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Live Event

Speakers

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
Alicia Kelso
Executive Editor
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!

Tiffany Derry
Founder/CEO
TD Concepts
Andy Hooper
CEO
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.

Scott Taylor
President/COO
Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux
Andrew Smith
Managing Partner
Savory Restaurant Fund
Sam Oches
Editor-in-Chief
Nation's Restaurant News
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.

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.

Steph So
Head of Digital Experience
Shake Shack
Jessica Tomlinson
Director of Culinary
Ford's Garage USA
Michael "Schatzy" Schatzberg
Managing Director
Branded Restaurants
Jeff Chandler
CEO
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
Briana Valdez
Founder & CEO
HomeState
Lauren Fernandez
Principal, The Fernandez Company
CEO & Founder, Full Course
Bryce Fluellen
Executive Director of Social Equity Franchise & Philanthropy
Everytable
Andre Vener
Co-Founder
Dog Haus
Nathaniel Ru
Co-Founder
sweetgreen

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.

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!

Holly Petre
Digital Editor
Nation's Restaurant News
Juan George
Co-Founder
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.

Otto Othman
Co-Founder & CEO
PINCHO

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.

Mario Del Pero
Partner, DOM Food Group
Founder, Mendocino Farms
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.

Christi Ravneberg
Director, New Product and Development
Nation's Restaurant News
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