Georgia Restaurant Association Announces 2024 Board of Directors

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) is pleased to announce the organization’s Board of Directors for 2024. Officers from 2023 have committed to continue serving in 2024 with the transition of newly appointed president and CEO Stephanie Fischer. The executive committee includes board chair Justin Triplett, president and CEO for MBC Concessions; past chair Hank Clark, vice president of operations for Marlow’s Tavern and the Woodall; vice chair Alexis Kinsey, co-founder for Fork U Concepts; newly appointed treasurer Mike Dixon, chief financial officer for GoTo Foods; and secretary Joseph Hsiao, founder of H Restaurant Group.

"I'm honored to continue serving as the board chair for the GRA,” says Justin Triplett, GRA board chair. “Over the years, we have seen the association grow in depth and breadth, reflecting the dynamic landscape of Georgia's restaurant industry. My dedication to this sector is rooted in a deep understanding of its challenges and opportunities, and I'm committed to fostering a community where every member can thrive."

The GRA also welcomes 12 new board members for 2024, consisting of restaurateurs and industry leaders:

Paul Baldasaro, chief operating officer for Taco Mac: Baldasaro has more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Throughout his career, he has helped develop and grow casual dining brands. He most recently served as president and CEO of Hickory Tavern, a 25-unit sports bar brand based in Charlotte, where he led an operational transformation, successfully navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic, stabilized employee turnover and improved same-store sales. Baldasaro also served as COO for two Atlanta-based restaurant companies: Mellow Mushroom and Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. He joined Taco Mac at a time of rapid growth and opened three restaurants in 2023, including Macon and Dawsonville in Georgia and Pelham, Alabama. *Baldasaro previously served on the board from 2012–2015 and served as board chair in 2016. 

Jessica Bryant, vice president, SMG restaurants for NCR Voyix: Bryant is senior director of restaurant product marketing at NCR Corporation. With over 14 years of experience working in the industry, she leads the marketing direction for NCR's restaurant technology portfolio, including building a deep understanding of customer needs and requirements. She has served in several leadership roles including head of hospitality and retail marketing and has been with NCR since it acquired Radiant Systems in 2011. Bryant is experienced in all marketing channels including events/tradeshows, marketing communications, public relations, demand creation, advertising, channel marketing and brand management. Before joining Radiant Systems, she held marketing management positions at Recall, Inc., and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. 

Jose “Pepe” Fundora, owner of Cork and Glass and co-owner of Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant: Fundora has grown up in the hospitality industry. His parents Maria and Antonio Fundora have owned and managed restaurants since before he was born. From the moment he was able, Fundora started working at his parent’s restaurant Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant. After a 2013 visit to Napa Valley with his parents to scope out vintners, he pursued his accreditation through The Court of Master Sommeliers and became a level 2 certified sommelier in 2018. With a fervor for wine and an innate curiosity about wines everywhere from California to Australia, he eyed the storefront next door to Casa Nuova as a place to make specialty wines more accessible to the public and Casa Nuova’s patrons. Fundora opened Cork and Glass in July 2020. At Cork and Glass, Fundora manages everything from inventory, checking sales and placing orders to communicating with reps and hosting tastings and winemaker dinners with top talent like Joe Wagner of Belle Glos and Maggie Kruse of Jordan Winery, to name a couple. 

Kaffee Hopkins, vice president of marketing and administrative officer for Sterling Hospitality: Hopkins joined Sterling Hospitality in 2014 and has been developing and implementing all marketing communications to ensure integrity and growth. Before Sterling, she founded Noffel Consulting, gaining experience with brands like Willy’s Mexicana Grill and Applebee’s. She also served as vice president group management supervisor at Grey Worldwide advertising agency where she developed and executed marketing strategies for Southern Company, Icehouse and Cousins Properties. Since 2016, Hopkins has served on the board of the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group (MEG) and was the board’s chairman from 2019-2022. She also is a member of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Before becoming vice president of marketing and administrative officer, Hopkins served as the company’s director of brand marketing and played a vital role in the success of Marlow’s Tavern, the Woodall and Sterling Culinary Management. 

Tom Johnson, president and CEO of Associated Restaurant Ventures: Johnson owns several Wendy’s franchise locations in northwest Georgia. He’s an expert in quick-service restaurant operations who looks forward to becoming an advocate for the restaurant industry and gaining a deeper understanding of the legislative process. Johnson currently serves as an executive committee member on the board of the National Bank of Georgia (now Cadence Bank), founding director and vice chairman of the Classic City Bank board and member of the Wendy's National PAC board. Johnson also is actively engaged in his community, having formerly served two terms as president of the Athens Country Club, president of the Athens Touchdown Club and president of the UGA Tee-Off Club. 

Melissa Libby, president of Melissa Libby & Associates (MLA): Libby founded her eponymous public relations firm Melissa Libby & Associates (MLA) in Atlanta in 1992. MLA is a boutique public relations (PR) firm specializing in restaurants and hospitality. She is a board member and past board president for the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and has served on the board for Georgia Organics and Les Dames d’Escoffier. MLA is the recipient of the 2022 GRACE Award for Outstanding Industry Partner. Nothing makes Libby happier than hearing she has solved someone’s problem. Whether it be suggesting the perfect restaurant for a special night, crafting a message that resonates with the target audience or suggesting a strategic change to a current business model, she enjoys generating positive results for friends and clients.

Bobby Morena, senior vice president of franchise development for GoTo Foods: GoTo Foods represents iconic brands including Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s. Morena is responsible for overseeing all aspects of GoTo Foods’ franchise development function, including working with independent brand franchisees, the real estate, design and construction teams, and brand management teams to ensure incremental franchise growth in the United States and Canada. Morena joined GoTo Foods in 2021 as the company’s vice president of portfolio management, guiding franchisees through strategic expansion and divestment of their portfolio to ensure maximum brand strength and growth potential. Before joining GoTo Foods, he served as a director of franchise development at Inspire Brands, overseeing franchise sales for multiple brands in the Inspire portfolio. Before his tenure at Inspire, he spent over 20 years with Jimmy John’s. 

David Rose, vice president food service national accounts for The Coca-Cola Company: Rose is a business development executive with a diverse functional background acquired through experience in a variety of roles. He possesses a strong leadership presence, with the ability to build and motivate highly successful teams to deliver against a variety of business objectives. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in economics and foreign affairs from the University of Georgia, he joined General Mills as a business planning associate. Rose has been with Coca-Cola since 2007, working his way up from revenue management specialist to vice president of food service national accounts. In his 16 years at Coca-Cola, Rose has worked in numerous divisions including director of sales for Quiktrip Convenience Stores, director of US sales for Costco, and vice president of global sales for Domino’s. 

Libby Sharp, director government affairs for Inspire Brands: Sharp is a government affairs director for Inspire Brands, which includes Arby's, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin', Jimmy John's and Sonic Drive-In. In Georgia, this includes 683 restaurants—78% of which are franchised. In addition to her work at Inspire Brands, she serves on several boards and committees, including the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Joe Sieve, chief restaurant and development officer for Papa Johns International: Sieve brings broad-based experience as a strategic operator and development leader for major industry players, including Domino’s and Inspire Brands. He began his career out of college as a franchisee and later built a portfolio of 58 Domino's restaurants. Most recently, Sieve spent six years at Inspire Brands as vice president of franchise development, where he was involved in the creation and growth of the multi-brand organization. Before Inspire and as a Domino’s franchisee, he was director of strategic market growth at Domino’s Pizza, Inc., where he and his team developed and executed the company’s fortressing strategy, among other contributions. As chief restaurant officer at Papa Johns International, Sieve leads the company’s franchise operations support team, company-owned restaurants and operations excellence team. Along with his team, he is responsible for driving continuous operations improvements through innovation and delivering customer satisfaction growth for the brand across both its corporate and franchise restaurants. 

Steve Simon, founder of Fifth Group Restaurants: Simon is responsible for all corporate finance, legal, facilities management and investor relations at Fifth Group Restaurants. He’s passionate about making Fifth Group Restaurants a leader in sustainable practices. After earning a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management from Michigan State University, he headed south to begin his restaurant career. Simon currently serves as a board member of the Green Foodservice Alliance and a member of the Midtown Alliance, serving both his interests and his community. Simon looks forward to staying current with legislation, sharing his expertise and making new connections within the restaurant industry. *Simon previously served on the board from 2010-2016.

Faith Vaughan, president and COO for Ray’s Restaurants LLC: Vaughan’s motivation stems from her desire to combine analytical skills with training and development. Having worked for Hillstone Restaurant Group for over 15 years in several positions has helped her cultivate and shape many aspects that are important to every successful business while building a foundation of excellence. Vaughan worked in many locations while with Hillstone, from New York City to Miami to Atlanta, allowing her to understand the many different needs of various demographics and infuse new techniques. Vaughan joined the Ray's family in 2016, and since then has held positions in management and human resources, proving herself to be a committed team member. Her daily goals are to initiate and implement standards for delivering state-of-the-art service and continually grow and develop each team member, all while adapting to the evolving trends of food and operations.

"It's a privilege to step into the role of president and CEO of the GRA, an organization that stands at the forefront of service and advocacy in the restaurant industry,” says Stephanie Fischer, GRA’s newly appointed president and CEO. “My journey in this field has been shaped by a profound dedication to excellence and innovation. I look forward to bringing my experience to the table, ensuring that we continue to elevate our industry and support the incredible talent we have in Georgia."

The GRA’s board consists of up to 35 directors representing restaurants, food service operations and allied members. These volunteer leaders provide strategic guidance to the GRA in its efforts to advance and protect Georgia’s hospitality industry.

2024 Georgia Restaurant Association Leadership 

Advisory Board

  • Patrick Cuccaro, Affairs to Remember Caterers

  • Phil Hickey, Miller’s Ale House

  • Pano Karatassos, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group

  • Julie Kritz, Chick-fil-A, Inc.

  • Alan LeBlanc, Brewed to Serve Restaurant Group

  • George McKerrow, Jr., Ted’s Montana Grill

  • John C. Metz, Sterling Hospitality

  • Mick Miklos, National Restaurant Association (retired)

  • Nancy Oswald, Sizzling Steak Concepts

  • Jim Squire, Franchise Marketing Advisors


Board of Directors Executive Committee

  • Justin Triplett, Chair, MBC Concessions

  • Hank Clark, Past Chair, Marlow’s Tavern & the Woodall

  • Alexis Kinsey, Vice Chair, Fork U Concepts

  • Mike Dixon, Treasurer, GoTo Foods

  • Joseph Hsiao, Secretary, H Restaurant Group


Board of Directors

  • Paul Baldasaro, Taco Mac

  • Jessica Bryant, NCR Voyix

  • Juan Calle, TQM Hospitality Group

  • Dr. Debra Cannon, Georgia State University

  • Reggie Coachman, RCD Business Consultants

  • Shannayl Deckard, Legacy Ventures

  • Pepe Fundora, Cork and Glass and Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant

  • Bill Goudey, Copeland's of New Orleans

  • Thomas Hallford, TSC Associates

  • Taylor Harper, Taylor English

  • Matt Hene, IRONWOOD, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC Company

  • Kaffee Hopkins, Sterling Hospitality

  • Sean Hyslop, Sysco Atlanta

  • Topher Jensen, Gas South

  • Tom Johnson, Associated Restaurant Ventures

  • Camila Knowles, Chick-fil-A

  • Melissa Libby, Melissa Libby & Associates

  • Bobby Morena, GoTo Foods

  • Susie Oddo, Unsukay

  • Wilson Oswald, Sizzling Steak Concepts

  • Brian Renshaw, Moore Colson CPAs and Advisors

  • David Rose, The Coca-Cola Company

  • Bradley Saxe, Goldbergs Group

  • Joe Sieve, Papa Johns International

  • Steve Simon, Fifth Group Restaurants

  • Jessica Smith, Ted’s Montana Grill

  • Richard Tang, Tang Hospitality

  • Hav Usry, Fat Man's Hospitality

  • Faith Vaughan, Ray's Restaurants, LLC

  • Bud Whitmire, Waffle House