News Briefs


Denny's Launches Series of National Wellness, Mental Health Summits

Dennys exterior of diner

As part of a national effort to raise awareness and offer expert insights, Denny's is kicking off a series of summits focused on how companies and individuals can better manage and improve their mental health and wellness.

The first summit is taking place on April 22 at the HPAC Theater in Spartanburg, S.C. The summit will be free to the public and attendees can participate in-person or virtually.

"Denny's has always been committed to feeding people's bodies, minds, and souls, and this summit series perfectly aligns with our holistic approach to wellness," said Kelli Valade, CEO of Denny's. "The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the topics of mental health and personal well-being front and center. Now is the time to think about how we can bring our whole selves to all facets of our lives, including the workplace."

The summit keynote speaker is Dr. Daniel E. Dawes, Senior Vice President for Global Health and Executive Director of the Institute of Global Health Equity at Meharry Medical College. Dawes will discuss the importance of addressing mental health equity and the path forward to achieving a healthier society. Other nationally recognized panelists include:  

  • Dr. Shaneeta Johnson, a surgeon, clinician, educator, and researcher at Morehouse School of Medicine and Senior Fellow in Global Health Equity at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute
  • Dr. Monique May, a board-certified and licensed family physician best known as the "Physician in the Kitchen"
  • Dr. Bennie L. Harris, Chancellor of the University of South Carolina Upstate
  • Sharon Lykins, Denny's Vice President of Product Innovation

"Mental health and wellness significantly impact the quality of life of individuals, families, and communities across the Upstate region and beyond," said USC Upstate Chancellor, Bennie L. Harris, Ph.D. "We are thrilled to join forces with a global leader like Denny's to address one of the most critical public health issues of our time."

Journalist Roland S. Martin will moderate two panels, "Mindful Eating," which will address the connection between food and wellness, and "Wellness at the Workplace," which focuses on mental health at work.

A second mental health summit will be offered on October 10 in Nashville, Tennessee.


Papa Johns Hires Industry Vet Mark Shambura as Chief Marketing Officer

Mark Shambura Papa Johns

Papa John’s International Inc. has hired industry vet Mark Shambura to serve as Chief Marketing Officer, effective May 8.  Shambura  most recently worked as CMO for MOD Pizza.   is a brand marketing leader with deep expertise in growing multi-unit restaurant brands. He will oversee brand and advertising; media and field activation; menu strategy and product innovation; and the digital customer experience, including Papa Johns owned channels, loyalty program and aggregator partnerships.

“... He’s delivered impactful marketing strategies with a digital-first, analytics-led approach,” said Rob Lynch, President and CEO of Papa Johns. “Mark’s consumer-centric mindset will be critical as we continue to enhance every single touchpoint of the customer experience – from our digital channels to our menu to our brand – to drive engagement and growth.”

At MOD Pizza he transformed the marketing organization and drove growth by scaling digital and product innovation and further ignited brand engagement across advertising, paid, social, loyalty and field marketing. Prior to MOD Pizza, he served as Executive Director of Marketing at Chipotle Mexican Grill where he helped spearhead the “Real Ingredients” brand strategy and integrated campaign execution.

Shambura will report to Mr. Lynch and serve on the Papa Johns Executive Leadership Team. He replaces Anne Fischer, who departed earlier in the year.



Joe Tenczar Joins Sky Zone as CIO

Joe Tenczar

Indoor active entertainment company Sky Zone added three executives to its leadership team, including Joe Tenczar as Chief Information Officer. The appointment of Debbie Dizon Lauber as Chief People Officer and General Counsel, Eric Taylor as Chief Development Officer, along with Tenczar, will support Sky Zone's ongoing expansion and continued success.

"Sky Zone has grown rapidly over the past eighteen months, and we are excited to have Debbie, Joe and Eric join our leadership team," said Elizabeth Blair, CEO of Sky Zone. "Each of them brings decades of multi-unit operating experience to Sky Zone, which will further accelerate both our owned and franchised park growth."

  • Tenczar, a member of HT's Advisory Board and Restaurant Technology Network's (RTN)'s Board of Governors, will oversee Sky Zone's distributed technology team, focusing on the strategic alignment of technology with the business to support the progress and ongoing success of the company's innovative systems. Having spent the last several decades leading the IT function at multi-unit brands such as Hard Rock International, Ripley's Entertainment, Marriott Vacation Club and Sonny's BBQ, Tenczar was a founding partner of Restaurant CIOs, one of the top restaurant technology advisory firms in the U.S.  Tenczar and Brian Pearson, from Mendocino Market, shared their years of expertise during the MURTEC session, POS Software Trends: A Buyer's Guide.
  • As General Counsel and Chief People Officer, Lauber will focus on optimizing organizational performance, building out the legal, people and enterprise risk management teams' infrastructure and expanding these critical business enabling functions to best support the continued growth of Sky Zone. 
  • For Sky Zone, Taylor, who has over 20 years of experience in real estate and franchise development, will be responsible for concept development, leasing, design, construction and facilities, as well as franchisee real estate support. In this role, he will spearhead Sky Zone's growth into new markets as well as strengthen the brand's presence in key U.S. cities. Taylor previously served as VP of Real Estate and Development at Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex, with over 120 locations.

New Executives Join the Red Robin Team

Red Robin exterior of Glendale AZ location

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. has added some new faces to its Executive Leadership Team. This includes the appointment of Kevin Mayer to Chief Marketing Officer and Mark Simpson as Interim Chief People Officer. In addition, Jason Rusk has been promoted to Chief Business Development Officer.

Industry Vets Tapped to Fill CMO, Interim CPO Roles

As CMO of Red Robin, Mayer will be responsible for brand development, marketing, digital, innovation and menu development. He brings a wealth of global marketing, sales and brand building experience and has successfully BJ’s Restaurants, Volkswagen, Subaru and Chevrolet. As EVP, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Growth Officer at BJ’s Restaurants he oversaw cross-functional innovation, marketing, product development, off-premise, digital and earned media, and local marketing.  Mayer and his team played a crucial role in transforming the BJ’s Restaurants brand, driving it from a regional casual dining player to a nationally recognized lifestyle brand. Their efforts resulted in numerous successful product launches, one of the best retention programs in the industry and record levels of familiarity and brand love contributing to nine straight quarters of same-store traffic growth over the category.

Mark Simpson, a 35-year human resources and hospitality industry veteran, joins Red Robin May 1 in the role of Interim Chief People Officer, with incumbent Wayne Davis’ recent departure to pursue other personal and career interests. Simpson recently retired from Texas Roadhouse, where he served as Vice President of Legendary People for many years and assisted in guiding the success of the company’s growth and award-winning culture, including administering its Operations-focused market & managing partner program, executive and senior-level staffing, benefits & compensation, field HR and employee relations, HR administration and more. Simpson will provide senior leadership on key People initiatives during this transition and assist in the search for Red Robin’s permanent CPO.

In addition, Jason Rusk has been promoted to Chief Business Development Officer. Most recently serving as SVP of Transformation & Business Development, Rusk has played a leadership role in a number of key initiatives impacting operations, franchise, marketing and branding during his 25 years with Red Robin. In his expanded role, he will continue to spearhead business transformation initiatives including franchise development, culinary upgrades, off-premise channel growth, supply chain, in-restaurant guest experience, real estate and new restaurant growth as well as deepening key brand partnerships with Donatos and others.


QSR Automations Recognized for Excellence in Customer Service

QSR Automations customer service team

QSR Automations earned recognition for excellence in customer service and support.

At MURTEC, QSR Automations’ VP of Hardware Solutions and Support, Kathi Klein, received fHospitality Technology ’s 2023 Top Women in Technology Lifetime Achievement Award. 

During her more than 30 years in the restaurant technology industry – half of those at QSR Automations–Klein has amassed incomparable knowledge in understanding and troubleshooting kitchen display, front-of-house, and the associated hardware and networking platforms needed to run them. 

But what truly sets Klein apart is her natural ability to nurture relationships and foster talent, which has made her an effective leader in QSR Automations’ Support Services Team. During her long tenure at QSR Automations, Klein has built one of the industry’s strongest and most effective support teams. In fact, under Klein’s guidance, the team has received a 99 percent satisfaction rate from customers in 2021, and last year handled more than 16,000 inbound and outbound calls, which earned them a bronze award for Excellence in Customer Service from the 2022 Stevie Awards. 

This was the third bronze Stevie award for the team, as last fall, Klein accepted two additional bronze awards from the Stevie Women in Business Awards on behalf of QSR Automations–one for excellence in customer service, and the other for growth. QSR Automations was selected for these honors from more than 1,500 nominations from around the world.

“Just as our technology is the heart of a restaurant kitchen, our people are truly the heart of this business,” said Angela Leet, CEO of QSR Automations. “My colleagues are passionate about innovation both in and out of the office, and it’s immensely gratifying to see them recognized for these achievements.”

QSR Automations, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., with offices in the United Kingdom, is a global industry leader in kitchen automation and guest management services.


Knowland Releases Sales Leader Training Guide to Help Hotel Owners and Asset Managers Protect and Grow Investments

logo, company name

Knowland, a provider of data-as-a-service insights on meetings and events for hospitality, announced a Sales Leader Training Guide designed to provide sales leaders with tips for helping property-level sellers get the best results from the Knowland platform and in turn, drive new business. Potential customers gain an in-depth look at the nuances of the platform. Download the guide here.

Achieving sustained profitability requires sales strategies that start from the top down. Owners and asset managers are looking to protect their investments through targeted data analytics. To help them do so, the Guide includes key questions needed to gain insight into industry trends and property-level sales performance.

  • Best practices for property-level sellersand above-property managers – Short booking windows challenge leaders looking to simultaneously book in the year, for the year, and build a healthy base into future years. The Guide details top activities that lead to success for on-property sales leaders and enterprise best practices to help asset managers better manage their portfolios.
  • Fast, simple directions to better strategize and delegate – Fast, simple directions and next steps help sales teams leverage insights and realize results. Top-level steps ensure sales teams leverage all aspects of the platform, such as Market Snapshot to investigate market trends or Smart Search to research potential accounts.
  • Create a holistic approach to a successful sales program – Key features enable sales teams to drive results. At the same time, leaders and above-property management gain key insights into performance metrics and areas of opportunity. Feature sets help sales leaders keep tabs on competitors (Comp Set Calendar), delegate target accounts (Account Sets) and hold teams accountable (Usage Reports). Market Analytics aggregates the data to provide a holistic view of a portfolio’s performance.

Patricia Shea, SVP sales and customer success, Knowland, said: “Owners and asset managers ask us all the time, ‘What best practices should I be aware of at property level and what above property metrics should I keep an eye on?’ We set out to answer these questions in a fast, simple way. The Sales Leader Training Guide not only provides best practices when using the Knowland platform but also frames sales team discussions between owners and on-property sales teams.”