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Maria Rivera’s enthusiasm for Smalls Sliders is unmistakable as she talks about its potential to get to 500 locations and its strong unit economics.

Smalls Sliders CEO Maria Rivera on growing at the right pace: Stay disciplined and humble

Rivera, who has deep industry experience, will speak on an Ask the Experts panel at CREATE: The Experience event Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs

Maria Rivera’s restaurant industry expertise and experience runs deep. She started in food and beverage operations at Walt Disney World and then worked her way up with roles at Hilton, Caesars Entertainment, Darden, TGI Fridays and Logan’s Roadhouse. Eventually she made her way to Krispy Kreme and moved up to president in 2022. 

Then an opportunity came along she couldn’t refuse: CEO of an emerging slider brand called Smalls Sliders, named one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2023 Breakout Brands. Rivera’s enthusiasm for the brand is unmistakable as she talks about its potential to get to 500 locations and its strong unit economics. That goal and those economics are intertwined, of course, and they stem from the brand’s use of modular shipping container units to grow. Once a plot is prepared, Smalls can open a restaurant on top of it in as little as eight weeks

But Rivera is also all in on Smalls’ food and believes the made-to-order cheeseburger sliders will differentiate the concept from the crowd. She anticipates the brand’s personality will be a differentiator, as well, calling it “Instagrammable, nostalgic, clever, unassuming and a little bit in your face.” 

To understand just how bullish Rivera is on this brand, it’s important to note she moved herself and the company’s headquarters from Baton Rouge, La., to Atlanta, to be closer to its investment company — 10 Point Capital — and to have better access to the talent, resources and infrastructure needed to grow.  

Rivera will speak on an Ask the Experts panel at Nation’s Restaurant News’ Create: The Experience event Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs, Calif. Her session, “Finding the right growth strategy for your brand” will cover whether you should franchise, how to figure out the right pace for expansion, and how to build a more efficient footprint. It will be held from 10:30-11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

As a bit of a sneak preview, Rivera offered some advice for those exploring growth opportunities. 

“You have to stay alert and humble, number one. And you have to study. There’s no arrogance allowed in the playbook,” she said. “This work requires discipline. You have to be so disciplined that when you scale your brand, you can’t get distracted. And discipline isn’t just calendarization. That’s a tool. Discipline is getting things done and balancing dreams with reality. Do your homework, do your math, hold yourself accountable, be steadfast in your journey — then you’ll be able to do the things you want to do.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]  

Learn more from Maria Rivera at CREATE: The Experience, where she will speak with NRN executive editor Alicia Kelso about finding the right growth strategy for your brand, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs.

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