Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit attendees will learn about Tony Roma’s transition into the fast casual market, Duck Donuts’ growth strategy and Tropical Smoothie’s secret to expanding in a tough market. UFG and PreciTaste leaders will weigh in on industry challenges as well.

The Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit, being held March 20-22 in Coral Gables, Florida, is nearing, which inspired me to provide insight on the event’s closing keynoters:

  • Ramon Bourgeois, CEO and COO, Tony Roma’s.
  • Betsy Hamm, CEO, Duck Donuts.
  • Ray Titus, CEO, United Franchise Group.
  • Charles Watson, CEO, Tropical Smoothie Cafe.
  • Ingo Stork, co-founder and CEO, PreciTaste.

Talk about heavy hitters!

Bourgeois led the full-service brand’s entry into the fast casual market when it opened the first Tony Roma’s Bones & Burgers last month in Orlando.

“Casual dining has had its challenges through the years,” Bourgeois said in a recent interview. “These were great restaurants back in the 1990s when everyone was building 250-seat restaurants. The dynamics have changed. People are eating differently,”

During the panel, Bourgeois will discuss how Bones & Burgers will serve as a growth vehicle for the brand while keeping costs down. The menu, for example, has only about 12 items, and four employees per shift can operate it, which is a huge savings on labor considering a traditional Tony Roma’s restaurant requires up to 80 workers.

Duck Donuts’ Hamm is also changing things up. The former COO, who took over as CEO in 2021, when the chain was sold to NewSpring, landed on the FastCasual’s 2022 list of Top 25 executives and is gearing up to to take the 100-unit brand to 200 locations and then to 300. The chain opened it’s first Canadian location last year and started 2023 by launching the Chocolate Lover’s Assortment, a limited-time collection, featuring mini chocolate chips and chocolate combinations, available through Feb. 26.

The third panelist is Ray Titus, CEO of United Franchise Group, which houses a variety of businesses and franchises, including Graze Craze, Accurate Franchising and The Great Greek Grill, comprising over 1,600 franchises in over 80 countries. Titus will literally “school us” on the franchise business, considering the man has created the Titus Center for Franchising at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Next up is Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Charles Watson, who has been growing the smoothie chain since 2018. In 2022, franchisees opened 158 cafes, and the chain signed 258 franchise agreements. It also opened its first double-drive thru late last year, proving it’s not afraid to take risks.

Rounding out the panelist of experts is Ingo Stork, co-founder and CEO of PreciTaste, a provider of smart software automation for restaurant operations management. The company recently created a line of off-the-shelf products — Prep Assistant, Planner Assistant and Station Assistant — to support workers of mid-sized QSRs and fast casuals. Stork also knows a little something about raising capital as he and his partner, Laura, raised $24 million in their first round of funding, attracting several investors, including Enlightened Hospitality Investments, the growth equity fund co-founded by Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer.

“Today’s labor shortages and rising food prices are a constant uphill battle for operators — often a crew of five needs to do the job of seven,” Ingo Stork told FastCasual. “Immediate support is needed, and that is exactly what our latest software automation solutions were created to do — come in fast, ensure instant labor efficiency and expedite profitability.”

Panelists will also be quizzed on how they are handling labor shortages, rising food costs and a variety of hot-button issues facing the industry. In fact, attendees will have the chance to ask them whatever they want, so register here to be in the audience.

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Founded in 2000, Networld Media Group is a leading business-to-business (B2B) media communications company specializing in digital media, associations and events in the tech, banking, retail and food service industries. Online properties include,,,,,,,, and Annual events include the Fast Casual Executive Summit, the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, the Bank Customer Experience Summit (BCX), the Interactive Customer Experience Summit (ICX) and the Self-Service Innovation Summit.

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