The Wednesday General Session Will Look at How Distributors can Keep Pace with Evolving Operators and Deliver Value in an Increasingly E-Commerce Driven Market

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the prevalent thinking on the best ways to do business have been in a constant state of flux. Operators that were accustomed to managing long reservations lists shifted overnight to a primarily take-out business while equipment distributors had to find new ways to show their value in a market where few projects were moving forward. Now that the industry is in full-on recovery mode, the market is changing again.

Operators that implemented new business models during the height of COVID-19 are now determining which concepts to keep and which to discard. The shift is creating a lot of uncertainty but also ample opportunity for distributors that can support new ideas and help those models reach their maximum potential. That topic will lead the Wednesday general session at the FEDA Annual Conference. FEDA Chairman Michael Keck and Marie Ffolkes, CEO of TriMark USA, will start the day off by discussing how operators are changing and what dealers and distributors need to do to keep pace and mitigate challenges.

The theme will continue during the keynote presentation delivered by Craig Barber, CEO of Restaurant Growth Services, the parent company of O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar, Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub, Village Inn Restaurants and Legendary Baking. Barber is known for his P3 philosophy: people first, profits and maintaining a commitment to personal fulfillment for team members. His keynote will cover how those values drive his leadership and have helped Restaurant Growth Services expand to more than 400 locations. Afterward, audience members will have the chance to learn more about Barber’s perspective of the industry during a Q&A moderated by Ffolkes.

The spotlight will then turn to restauranteur and Food Network star Maneet Chauhan, an award-winning chef, author and founding partner and president of Nashville’s Morph Hospitality Group. Chauhan will share her history in the industry and touch on the evolving relationship between operators and distributors, new business models and the impact of supply chain disruption on restaurants. Following the presentation, Chauhan will participate in a Q&A moderated by Brandon Styll, host of the Nashville Restaurant Radio Podcast, an audio show that connects the local hospitality community by sharing stories, ideas, successes and failures.

For the final segment, the general session will shift gears from focusing on the customer to covering how equipment dealers and distributors can compete on value in an Amazon world. The three-person panel will include Paul Reilly, a professional speaker, author, sales trainer and long-time faculty member at the University of Innovative Distribution; Eric Santagato, vice president of sales for Singer Equipment Company; and Ben Whitlock, president of Mobile Fixture. The group will look at what it means to deliver value to customers in an increasingly e-commerce focused market and how dealers can identify advantages in serving customers over their transaction-focused competitors.

Meet Keynote Speaker Craig Barber

Restaurant Growth Services since October 2017, leading brands such as O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar, Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub and Village Inn Restaurants. His responsibilities include more than 400 restaurants with about 290 company-owned restaurants and roughly 120 franchised locations in 40 states. In addition, Barber is responsible for Legendary Baking which serves baked desserts and custom bakery items (over 15 million pies per year) to restaurants, grocery retailers and others across the United States. System-wide revenues in 2020 for all businesses were over $700 million.

After six years with Ernst & Young, Barber began his restaurant career in 1983 with Shoney’s, Inc. When he left Shoney’s in 1997, Barber’s titles included chief administrative officer and CFO, making him responsible for all staff and administrative functions of $1.3 billion NYSE restaurant company that operated and franchised more than 1,475 (950 company-owned) multi-concept restaurants in 34 states.

Before taking on his current role at Restaurant Growth Services, Barber most recently was a Denny’s franchisee and served for 10 years as chair of the Denny’s Franchisee Association Board. In that role, he led a collaborative brand effort for the alignment of priorities to create value and improve performance.

Barber was born and raised in Nashville. His father served in the military for 43 years and was his leadership mentor. Those insights led to a P3 philosophy of:

  • People first
  • Profits
  • Maintaining commitment to personal fulfillment for team members

In addition to serving on the boards for the operating businesses for which he is responsible, Barber also is a member of the board of trustees for The Folded Flag Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides educational scholarships and support grants to the spouses and children of the United States military and government personnel who died as a result of hostile action or in an accident related to U.S. combat operations. He is also a trustee of The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization.