Blaze, Rocky Mountain Chocolate, Swig and more shake up their executive ranks

Executive Summary: Christian Kuhn is the new CMO at Blaze. Veteran chain executive Starlette Johnson becomes interim CEO at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and more.
Blaze Pizza
Blaze Pizza is among the restaurant concepts announcing new executives this week. | Photo: Shutterstock

Executive Summary

Here are the latest executive moves in the restaurant industry:


Blaze CMO Christian Kuhn | Photo courtesy: Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza has a new CMO. Christian Kuhn comes to the Pasadena, Calif.-based fast casual as the former head of loyalty and vice president of customer engagement and partnerships at Focus Brands. He previously spent nine years at Hilton where he was vice president of global marketing for both the Focused Service Brands and the Extended Stay Brands, and he was also vice president of marketing for Hilton Grand Vacations.

At Blaze, Kuhn will support growth with enhancements to the menu, ease of ordering and the digital infrastructure.

Starlette Johnson

Starlette Johnson, interim CEO Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory | Photo courtesy: Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Veteran chain executive Starlette Johnson has been named interim CEO of 200-store Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, succeeding Rob Sarlls, who has left the company. The franchisor said it is actively searching for Sarlls’ permanent successor. Starlette has served in a variety of senior management positions at restaurant companies. She is a former president and COO of Dave & Buster’s, a past chief strategic officer for Chili’s parent Brinker International and director of finance for KFC. She has also held seats on the boards of Bojangles, Chuy’s and SusieCakes.


Swig CFO Bill Ayers | Photo courtesy: Swig

Bill Ayers has been named CFO of the “dirty soda” chain Swig. Ayers served previously as global vice president of finance for climbing and ski equipment brand Black Diamond. Before that, he worked in leadership at 1-800 Contacts, as well as in the banking industry.

Ayers joins Swig as it prepares for expansion, with 25 company units and another 40 franchise stores scheduled to open in 2024.

Pepper Lunch logo.gif

The Japanese fast-casual chain Pepper Lunch has hired Mark Bailey as COO and Jonathan Whiteside as director of creative and technology, laying the infrastructure for further growth in North America. Both previously served the international chain as consultants. Bailey earlier served the operations departments of Mr. Gatti’s and Chronic Taco. In addition to overseeing operations, his initial focus will be on developing Pepper Lunch’s American supply chain. The concept specializes in beef pepper rice, a traditional Japanese dish cooked teppanyaki style.


Eduardo Marquez, executive chef at Casa Don Alfonso | Photo courtesy: Casa Don Alfonso

Eduardo Marquez is the new executive chef at Casa Don Alfonso in the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, Mo. A veteran of the Ritz-Carlton brand, Marquez is tasked with carrying on the recipes and traditions of the Iccarino family, which has operated the Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant in Sant’ Agata, Italy for four generations.


Jeff Ramsey, executive chef of Mizumi | Photo courtesy: Mizumi

At the Wynn Las Vegas, Jeff Ramsey is the new executive chef of Mizumi, the resort’s fine-dining Japanese restaurant. Born in Japan but raised in the U.S., Ramsey studied to become a Master of the Art of Sushi in Japan.

He previously worked for restaurateur José Andrés and earned a Michelin star as chef of Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, and later introduced kaiseki and omakase at his own restaurant Kintsugi by Jeff Ramsey. In addition, Ramsey was a challenger on “Iron Chef Thailand.”

Heritage Restaurant Brands

Ryan Cavanaugh and Rachel Mansell, Heritage Restaurant Brands | Photo courtesy: Heritage Restaurant Brands

Heritage Restaurant Brands, parent of the Huckleberry’s Breakfast & Lunch and Cool Hand Luke’s restaurant chains, has hired Ryan Cavanaugh as VP of information technology and promoted Rachel Mansell to controller. Cavanaugh had previously worked for Round Table Pizza, Olive Garden and Black Angus. Mansell joined the company in 2022.

John Masterson

John Masterson, director of culinary | Photo courtesy: Bad Daddy's Burger Bar

The Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar chain has named former multi-unit manager John Masterson as director of culinary and eight-year system veteran Dave Wallmann as beverage director. Both have been with the full-service operation since its early days. More recently, the brand has hit a slowdown, with same-store sales dropping 6.2% for the first quarter ended Dec. 26. Bad Daddy’s is owned by Good Times Restaurants, which also runs a regional chain of burger and frozen custard outlets.

Dave Wallman

Dave Wallman, beverage director | Photo courtesy: Bad Daddy's Burger Bar

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