds of jobs, but he’s most proud that 70 percent of his employees are formerly incarcerated individuals who didn't receive a second chance until he provided one. Johnson finds nothing more inspiring than helping turn someone’s life around and seeing them get their first paycheck, first apartment, or even a college degree. During the COVID-19 crisis, Johnson's restaurant has provided free meals to hospital workers and kitchen space to help feed the community. For Johnson, this crisis is personal, because he knows just how much his employees depend on a functioning economy and a paycheck.

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Marissa Kaplan



Marissa Kaplan is based in New York, NY and leads DoorDash strategy and operations focused on restaurant experience. Her team builds merchant-friendly tools and services, and ensures restaurants have a seamless partnership with DoorDash.

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Taki Kastanis



Taki Kastanis was “born” into the restaurant business, growing up with hard working parents who owned up to ten family-oriented eateries. As a child, he was often seen doing his homework in a booth at one of the restaurants while waiting for his parents to finish work. In his teen years, he happily put in his time at the family diners, working after school, weekends, and whenever his parents needed him. At the age of 20, Kastanis took a break from school to open his first breakfast and lunch concept. While it was a learning experience at such a ripe age, he sold it about a year later and returned to business school. After attending the University of Illinois for three years, he went on to get his Real Estate broker’s license and subsequently began a career in the real estate industry. However, with the restaurant business in his blood, it was hard to stay away. At the age of 24, he returned to the food industry by purchasing an existing restaurant in a northwest suburb of Chicago. After a year and a half, Kastanis sold that property and decided to turn his attentions to honing what was to become the Yolk concept – one that he knew would have an urban appeal. In 2006, he cracked open the first Yolk in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood.

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Alicia Kelso



Alicia Kelso has covered the restaurant industry since 2010 with a focus on the quick-service, fast-casual and pizza segments. She previously served as editorial director of foodservice media at Networld Media Group and currently writes for Forbes.com and RestaurantDive.com. Kelso's work has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Bloomberg, The Seattle Times, Crain’s Chicago, Good Morning America and Franchise Asia Magazine.

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Sean Kennedy


National Restaurant Association

Sean Kennedy joined the National Restaurant Association in June 2019 as executive vice president of public affairs. He is the group’s senior-most executive in the development and execution of its multiyear strategy, directing all advocacy, federal and state lobbying, grassroots activity, policy analysis, and association litigation and Restaurant Law Center cases. Kennedy joined the Association from Airlines for America, a trade group representing leading U.S.-based passenger and cargo airlines, where he served as senior vice president, global government affairs. His portfolio spanned government relations around the world, and his efforts helped achieve a series of bipartisan legislative victories in a divided Congress. Before working for the airline industry, Kennedy served in the Obama White House as special assistant to the President for legislative affairs. From 2008 to 2011, he was tasked with promoting Administration initiatives in Congress and identifying challenges and opportunities for President Obama’s legislative agenda. He also served as a liaison to moderate Republican and Democrat Senators, and was the lead White House official working across political, vetting, and communications teams to guide the President’s nominees through the Senate confirmation process. From 2007 to 2009, Kennedy served as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO.), where he helped her establish her unique brand and voice and sustain a high public and media profile, and oversaw operations at her Washington, D.C. and state offices. From 2004 to 2007, he was an assistant vice president for federal relations at AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, serving as its primary point of contact for both U.S. House and Senate Democratic Leadership. He also was primary liaison for the House and Senate Commerce Committees on technology policy issues. From 1995 to 2004, Kennedy served as legislative director for House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO.), where he managed day-to-day operations of the Congressional office, its press strategy and legislative staff. He received his bachelor’s degree from Emory University and law degree from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America.

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Chantal Leonard



Chantal Leonard has been in software for 12 years, starting her career at Microsoft and Evernote. She is currently the Senior Director of the Merchant Product group at DoorDash — the group's overall mission is to be a trusted partner for growth for DoorDash's restaurant partners. Leonard works to create the tools and applications that restaurants use to partner with DoorDash including the Merchant Portal, the Order Manager tablet, and many POS integrations.

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Katherine Lynch



As Senior Manager, Lynch stewards Kiva's strategic partnerships in the United States. In 2020, she and her team aim to disburse over $10 million in microloans to over 1,500 entrepreneurs who wouldn't be able to access capital elsewhere. Prior to joining Kiva six year ago, she worked at both Accion East and Grameen America, two other prominent microlenders in the U.S. Katherine strongly believes that entrepreneurship and access to affordable capital are foundational to building wealth equity in the U.S. Lynch holds a B.A. from Washington University in St Louis and has an M.A. in Social Enterprise Administration from Columbia University.

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Lawrence Lynch


National Restaurant Association

As Senior Vice President of Certification and Operations for the National Restaurant Association, Larry Lynch represents the Association in efforts related to food safety and science. He also oversees the development and delivery of the association’s array of accredited credentials, including program accreditation, customer operations support, state food safety compliance coordination, and food safety instructor quality. Lynch is also president of the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals. His focus on food safety and certification includes 17 years of active participation in the Conference for Food Protection where he has served for 12 years on the Food Manager Certification Committee and three terms on Council II overseeing Conference administration. He has been active in the Global Food Safety Initiative and is a subject matter expert for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). He helped develop ISO 22003, which includes the rules applicable for the audit and certifications of a food safety management system. He earned his BA in Political Science at Rutgers University and a Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from Rollins College, Florida.

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Charisse McGill


French Toast Bites

On November 15, 2018, Charisse R. McGill resigned from her day job. Two days, she later opened her French Toast Bites stand in the middle of Philadelphia. In the first 45 days, McGill grossed 3/4 of her former annual salary, and that immediate success set the trajectory for the new business. In just two years, she has opened three semi-perm seasonal retail locations, brought her signature trademarked spice blend to market, and has participated in over 180 days of events. On July 17, 2020 Charisse became the first Black woman to own and operate a food establishment in Spruce Street Harbor Park and will become the first Black woman in the state of Pennsylvania to have her own craft beer through a collaboration with Doylestown Brewing Co. being released Fall 2020. McGill earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management in 2003 and is now enrolled in the MBA Food Marketing program at Saint Joseph's University with an anticipated graduation date of 2020.

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Nicole Milnthorpe


Smokey Bones

Nicole Milnthorpe serves as Chief Financial Officer of Smokey Bones and has more than 20 years of experience in financial services including Big 4 and C-suite executive positions. Milnthorpe joined Smokey Bones in 2015 and has been focused on maximizing brand value through leadership and team building. Nicole previously served as President and CFO of Shula’s Steakhouse. Before Shula’s, Nicole spent nearly 13 years with Deloitte in various capacities including Senior Manager in the audit practice, focusing on various industries.

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Christopher Payne



Christopher Payne is the Chief Operating Officer at DoorDash, a technology company that connects customers with their favorite local and national businesses in more than 4000 cities across the United States, Canada and Australia. Starting with restaurants, DoorDash is building the infrastructure and logistics platform to allow any local merchant to deliver their merchandise and expand their business. Prior to joining DoorDash in January, 2016, Christopher led the North American business at eBay, ran the development of MSN Search (now Bing) and mapping (Virtual Earth) for Microsoft, and led Amazon's expansion beyond books into video, electronics, wireless, PCs, and software. He holds a B.A. in US History from Dartmouth College.

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Tom Pickett



Tom is the Chief Revenue Officer at DoorDash where he is responsible for business development, sales, and growth of DoorDash's partnerships with restaurants, convenience, grocery and retail partners. Previously, he was CEO of Ellation, a leading global direct-to-consumer digital media company with several fan-focused video services including Crunchyroll, VRV and RoosterTeeth and led the successful sale to WarnerMedia in 2018. Prior to Ellation, Tom spent 10 years at Google ultimately serving as Vice President of Content and Operations at YouTube. Earlier in his career, Tom served as an F/A-18 pilot and “Top Gun” graduate in the US Navy. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering (with honors) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

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Mariah Ray



As Policy and Partnerships Lead at DoorDash, Ray develops and executes the company’s policy strategy and establishes partnerships that align with key policy and business objectives. She is a native Chicagoan who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Hudson Riehle


National Restaurant Association

As Senior Vice President of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association, Hudson Riehle directs the Association’s consumer, economic, technology, market, human resources, tourism and operations research, as well as oversees its extensive knowledge center activities. Frequently cited by major news organizations and appearing on national television broadcasts, he has authored a variety of articles and serves as an information source and spokesperson for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Appointed by the Secretary of Labor, he has been a member of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Research Advisory Council; a former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Alexandria (VA) Convention and Visitors Association; a member of the Center for Food Integrity Consumer Research Advisory Panel and the Wharton Executive Advisory Panel; and is currently included in the current edition of Who’s Who in America. Riehle received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Skidmore College in New York and his Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

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Lewis Rudd


Ezell's Famous Chicken

Lewis Rudd is President and Co-Founder of Ezell’s Famous Chicken. After waiting six years for initial funding, the family opened the first Ezell’s Famous Chicken store on February 3, 1984 in Seattle's Central District. Since opening, Ezell’s was featured in Esquire Magazine as the Most Life-Changing Fried Chicken in America and has many famous fans including Oprah Winfrey, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Quincy Jones, Norm from “Cheers”, Danny Glover, George Foreman and the Seattle Seahawks. Ezell's Famous Chicken has grown to 16 fast casual locations with over 325 employees, and built a brand that is recognized nationally. Rudd grew up in Marshall, Texas in a large family of ten siblings, with strong values. His first restaurant experience was as a teenager working three years for a local chicken chain, which inspired Ezell’s Famous Chicken. Later, Rudd joined the military as a mechanic, which provided him with leadership skills that would become extremely valuable as a business owner. After the military, he continued to work in the field of mechanics for Weyerhaeuser Company for three years. An entrepreneur at heart, Rudd also owned and operated a photography studio, as well as a talent agency developing and managing local talent. In 1984, the dream of owning his own restaurant business became a reality. Rudd and his family saw their mission as simple: Provide fresh and high quality chicken and good homemade side dishes, served with fast and courteous service. Ezell’s makes their signature dishes from scratch daily at each location. The family-owned and operated company had nine of the ten siblings working at Ezell’s over the years, three of the family founders are still active in day-to-day operations. With Rudd’s leadership, Ezell’s evolved from fast food to fast casual dining, added a catering division, mobile food trucks, delivery, and continues to implement technology in key areas of the business. Ezell’s Famous Chicken is now a household name in Seattle and developed a loyal following throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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Mahesh Sadarangani


Wingstop Restaurants Inc.

Mahesh G. Sadarangani has served as Wingstop’s Chief Operating Officer since January 2020. Sadarangani joined the company in July 2019 as SVP of Channels and has more than 20 years of operational leadership experience. Sadarangani previously held executive roles at CEC Entertainment, the parent company for Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza, where he most served as Chief Administrative Officer of CEC Entertainment and President of the Peter Piper Pizza brand leading strategy, revenue management, supply chain, and operations. Previous executive roles include the leadership of financial planning and analysis, sales, and various strategic functions across a range of industries and companies.

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Chris Shepherd


Underbelly Hospitality

Midwest-raised, James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Shepherd has helped change the landscape of the Houston culinary scene since opening Underbelly in 2012. He built the restaurant to support the Houston food community and its suppliers by buying local and drawing inspiration from the people and cultures that live in the city. Thanks to Shepherd’s vision and passion, Underbelly was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit and Esquire, and named one of 38 essential restaurants in America by Eater. Shepherd was named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2013 and was then awarded the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. In 2017, Chris opened One Fifth, a five-year restaurant project that changes concepts every year. He closed Underbelly in March 2018 to convert the building into Georgia James, his take on a steakhouse. He also opened UB Preserv as his culinary interpretation of Houston’s evolution. He continues to tell the story of Houston food, but without limitations of locality and whole animal butchery. He formed Underbelly Hospitality in 2018 to preserve the ethos of Underbelly—learning about diverse cultures through food. In 2019, all three restaurants—UB Preserv, One Fifth Mediterranean and Georgia James—nabbed the No. 1 spot on Texas Monthly's list of the Best New Restaurants in Texas, and Georgia James was included on GQ's list of the best new restaurants in America. He was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2019 and was named Robb Report's Chef of the Year the same year. Chris’ first cookbook, Cook Like a Local: Flavors that Will Change the Way You Cook—and See the World, was published by Clarkson Potter in September 2019, and was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Foundation Book Award. Shepherd began his fine dining career at Brennan’s of Houston, where he spent seven years in the kitchen and then ran the wine program for two. He left Brennan’s in 2006 to open Catalan Food & Wine, which was named one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America that same year. Shepherd's foundation Southern Smoke has distributed more than $5 million—both directly to people in the food and beverage industry in need via the Emergency Relief Fund and to organizations that represent the needs of people in the industry.

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Randi Sirkin


STARR Restaurants

By the time she was 16, Randi Sirkin had already visited more countries than many adults, fostering a lifelong love of international art, music, food and culture that informs her professional life. During her time at Temple University, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communication, Sirkin pursued immersive travel experiences, studying Spanish at Universidad de Salamanca and cooking real Italian cuisine in Florence. She worked in graphic design and marketing before breaking into hospitality as a manager at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton. She was later recruited by Neil Stein to open Striped Bass in 1994, one of the most influential restaurants in the city’s then-nascent dining renaissance. Sirkin joined STARR in 2001, and as VP of Creative Services, she leads a dynamic team that handles everything from branding, promotions and e-commerce to guest relations and public relations. She’s overseen more than 50 openings during her career and her creative contributions have helped STARR earn multiple James Beard Foundation awards — individual accolades include recognition from Communication Arts for her branding work at Le Diplomate in Washington, D.C. and a “Friend for Life” honor from Action Wellness.

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Alex Susskind


Cornell University, School of Hotel Administration

Alex Susskind is a professor of food and beverage at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration in the S.C. Johnson College of Business, where he currently serves as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and director of the Cornell Institute for Food and Beverage Management. Professor Susskind earned his Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University with a specialization in organizational communication. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses addressing the operational and strategic elements of the restaurant business. Through his research program, Professor Susskind is currently examining service process management, the use of customer-facing technology, and communication networks in service-based organizations.

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Thuyen Tran


Monster Pho

Thuyen Tran is the Owner of Monster Pho in Oakland, California. He and his family are refugees from Vietnam — they took shelter in Thailand and the Philippines before coming to the US in 1989. At the core of his business and owner philosophy are two sayings his mother lived by: Treat people how you want to be treated and never feed anybody anything you would not want to eat.

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Liz Wattiker



Liz Wattiker is based in Austin, TX, and leads DoorDash's Merchant Success program. Her team is focused on creating and scaling efforts to bring best-in-class, elevated Support to DoorDash's merchant partners. Prior to joining the Global Support Ops team, Wattiker led Regional merchant-facing teams in the New York, Tri-State region, and Greater Texas. She has spent the last 8 years in the last-mile marketplace space across teams at Good Food Guys, Caviar, and Amazon. Outside of work, she enjoys climbing mountains, brewing beer, and early morning runs.

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Mike Whatley


National Restaurant Association

Mike Whatley is the Vice President of State and Local Affairs at the National Restaurant Association, where he advocates on behalf of the restaurant industry in all 50 states. He also oversees the Restaurant Advocacy Fund and the Association’s grassroots programs at the federal, state, and local levels, including the annual Public Affairs Conference. Prior to working at the Association, he worked in Congress for the House Oversight Committee. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with honors in Government and received his MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

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Katie Witman



Katie Witman is a Senior Policy Advisor for DoorDash. Prior to her current role, she spent five years on the Local Market Management team as General Manager of Boston and Regional General Manager of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. She has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. In her free time she loves taking adventures with her husband, Taylor and their four-year-old daughter, Charlotte and two-year-old son, Lachlan.

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Tony Xu



Tony Xu is the CEO and co-founder of DoorDash, a technology company passionate about transforming local businesses and dedicated to enabling new ways of working, earning, and living. Born in China, Tony came to America with his parents and grew up working in his mom’s restaurant. He started DoorDash to help small business owners succeed. Prior to co-founding DoorDash in 2013, Tony worked in Product at Square, led special projects for the CEO and CFO at eBay, and began his career at McKinsey and Company. He holds a B.S. with high honors in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from UC Berkeley and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he was an Arjay Miller Scholar.Founded in 2013, DoorDash empowers merchants to grow their businesses by offering on-demand delivery, data-driven insights, and better in-store efficiency, providing delightful experiences from door to door. Today, the company is the largest and fastest-growing industry leader operating in all 50 states and more than 4000 cities across the U.S and Canada.

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