January 31, 2019

National Restaurant Association, Educational Foundation announce 2019 board officers

Washington, D.C. – The National Restaurant Association and its Educational Foundation today announced their new slates of board officers and directors.

Joe Essa, President and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc., will serve as Chair of the National Restaurant Association, and Geoff Hill, Managing Director of Roark Capital Group, will serve as Chair of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of both the National Restaurant Association and the Educational Foundation, said the organization’s new board officers would provide the critical leadership necessary to ensure the restaurant industry’s continued growth and success.

“This year’s chairs, Joe Essa and Geoff Hill, bring years of experience and passion for our industry to their new roles,” she said. “Their first-hand knowledge and dedication will provide valuable insights that will help the Association and Foundation navigate the challenges our industry faces.”

In addition to Essa, Vice Chair Melvin Rodrigue, President and CEO of Galatoire’s Restaurants, and Treasurer Brian E. Casey, President of Oak Hill Tavern and the Company Picnic Company, will lead the Restaurant Association’s board.

Foundation officers supporting Hill are Vice Chair Stan Harris, President and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and Treasurer Susan Adzick, Senior Vice President of Sales and Strategic Relationships at McLane Foodservice Inc.

Each of the officers will serve out a one-year term. The following is the list of 2019 board officers for the National Restaurant Association and the Educational Foundation:National Restaurant Association

Chair: Joe Essa is President and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, where he leads the company’s initiatives to grow its casual-restaurant and consumer-products businesses. Before that, he served as Vice President of Operations at TOSCORP, a New York City-based, fine-dining Italian restaurant group. Essa also founded restaurant companies in North Carolina and Connecticut. He is a Boston College graduate, with a bachelor of science in accounting and finance, and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Vice chair: Melvin Rodrigue is President and CEO of Galatoire’s Restaurants, located in New Orleans. He has dedicated his career to cultivating the traditions and experiences of one of America's grandest fine dining institutions, Galatoire’s, in business since 1905, and a showcase for New Orleans as a world-class-dining destination. Under his leadership, Galatoire’s iconic, flagship restaurant was named the James Beard Foundation’s Most Outstanding Restaurant in the United States in 2005. Rodrigue also serves as President of New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He is a past President of the Louisiana Restaurant Association as well as a Director of the New Orleans CVB Board.

Treasurer: Brian E. Casey is President and Owner of North Kingstown, R.I.-based Oak Hill Tavern and the Company Picnic Company. A 35-year hospitality industry veteran and lifelong resident of Rhode Island, he has deep roots in his local community. He was Chairman of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, and in 2013 named their Restaurateur of the Year and Caterer of the Year in 2008. A graduate of Rhode Island College, he earned a bachelor of science degree in political science.

The Restaurant Association also added several new members to the board. The newly elected directors include:

Brad Anderson, President of Anderson Management Group, Billings, Mont.
Jean-Marie Clement, Vice President of Food and Beverage, Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
John Teza, Director of NRD Capital Management, Atlanta
Jett Mehta, President and CEO of Indus Hospitality Group, Rochester, N.Y.
Don Balfour, Vice President of Waffle House Inc., Norcross, Ga.
John Cywinski, President of Applebee's Grill & Bar, Glendale, Calif.
Dan Rowe, CEO of Fransmart, Alexandria, Va.

National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation

Chair: Geoff Hill is Managing Director of Roark Capital Group, which owns 25 restaurant companies covering 23,000 locations worldwide. He is involved in sourcing activity for franchise and multiunit acquisitions as well as portfolio management for several of Roark’s Restaurant investments. Previously, Hill was President of Cinnabon, a Roark-owned company. He attended Cornell University’s Hotel and Restaurant School, and started his hospitality career at the Bristol Hotel Company.

Vice chair: Stan Harris is President and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. Before that, Harris spent 27 years with TJM Restaurant Management, which was the largest franchisee of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, including stints as President and CEO of the firm. In 2007, he became CEO of the Forefront Group, North America’s largest supplier of golf accessories. Most recently, Harris was managing partner of The H Group, a management advisory firm focused on business-process improvement and team development, serving family businesses and entrepreneurs. He is a past President of the Council for State Restaurant Associations and Director on the New Orleans CVB Board. Harris graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Treasurer: Susan Adzick is Senior Vice President of Sales and Strategic Relationships for the McLane Company’s foodservice division. She is responsible for $15 billion a year in revenue and provides strategic direction business development and customer relationship management for 34 restaurant brand customers. She also is active in the foodservice industry, serving as 2018 Chair of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, as a National Restaurant Association board member, and on the Restaurant Leadership Conference’s Advisory Council and Executive Committee. She started her foodservice career with PepsiCo Food Systems. She received her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

In addition to naming its new board officers, the Educational Foundation also introduced its new board members. They include:

Brett Ladd, CEO of Sodexo Government, Gaithersburg, Md.
Derek Small, Director of Culinary Training for Troop Café, Milwaukee
Greg Barber, Vice President of Global Business Development, PepsiCo, White Plains, N.Y.
James Fripp, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Yum! Brands Inc., Plano, Texas

The board is comprised of about 70 voting directors, who represent every facet of the U.S. restaurant and foodservice industry. They provide strategic guidance to the Association as it seeks to advance and protect the interests of the restaurant and foodservice industry.

About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation

As the supporting philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the NRAEF’s charitable mission includes enhancing the industry’s training and education, career development, and community engagement efforts. The NRAEF and its programs work to Attract, Empower, and Advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. NRAEF programs include: ProStart® – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready/HOPES – Partnering with community based organizations to provide people with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and the Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center (RHLC) – accredited apprenticeship programs designed to build the careers of service professionals. For more information on the NRAEF, visit ChooseRestaurants.org. Click here for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s 2021 Annual Impact Report.