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CREATE culminates Wednesday morning featuring a keynote panel with the 2021 class of CREATORS award winners.

CREATE, a new live event from Nation’s Restaurant News, kicks off in Denver

Hundreds of restaurant leaders are set to gather for the three-day event to connect, learn and grow their businesses

More than 500 foodservice professionals are expected to gather in Denver today to kick off the inaugural CREATE: The Future of Foodservice, a new event experience from Nation’s Restaurant News designed to help restaurant operators evolve their businesses for a changing world.

CREATE, which marks Nation’s Restaurant News’ first major in-person event in nearly two years, features a revamped format that gives attendees more direct access to the people, ideas and products that are moving the industry forward.

“Since we last came together in person, the restaurant world has been completely transformed,” said Sam Oches, editorial director of Nation’s Restaurant News. “With CREATE, we are proud to bring together established restaurant leaders and the most innovative rising stars for an incredible opportunity to connect, share ideas and learn how to best compete in this new business landscape.”

More than 50 experts are scheduled to speak on topics including digital tools, labor strategy, franchising, plant-based menus, drive-thru innovations, leadership, off-premises platforms, virtual brands, the future of full-service restaurants and more. Attendees will sample the latest food trends and get a taste of the thriving Denver restaurant scene with pop-up food stations throughout CREATE.

The event kicks off today with a powerful conversation on the importance of building a diverse workforce, and how widening the talent pipeline is essential for positioning brands for the future. Moderated by James Pogue of JP Enterprises, this session will feature Marissa Andrada, chief diversity, inclusion and people officer for Chipotle Mexican Grill; Sheilina Henry, group vice president, diversity and inclusion, for Bloomin’ Brands; and Tanika Cabral, senior vice president and chief of staff, chief customer officer, The Coca-Cola Company.

Following that opening keynote panel, winners of the 2021 Hot Concepts awards, which honor emerging restaurant concepts, will share the secrets of their early success and insights on what it will take to grow in a post-pandemic world in a panel discussion Monday afternoon. Attendees will hear from Khanh Nguyen, CEO of Zalat Pizza; Bill Phelps, CEO of Dave’s Hot Chicken; and Chris Britt, operations and regional manager, Agave & Rye.

On Tuesday morning, Monty Moran, former co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, will deliver a keynote address on why a strong company culture is essential for success. In a talk titled, “Love is Free. Guac Is Extra: How to Empower Employees & Build a Connected Culture,” Moran will outline how to build engaged and effective teams, at a time when recruiting and retaining talent has never been more critical.

Throughout the day Tuesday, dozens of restaurant executives will host small group conversations and live Q&A on a wide variety of topics, as part of the Ask the Experts series. The lineup includes: P.F. Chang’s CEO Damola Adamolekun on what’s next for casual dining; Khalilah Cooper, senior director of service and hospitality for Chick-fil-A, on drive-thru strategy; &pizza CEO Michael Lastoria on the labor crisis; Native Foods CEO Carin Stutz on mentorship and talent development; Dave’s Hot Chicken CEO Bill Phelps on the future of franchising; Brett Schulman, CEO of CAVA, on growth strategies; and Joe Guith, restaurant category president for Focus Brands, on tech trends.

Greg Kingen, chief revenue officer of Black Box Intelligence will also deliver a keynote address Wednesday morning titled “State of the Industry: Where Do We Go From Here?” The session will feature a data-driven look at restaurant traffic, consumer behavior and workforce trends.

CREATE culminates Wednesday morning featuring a keynote panel with the 2021 class of CREATORS award winners. The winners and their respective categories are: Brinker International/It’s Just Wings (Brand CREATOR - 200 units or more); Portillo’s (Brand CREATOR — fewer than 200 units); Big Red F (Independent CREATOR); Virtual Dining Concepts (Marketing CREATOR); Scott Boatwright, chief restaurant officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill; and James Fripp, chief equity and inclusion officer, Yum! Brands Inc.

The winners of the 2021 CREATORS Awards will also be celebrated at a cocktail reception Tuesday night, where the winner of the CREATOR of the Year award will be announced from among those six winners.

Contact Christi Ravneberg at [email protected]

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