Heather Neary to leave Auntie Anne’s as parent Focus Brands overhauls management

Melissa Smith was named chief people officer for Focus; Kendall Ware, was named chief brand officer of Carvel and Cinnabon; and Alisa Gmelich was named chief brand officer for Auntie Anne’s.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Heather Neary is stepping down as brand president at Auntie Anne’s at the end of the year amid another series of executive moves parent company Focus Brands announced Thursday.

Alisa Gmelich will replace Neary as Auntie Anne’s chief brand officer. In addition, Melissa Smith was named chief people officer for Focus and Kendall Ware was named chief brand officer for Carvel and Cinnabon. Atlanta-based Focus operates several brands, including Jamba, McAlister's Deli and Moe's Southwest Grill as well as Anne's, Carvel and Cinnabon.

The moves are only the latest in what has been an almost complete overhaul of the executive team at Focus under CEO Jim Holthouser—including the pending departure of Company President Kat Cole at the end of this year following the reorganization of its leadership team back in September.

“This year has been about refining our structure and our brands to accelerate performance and prepare us for the future,” Holthouser said in a statement. “As we end 2020, I know we have the right talent, with the right strategies in place to take our brands and our business to the next level.”

Ware comes to Carvel and Cinnabon from Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, where he was the president and chief operating officer. The 15-year industry veteran will be responsible for brand management for the two specialty concepts.

Neary is leaving at the end of the year. Gmelich will take over brand management for the pretzel concept. Gmelich has more than 25 years’ worth of marketing and strategic planning experience and has worked with companies like McDonald’s and Burger King and at IHOP for the past eight years.

Smith has worked with Focus for nine years, most recently as SVP of human resources. She will oversee human resources across business functions.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Liu was named Auntie Anne’s vice president of marketing. She comes to Anne’s from Hershey’s, where she had been director of partnerships and occasion marketing. She has spent nearly 15 years in the food industry.

Danielle Porto Parra joined McAlister’s Deli as vice president of marketing. She has been in the hospitality and retail industry for more than 20 years, most recently with automotive aftermarket brands like Pep Boys and AAMCO Transmissions.

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