Restaurant Business names its GM of the Year winners

General managers from Noodles & Co., O’Charley’s and Endiro Coffee were selected as the top GMs in RB’s inaugural award.
Wendy Lopez, Sammie Flippen, Dwaine Stoneroad. | Photographs by Brigette Burgman, Marvin Kelly, Mic Smith

General managers from a casual-dining restaurant in Charleston, S.C., a coffee shop in suburban Chicago, and a Colorado fast-casual spot are the winners of Restaurant Business' inaugural GM of the Year contest.  

Dwaine Stoneroad, GM of O’Charley’s in Charleston, won in the Full-Service Chain category. Sammie Flippen, GM of a Noodles & Co. location in Colorado Springs, won in the Limited-Service Chain category, and Wendy Lopez, GM of Endiro Coffee in Aurora, Ill., was awarded in the Independents category. 

“Each of these general managers demonstrated an exceptional ability over the course of the last year and were absolutely deserving winners,” said Jonathan Maze, editor-in-chief of Restaurant Business. “The general manager is the most important position in the restaurant industry. This person can be the difference between a restaurant that closes and one that remains open. They can turn a good restaurant into a great restaurant. And these three GMs demonstrated this during one of the most difficult operating periods in industry history.” 

Dwaine Stoneroad has been the general manager of the O’Charley’s in Charleston for the past decade. He was cited for his innovative use of the tour bus business to drive sales at his restaurant and the support he provided the restaurant after a fire at a nearby location. He celebrated the anniversary of one employee by hosting a party featuring 30 of his regulars.  

Wendy Lopez started working with Endiro Coffee as a cook in 2020 and was the general manager less than a year later. She was cited for helping the restaurant meet tough sales goals coming out of the pandemic years, and for creating a unique culture at a location in a diverse city, where the restaurant’s young staff often know her as “mom.” 

Sammie Flippen was hired at Noodles in 2012 and named general manager in 2017, before more recently being promoted to Training NRO GM. She was cited for leading exceptional performance at her location and for turning the unit into one where the brand pilots new technologies and menu items. Flippen was also lauded for other achievements, such as delivering meals to first responders following the Club Q tragedy.  

The GM of the Year winners were chosen by a panel of judges from a large number of entries. They were selected using seven different criteria: financial acumen, recruitment and retention, leadership ability, talent development, diversity and creating a positive work culture.  

All three will be honored at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago on Sunday, May 21.  

“These three GMs won in a tough competition,” Maze said. “We had so many great general managers nominated for this award. There are a lot of restaurants in excellent hands.”  

Here are the honorable mentions.

Limited service: 

Farid Vani, Pizza 9 

Melinda Evens, MOD Pizza 

Kristen Allen, Killer Burger 

Maria Cruz, Golden Chick 

Maria Ramirez, Golden Chick 

Full service: 

Heather Roberts, Tupelo Honey 

Paul Tellier, Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub 

Chris Raffles, J Alexander’s 

Mark Planellas, Black Bear Diner 


Kendall Patterson, Pietro’s Italian Restaurant, Lodi 

Carlos Chaves, Black Barrel 

Brandon Coleman, ClusterTruck 

Sophia Vidal, Los Chingones 

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


4 things we learned in a wild week for restaurant tech

Tech Check: If you blinked, you may have missed three funding rounds, two acquisitions, a “never-before-seen” new product and a bold executive poaching. Let’s get caught up.


High restaurant menu prices mean high customer expectations

The Bottom Line: Diners are paying high prices to eat out at all kinds of restaurants these days. And they’re picking winners and losers.


Podcast transcript: Puttshack CEO Joe Vrankin

A Deeper Dive: The chief executive of the minigolf-centric restaurant chain discusses how the chain focuses on higher-quality games and food.


More from our partners