Speaker Bios

2022 Speakers & Presenters Biographies

Alison Anne

Alison Anne

Leader of the #Restaurant Revolution

Working with restaurant owners to build their teams and their bottom line was never Alison's first choice of career. She was going to be... AN ACTOR. And this restaurant thing? Just a side gig. As you do, right? But that industry life got into her blood, and 16 years later, she led a team of 50 people doing $5m a year in revenue in one of DC's biggest sports bars.  And after seeing the high level of burnout, dissatisfaction, and turnover plaguing the industry, she discovered she had a knack for drilling down into the heart of what makes restaurants - and restaurant people - tick. Now her love for the industry focuses on employee support and well-being, from the GM to the dishwasher, and working with her clients to connect their vision and growth initiatives to their employees' needs. And oh yeah, actually having the time to do something about it.  Alison lives outside DC and is credentialed with the International Coaching Federation as a Professional Certified Coach. And she still occasionally fights the itch to hop back behind the stick.
Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett

Chef

Chef Michael Bennett life after leaving the Culinary Institute of America (1990); revolved around intense periods of kitchen management in the most exotic and chic South Florida dining environments.  2006, Michael exodus his family 1600 miles away to the Caribbean, broadening his subsist vibe for the food he loves. After years of investigating the region’s culinary attributes, he returned to pen four natural and healthy food cookbooks.  Now living in America’s Caribbean, the Florida Keys, he now pursues a lifestyle of healthy living. He and his wife Vicki have written a cookbook that features healthy-Cancer fighting food and cooking techniques.
Donald Burns

Donald Burns

Founder & CEO, The Restaurant Coach

Donald is The Restaurant Coach™, named one of the Definitive Restaurant Experts and one of 23 Hospitality Experts to Follow on Twitter.  He is the leading international trainer, speaker, author, and coach on how restaurant owners, operators, and culinary professionals go from just good to outstanding. He is a sought-after advisor in leadership, branding, social media marketing, culture, operations, restaurateur mindset, team development, behavioral dynamics, productivity & peak performance. His first book, Your Restaurant Sucks! Embrace The Suck. Unleash Your Restaurant. Become Outstanding. is an international bestseller and is available on Amazon.
Dr. John Buschman

Dr. John Buschman

Co-Director, Global Sustainable Tourism Program, Florida International University

Dr. John D. Buschman, is Co-Director of the Global Sustainable Tourism program at Florida International University’s (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism in Miami.  He earned his Ph.D. from FIU’s Robert Stempel School of Public Health & Social Work, an M.S. in Hospitality Management from the Chaplin School, and a B.A. in Travel & Tourism Management from Michigan State University.  Before coming to academia, Dr. Buschman worked in the global hospitality and tourism industry for nearly three decades serving in executive positions in leading tourism and hospitality operations across Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the Caribbean.  His research and extensive community engagement work have been centered on food systems sustainability, food waste reduction, and food rescue and recovery for redistribution to Florida's homeless and food-insecure populations.  He is particularly interested in the events industry's role as he helps educate current and next generations of hospitality managers on their social responsibilities toward the planet and the communities in which they live and work.  You will find John and his students at the end of this FRLA event working with Second Harvest Food Bank to recover all usable, wholesome nutrition for quick redistribution to the homeless and food-insecure community of Central Florida.
Safiya Carter

Safiya Carter

Shug Sisters

Safiya Carter is one of the earliest global pioneers of allergy-sensitive, gluten-free, plant-based product innovation and development in the industry.   In 2008, she launched the first coconut-based frozen dessert company, KOV (Kosher, organic vegan), to be manufactured on the East Coast. Her use of adventurous flavors like ginger-vanilla, made from fresh ginger root and ground bourbon vanilla, propelled KOV into the entire Mid-Atlanta region of Wholefoods, grocery stores, and food service in the first seven months of the business.  Safiya began consulting for other companies helping improve products and creating exciting swap-out ideas for menus to accommodate food allergies, gluten-free, vegan, and special diets.  Additionally, Safiya has developed many first-to-market free-from vegan products and line extensions for businesses, from small start-ups to multi-million dollar corporations.  She studied with the world's top internationally celebrated chefs learning to prepare healthy, plant-based, gourmet world cuisine. She's taught many classes geared to adults, teens, and children and loves sharing how fun, easy and affordable preparing healthy, vegan foods can be.  Safiya is committed to transforming the way we eat on our planet!  She is committed to impacting our current food systems and food service in healthcare, schools, and everywhere!  By creating innovative, first-to-market products that are affordable and creative.  Her passion for having everyone safely share meals together while upholding ethical, humane, and sustainable practices has become her life's work.
Rev Ciancio

Rev Ciancio

Owner, Handcraft Burgers and Brew

Rev is a New York City restaurant owner and knows exactly how hard it is to operate and brand a hospitality business.  He is a hospitality marketing consultant, customer, and technology evangelist at Branded Strategic Hospitality, with more than 20 years of experience in B2B digital marketing and business development, specializing in hospitality marketing, content, local SEO, reputation management, and influencer marketing. He helps technology companies, brands, and restaurants acquire and retain customers.  Rev is known as an “expert burger taster.” He pens hospitality and marketing tips on his Instagram @revciancio and his LinkedIn Profile. He believes that Pizza is a religion.
Brian Connors

Brian Connors

Director | Bacardi Center of Excellence, Florida International University, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management

Brian Connors is the Director of the Bacardi Center of Excellence and Clinical Teaching Professor at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. Brian works directly with industry and academia, creating innovative solutions for operational training, concept development, and educational resources.  As the Director of the Bacardi Center of Excellence, Brian has created the first of its kind Bacardi Spirits Management Major, developed and launched the virtual learning platform BacardiTeach, and hosts the popular industry-focused BacardiTalks series. He also oversees the Bacardi Innovations Fund and launched BAR PROJECT 2021, which engages students to create the ‘new normal’ of the beverage industry of the future. He is also the lead faculty of the Beverage Management programs at the top-ranked Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, including the new wine and beverage entrepreneurship, brewing arts, and spirits management programs.
Chris Deferio

Chris Deferio

Owner, Keys to the Shop Podcast and Consulting

Chris Deferio is an award-winning hospitality professional and consultant with 22 years specializing in the retail specialty coffee industry. In these two decades, he has worked in restaurants, coffee shops, and beyond to develop excellence in management and service.

In addition to helping design and build structures, standards, and programs for both small and national coffee and foodservice brands, Chris has been able to help thousands of hospitality professionals within coffee, restaurants, bars, and breweries through his on-site and remote management workshops, and in-person speaking and training at trade shows and industry associations. 
 
For the past 5 1/2 years, he has served retail hospitality professionals through his globally recognized podcast and consulting company, Keys to the Shop, which gives listeners and clients insights, inspiration, and tools to grow and thrive in their businesses through an honest, people-first approach to systems, standards, and leadership.  
 
A native of Syracuse, NY, Chris now resides in Louisville, KY, with his wife and son, all of whom have an unhealthy obsession with reality food shows and ceramic mugs.
Rob Grimes

Rob Grimes

Founder & CEO, IFBTA

Robert (“Rob”) Grimes is the Founder & CEO of the IFBTA (the Food and Beverage Technology Association), a non-profit professional association promoting and advancing technology and innovation for the global food and beverage industries.  Before establishing the IFBTA, Rob founded FSTEC (Foodservice Technology Conference and Showcase) in 1996, ConStrata Technology Consulting, and its predecessor companies, which have been providing IT consulting services for global hospitality, foodservice, and retail industries and is headquartered in Potomac, Maryland.
Dr. Oren Hertz

Dr. Oren Hertz

Clinical Assistant Professor, Florida International University

With over 25 years of leadership experience in the hospitality industry, Dr. Hertz holds an outstanding track record in various leadership positions in restaurant food & beverage, on-premise and off-premise catering, hotel rooms division, and private clubs.  Additionally, Dr. Hertz is experienced in managing accounting and human resources in hospitality operations.  Dr. Hertz is a professor of hospitality management at a distinguished Tier 1 research state university in Florida and is deeply involved in research and concept development of teaching methodologies and cultivating a successful learning environment. Dr. Hertz earned his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University, an M.B.A. with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from Nova Southeastern University, and a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management from Florida International University.  He resides in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and appreciates the tropical climate.
 
Andrew Koumi

Andrew Koumi

Owner, Green Market Café

Andrew Koumi is a Tampa-based restaurateur and founder of Green Market Cafe, a local franchise with multiple locations, including Oldsmar, Clearwater, Trinity, Seminole, Wesley Chapel, and, soon to be, Clearwater Beach, as well as three other locations in the remainder of 2021. With the ultimate goal of expanding the franchise to 40 locations in the next five years, the idea behind Green Market Cafe came to Andrew as he struggled to find healthy, fresh, and affordable food readily available in his college days -- hence the concept of Green Market Cafe was born. From humbly opening his first location in Oldsmar, FL, in July of 2010, to currently operating a multi-store venture he has built since his food philosophy is composed of balanced nutrition and always-fresh ingredients. In addition to building a successful four-store restaurant concept in Tampa Bay, Andrew has managed to fight through the heavy competition and build up his catering operation, currently ranked as the most popular corporate caterer in the greater Tampa Bay area, outperforming both local and national chains.   Most recently, Andrew’s vision has expanded onto the retail world, making Green Market Cafe dressings available at Sprouts Farmers Markets and other various grocers -- bringing the Green Market Cafe brand to consumers on a national scale.
Mia Mastroianni

Mia Mastroianni

Celebrity Mixologist, Consultant as seen on Bar Rescue

With over 15 years of experience in the service industry from Boston to Miami, Mia Mastroianni became one of the founding bartenders of Soho House West Hollywood – the private members-only club where she remained a well-respected and often requested mixologist for the who's who of Hollywood until 2016. Known for her tall figure and sassy fun attitude, “Tall Mia” has also opened Soho House locations in Miami Beach, FL, and in Toronto, Canada - training their respective bar staff on giving the highest quality of service by implementing the proper technique, and executing incredible cocktails.  Her expertise led her to be cast as an expert mixologist on the highly rated TV show "Bar Rescue."  Working directly with host Jon Taffer, she has assisted in rescuing numerous bars across America, from Philadelphia, PA, to Norwalk, CA. Mia stays current with industry and consumer trends by attending and speaking at various seminars and conferences. She continues her education in the spirits industry by traveling locally and internationally to various distilleries. Mia’s also been a bar consultant on various feature films and regularly consults on new bar programs.
 
Shaun O'Neal

Shaun O'Neal

Celebrity Chef

SHAUN O’NEALE is recognized worldwide as FOX's Season 7 Champion of MasterChef. Not only an award-winning chef, Shaun’s skills as a culinary host have landed him appearances on Seasons 8, 9, and 10 of MasterChef and the MasterChef Celebrity Showdown on FOX, Best in Food on Travel Channel, as well as performing cooking demos and acting as a celebrity guest judge on multiple episodes of Home & Family on Hallmark Channel. And because of his partnership with Morningstar Farms, Shaun has appeared in television commercials where he demonstrated recipes he created for the brand.  Shaun wasn’t always a chef…for the twenty years before winning the title of America’s Best Home Cook, Shaun earned his living as a DJ on the Las Vegas strip. Beginning his DJ career in Tampa, FL, Shaun packed up and moved to Sin City to capitalize on his success as a DJ in 2008. His crowning moment culminated on New Year’s Eve in 2010 when Shaun became the first DJ to perform on Las Vegas Boulevard in front of over 100,000 people. But Shaun was not destined to be a DJ. There were different plans for Shaun O’Neale, leading him to become the next up-and-coming culinary superstar. Teaching himself how to cook by reading hundreds of cookbooks and traveling the world tasting different cuisines, Shaun has proven himself as a culinary authority in his style of modern American cuisine with international influences.
Matt Plapp

Matt Plapp

CEO & Founder, America's Best Restaurants

Bio coming soon!
Doug Radkey

Doug Radkey

President, KRG Hospitality, Inc.

Doug Radkey is the President of KRG Hospitality Inc., a creative consulting agency that focuses on the start-up & development of award-winning bar, restaurant, and hospitality brands throughout North America. Doug is the author of two books, 'Bar Hacks' and ‘Hacking the New Normal’- and brings over 20 years in the hospitality industry. Through his writing for various international food & beverage publications, his speaking at industry-leading events, and his engaging workshops – you will undoubtedly leave this session with confidence that this industry is prepared for a profitable rebound.
Criss Smiley

Criss Smiley

Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods

Bio coming soon!
Art Sutley

Art Sutley

Director of Strategic Accounts, Savage & Cooke Distillery

Art Sutley, Nightlife & Hospitality Expert, has been in the restaurant/bar space for over 19 years. He was one of the industry experts behind Bar Business Magazine for 13 years. As an educator in the industry, he speaks at many of the top restaurant and cocktail tradeshows globally.  In addition, he travels both locally and internationally to tour top distilleries, keeping his pulse on leading cocktail and spirit trends. This has led to Art being featured as a hospitality expert in many of the top global media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, NRC Handelsblad, Supercall.com, Thrillist, AOL.com, Bonfort’s Wine & Spirits Journal, DrinkMe, Fox News, Fox Business and What’s Eating NYC. Art has also appeared on the Paramount Network’s hit TV Show Bar Rescue as a Recon Expert assisting host and industry expert Jon Taffer. Most recently, Art has joined the Savage & Cooke Distillery team, owned by famed winemaker David Phinney.
Homan Taghdiri

Homan Taghdiri

Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Invictus Hospitality

Homan is one of Invictus Hospitality's co-founders and has been in the hospitality industry since he was 14 years old.  As a licensed attorney in California, Homan also has specialized experience in business and commercial real estate development.  While Homan is no longer actively practicing law, he uses his prior experience to consult full-time with Invictus Hospitality and oversee his other businesses.  Homan has worked in almost every hospitality position imaginable at various venues.  From mom-and-pop pizza parlors to bakeries, corporate-run establishments, and family-owned restaurants, Homan has worked as a dishwasher, busser, cook, server, expeditor, host, assistant manager, and manager during the 13 years he worked in the industry before becoming an attorney.  Homan found great success in a formula that combined a focus on service and hospitality while working towards educating guests to provide memorable experiences.  Homan has also counseled many entrepreneurs and start-ups in general business matters, corporate structure, financing, and mergers and acquisitions – as well as working with many established businesses in helping to reposition them from a position of near closure (and/or potential bankruptcy), into becoming operationally successful businesses with streamlined profit centers.  In line with Homan’s transition to consulting in the hospitality industry, he became extensively involved with operations management, corporate restructuring, financial analysis, training, and implementation of management hierarchy and leadership culture.  Homan is a strong believer in building teams and using leadership skills to empower staff to create a culture focused on providing the best guest experiences and using the power of knowledge to increase the venue's profitability through efficiency in operations.
Michael Tipps

Michael Tipps

Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Invictus Hospitality

Michael Tipps has over 26 years of experience working, managing, and consulting in all facets of the hospitality world (throughout all positions, and including hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs). Michael Tipps’s Career started in Hospitality in South Florida, where he worked in almost every front-of-the-house position in the corporate food and beverage world. By the time Michael turned 19, he set his sights on New York City and has been trailblazing ever since.  Michael has been responsible for creating, implementing, and maintaining multiple food and beverage programs that are intended to “wow” guests and increase revenue while cutting costs and improving the bottom line.  By age 23, Michael was fortunate enough to work with and be trained in the essentials of classic cocktails, by the person responsible for bringing the “mixology” craze back to the United States – Sasha Petraske, of Milk & Honey fame. Based on Michael’s experience and expertise, he also made appearances on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” as a master mixologist and bar expert and traveled across the country with renowned TV celebrity John Taffer on the “Nightclub & Bar University Rescue Tour.” Michael has also been a contributing writer, Speaker, and advisory Board member for the Restaurant & Bar Tradeshow (previously, Nightclub & Bar).
Nick Vojnovic

Nick Vojnovic

President, Little Greek Franchise Development, LLC

Nick Vojnovic currently is the President and majority partner of Little Greek Franchise Development, LLC, since April of 2011. In 2015, Vojnovic became the owner of the USF/Fowler Avenue location in Tampa and rebranded the company to Little Greek Fresh Grill. Little Greek is a fast-growing, high-quality Greek restaurant chain based in Tampa, Florida. When Vojnovic first became President, there were 4 locations. Today, there are 43 locations. There are 28 in Florida, 16 in the Tampa Bay area, and 12 in Orlando. There are nine in the Dallas area of Texas. There are two locations in Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Little Rock. One in Louisville, Kentucky, and Boardman, Ohio. There are two locations in Illinois, Schaumburg, and Quincy.
Dale Willerton

Dale Willerton

Lease Consultant, The Lease Coach

The Lease Coach is North America's #1 Authority on Leasing for Restaurant & Coffee Shop Tenants. The Lease Coach has eight offices across America and has been exclusively consulting and negotiating for tenants since 1993. Dale Willerton speaks at Restaurant and Franchise shows throughout North America. Willerton is the author of the book “Negotiating Commercial Leases & Renewals for Dummies.”   1.800.738.9202 (ext 1).  Free 330-page FOR DUMMIES book to seminar attendees.
Phil Wills

Phil Wills

Owner/Partner, The Spirits in Motion, Consultant as seen on Bar Rescue

Has been in the bar/restaurant business for over 20 years. He is the current owner/partner of The Spirits in Motion, a nationally recognized bar and beverage consultancy. He has worked in various locations, from your corporate restaurants, small local bars, major nightclubs, craft bars, to high-end mixology establishments. He was involved in flair bartending for over ten years. These have led to Phil being featured in multiple conference engagements such as Nightclub Bar Show, Vibe Conference, The Flavor Experience, and Tales of the Cocktail.  Phil has been featured in multiple media outlets and talk shows/morning shows across the U.S., creating cocktails. Also, one of the Bar Experts/Mixologists on the highly rated TV Show Bar Rescue is being utilized to deliver revenue-generating cocktail programs for failing establishments.