News Briefs

  • 2/5/2023

    Sage Hospitality Group Recognizes Leadership

    generic award trophy with gold stars

    Operational and commercial leaders from across Sage Hospitality Group’s portfolio of more than 110 hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues came together to get energized for what lies ahead in 2023 while celebrating an incredibly successful 2022.

    The Sage Leadership Festival and Commercial Leadership Festival, which happened in Austin, Texas, at Hotel Van Zandt and in Denver, respectively, gave leaders the opportunity to hear from company executives, network with colleagues and volunteer hundreds of man-hours in local communities.


    At the Sage Leadership Festival, operational leaders and properties were honored with the following awards that were based on feedback and submissions from their peers:

    • The company’s top individual award, the Eagle Award, is given to a leader who exhibits overall outstanding leadership and impact, which is felt throughout the company and not just at any one property where they work. This year, the award was given to Tiffany Owen, General Manager of The Rally Hotel and The Maven. Owen, who started with the company more than 8 years ago as a front desk manager, is a true embodiment of what it means to enrich lives, one experience at a time.
    • As a surprise, a second, honorary Eagle Award was given to Sage’s Co-Founder and CEO Walter Isenberg in recognition of the incredible fortitude and perseverance he showed in leading the company through the depths of the pandemic and successfully to the other side. It was an incredible moment to honor the man who has led the company with heart, empathy and love for his associates for nearly 40 years.
    • The General Manager of the Year award is given annually to one hotel general manager and one restaurant general manager who exhibit outstanding overall leadership, meaningful impact at their location, a deep commitment to growing their team members, a strong presence in their community and strong owner relationships. This year, the winners were Joseph Steiskal, General Manager of Embassy Suites Boulder and Hilton Garden Inn Boulder, and Lisa DeRosa, General Manager of The Corner Office.
    • Courtney Griffith, General Manager of Catbird, was the recipient of the Perseverance and Courage Award, honoring her tenacity and positive attitude in the face of various challenges that came her way over the course of that property’s first year in operation. The award was also given to John McCarroll, General Manager of Cambria New Orleans, having managed his property through a hurricane within his first week, and never missing a beat despite that challenge.
    • Celebrating placemaking and Sage’s commitment to creating places that people go to, not through, the Artful Hospitality Award was given to Ed Blair, General Manager of The Crawford Hotel and The Oxford Hotel, recognizing the way he and his team bring a truly exceptional guest experience to life in Denver’s most historic hotel.
    • Rookie of the Year recognizes a new hotel or restaurant GM who has been employed by Sage for less than a year and demonstrates an unwavering commitment to Sage’s core values and purpose. The award was given to two recipients this year: Giuseppe de Santis, General Manager of Homewood Suites Boulder, and David Friday, General Manager of Mercat a la Planxa.
    • The Spirit of Innovation Award was given to Nathan Ayers, General Manager of Urban Farmer Philadelphia for his creative and innovative approach to creating memorable guest experiences resulting in positive business outcomes for the restaurant.
    • Kim CorriganVice President of the Sage Independent Hotel Collection, a 15-year veteran of the company who has served across numerous properties and the Sage Home Office, was awarded Mentor of the Year for her relentless support and impact on the individuals she leads and her incredible ability to nurture and grow impactful leaders.
    • Associate of the Year is awarded each year to two passionate, hard-working property associates who embody the true spirit of hospitality and Sage’s purpose of enriching lives, one experience at a time. This year’s winners were Scott Hainey, Restaurant Server from The Corner Office in Denver, and Sam Degefu, Lead Front Desk Agent at The Morrison House in Old Town Alexandria.
    • Manager of the Year also recognizes two individuals who have an exceptional impact on both guests and the associates they lead every day. The award was given to Demelza Quinn, General Manager at Urban Farmer Portland and Departure Portland, as well as James Pack, Director of Facilities at The Curtis Hotel.
    • Hotel of the Year is based on more than just metrics and is given to a property that truly represents overall excellence in everything they do and the embodiment of Sage’s core values. The honor was given this year to Perry Lane Hotel.
    • The award for Restaurant of the Year went to Urban Farmer Portland in recognition of their incredible work throughout the year to drive excellent performance in addition to creating incredible guest experiences for their diners.
    • The Community Service Award was presented to the team from Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, who demonstrated outstanding community service efforts that had an impact on their community, in addition to their support of Sage’s company giving programs, Dollars for Dreams and Hungry to Help.
    • The teams from both Springhill Suites Oceanside & Hello Betty and The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago were honored as the Service Excellence Team of the Year, showcasing not only strong guest satisfaction scores but a commitment to providing an outstanding guest service experience at their properties.

    Commercial Leadership Festival Award Winners

    The Commercial Leadership Festival, which brought together Marketing, Sales and Revenue leaders from across the portfolio and the Home Office, similarly celebrated the success of 2022 with numerous metric-based and nominated awards.

    • The event’s top award, the Torch Bearer Award, recognizes a leader who exemplifies Sage’s core values while driving sales performance for their property. The honor was given to Jessica Bauer, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Logan, recognizing her selfless leadership, unwavering advocacy for her team and the way she navigates every challenge with absolute grace.
    • Angela Blackstock, Director of Sales and Marketing for Embassy Suites Boulder and Hilton Garden Inn Boulder, was honored as Mentor of the Year for her dedicated leadership and team-first mentality through the difficult years of the pandemic and as the business has ramped back up.

    ·Dan McGarry, Area Director of Revenue Management, was named the Rising Star, recognizing his ability to successfully manage changing assets in his portfolio and bring unique solutions to the table while remaining calm under pressure.

    • The team from The Curtis was honored with the Triumph Award for how they overcame adversity in the last year, truly showing guests and colleagues how to “Stay Happy” through the creative ways they drove results when the odds weren’t in their favor.
    • Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel was honored as this year’s Trend Setter, honoring the way that the team there created a new business strategy in order to outperform their comp set.
    • Community service is central to Sage’s ethos, and the Spirit of Engagement award recognizes a property commercial team that took time to give back and support Sage’s charitable initiatives outside of their day-to-day work. This year, the honor was given to the complex team from the AC Hotel Portland Downtown and Courtyard Portland City Center.



  • 1/9/2023

    Focus Brands Accelerates Dual Branded Locations

    Foucs Brand dual branded Jamba Juice and Auntie Annes

    Focus Brands says dual branding is the future of QSR, and the parent company of Auntie Anne’s®, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Schlotzsky’s, is leading the charge. Today, the Focus Brands portfolio boasts 175-plus open dual branded units with at least 65 more in various stages of development across the country. 

    Drive-Thru Convenience

    The Focus Brands portfolio brands have signed agreements to open more than 50 dual and tri-brand locations in the coming year, many of which include drive-thrus for added convenience as interest in dual branded franchise opportunities continues to surge.

    Flexible Store Formats

    Focus Brands is among the brands introducing new store formats, including Krystal, Jack-in-the-Box and Panera Bread, which opened its Panera To Go, solely offering Rapid Pick-Up and Delivery shelves where guests and delivery drivers can easily pick up orders.  

    Focus Brands has long pioneered the concept of dual branding, predominately in malls and non-traditional locations with Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon. Now, the company’s portfolio brands have found new opportunities with streetside dual branded units, which is paving the way for immense franchise growth. 

    “Dual branding is the future of our brands, especially on the specialty side of the business,” said Brian Krause, Chief Development Officer at Focus Brands. “There will always be a place in malls, but there is an immense amount of growth opportunity in streetside venues, and, by dual branding, there is more opportunity for enhanced revenue.”

    The company invested heavily in consumer research to identify how to create combinations of its iconic brands to resonate with consumers and meet them where they want to be met.

    Focus Brands has identified four dual-brand concepts:

    • Auntie Anne’s/Cinnabon
    • Auntie Anne’s/Cinnabon/Carvel
    • Auntie Anne’s/Jamba
    • Cinnabon/Carvel – Cinnabon Swirl. 

    While key consumer benefits vary by dual-brand combination, one consistent benefit has been convenience. Having these brands together in one location makes them far more accessible than they are individually. This convenience also creates opportunity for franchisees, as co-branding leads to an expansive menu that drives enhanced unit-level volume. 


  • 1/14/2023

    Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux Invests in Tech Transformation

    Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux is making its largest technological investment in brand history.

    Walk-On’s is implementing a systemwide aggregator to consolidate third party orders, partnering with Lunchbox to upgrade its online ordering platform and guest loyalty program, and introducing a partnership with Toast to level up its POS management system.

    71% say the ability to integrate with other systems is driving their POS purchase decisions, according to HT’s2 2023 POS Software Trends Report.

    Walk-On’s new loyalty program and app, designed by Lunchbox, are scheduled to launch in the first half of 2023 with an improved interface and back-end integration that will create a more seamless user experience for guests and operators alike. 

    Continuing with marked enhancements to the guest experience, Walk-On’s is also partnering with BOWEN to modernize the brand’s website presence and streamline the online ordering experience. 

    In addition to the upgraded Toast POS system, Walk-On’s is installing Toast Kitchen Display System, and rolling out Toast Go 2 mobile handheld POS devices for tableside and curbside use at current and future locations. 

    Walk-On’s will implement a phased rollout across all current locations throughout 2023 and begin immediate implementation at all new restaurants in their development pipeline. 

  • 2/5/2023

    Little Caesars Pizza's New CFO

    Leigh Burnside

    Leigh Burnside will take over the role of chief financial officer for  Little Caesars. She was most recently senior vice president, chief accounting officer and chief financial officer - U.S. at The Wendy's Company.

    Burnside will be supporting the continued strategic global growth of the Little Caesars brand and serve as a key member of the organization's senior leadership team. She will replace outgoing CFO Darrell Snygg, who recently retired after 34 years of dedicated service, and will work closely with newly named senior vice president of accounting, Allison Bieri.  Bieri, an industry veteran who most recently served as vice president of accounting at Little Caesars, will spearhead the development and expansion of the brand's existing first-class accounting team.  Little Caesars will also add several new leadership roles in finance and accounting, as well as across the organization, to support recent international and domestic growth.

    A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park with a bachelor's degree in accounting, Leigh has served on the board of directors for The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and is on the Board of Advisors of the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland-College Park. She will be based at the Little Caesars Global Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.

  • 2/5/2023

    Punchh Recognizes Top 7 Customer Loyalty Programs

    loyalty buttons

    Punchh recently presented its fourth-annual Customer Awards. This recognition spotlights seven clients who excel at using the Punchh platform for customized loyalty program management, omnichannel engagement, digital campaigns, personalized offers and more.

    This year, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery was named Digital Innovator for its development, in partnership with Punchh, of the MySnooze Bennyfits mobile rewards program, which has leveraged in-person visits with 51% of its members advancing from their 2nd to 3rd visits. Named Top International CustomerJoe’s Garage, who has affectionately dubbed its loyalty members “Regular Joes,” earned more than 20% year-over-year participation rate in the loyalty app. As Rookie of the YearZippy’s, a Hawaii-based brand, partnered with Punchh in mid-2022 to develop their Zipster Rewards platform, which has earned a 25% participation rate and a 45% increase in visitation.

    The next award, Campaign Hotshot, went to Tropical Smoothie Café. In 2022, the brand hosted Tropic Fan Fest, its first-ever member appreciation week, and saw a 46% increase in loyalty transactions, and 22% of guests trying one of the products for the first time. Last year’s Rookie of the Year and the new Retention RockstarHTeaO launched new flavors to new cup sizes to its loyalty members, creating timely retention campaigns. HTeaO has achieved a 49% growth from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, and an annual participation rate of 33% in 2022.

    As this year’s C-Store ChampionCasey’s General Store provide its over 5 million Casey’s Rewards members the opportunity to earn points and redeem them for Casey’s cash, fuel discounts or a donation to a local school. Through these donations, over 71,000 local schools received benefits, and Casey’s was able to achieve 43 million redemptions and keep a 70% quarter-on-quarter retention rate in 2022.

    Finally, the 2022 Punchh Customer Award’s All-Star went to Taco Bell, who provided its most passionate fans the ability to access exclusive events and be the first to try favorites like the Mexican Pizza. Fans earn points on qualifying purchases made in-store, drive-thru, kiosks, online and the Taco Bell app, giving them more opportunities to receive rewards and participate in exclusive experiences. The Taco Bell reward program is a crucial factor in the brand’s digital growth, where they aim to reach 100% of digital sales.

    “We love recognizing our clients who fully embrace and utilize the Punchh platform,” said PAR President & CEO Savneet Singh. “These brands aren’t afraid to embrace new technology to create a better customer experience, and it pays dividends in loyalty program engagement, customer feedback and more.”

    The winners are selected from Punchh’s customer base of more than 250 global brands, which were evaluated on quantitative and qualitative metrics such as innovative usage, strategic results and platform adoption.


  • 2/5/2023

    Visual Matrix Partners with Prestige Hotels & Resorts in Their Transition to WorldHotels Collection, With Continued Technology Enhancements

    Prestige Hotels & Resorts

    Visual Matrix, a provider of advanced technology solutions for the hospitality industry, expanded the number of cloud-supported hotels on its platform by more than 80% in 2022 in addition to growing industrywide adoption of its product suite, including the expansion of its solutions across Prestige Hotels & Resorts’ portfolio of 15 distinctive hotels and resorts in British Columbia. Many of Prestige’s properties are part of the WorldHotels Collection owned by Best Western; Visual Matrix is a provider of property management systems and the largest provider to Best Western, with more than 1,600 Best Western properties worldwide on the Visual Matrix platform.

    Georgine Muntz, CEO of Visual Matrix, said, “2022 was a year of unparalleled growth for Visual Matrix, as we both expanded our product suite and substantially increased the number of hotels on our cloud platform. Prestige Hotels & Resorts is a valued client, and we are thrilled they have expanded their use of our cloud platform to drive the efficient, effective management of property operations. We are deeply appreciative of their partnership.”

    She concluded, “Our solutions are now helping hoteliers at more than 3,000 hotels representing 300,000+ rooms in North America, Europe, and Asia and we anticipate more growth in 2023 as hoteliers battle labor challenges and seek automation.”

    Also in 2022, Visual Matrix launched EmpowerU, a new learning tool designed directly by the company, as well as integrations with VenueLytics, among others. The company now supports more than 50% of its customers using fully cloud-based services. The company also integrated its Mobile Operating Platform (MOP) to ensure Visual Matrix users can easily manage housekeeping and maintenance tasks from anywhere. This integration leveraged the HTNG Express PMS protocol that allows hoteliers to increase access to MOP and other operation tools that improve the guest experience.

    “Visual Matrix is a responsive, adaptive technology partner that is capable of providing individual support to each of our properties as it meets the needs of our growing organization,” said Tanya Stroinig, Chief Operating Officer at Prestige Hotels & Resorts. “They understand the support each of our one-of-a-kind properties requires and they continue to evolve their offerings to offer innovative solutions, including back-of-the-house support and guest engagement tools, allowing us to continue our growth as a market leader. We are delighted with our long-standing partnership with them.”

    Visual Matrix has partnered with Prestige Hotels for nearly 20 years, and in 2021 expanded its partnership to include cloud-based services and daily rate management to help the company navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing lodging environment.

    Visual Matrix is leveraging its 2022 momentum to further expand its suite of services in 2023, including a new user interface to its system, guest texting enhancements, and more. To learn more about its new capabilities, visit

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