Kyle Noonan

Kyle Noonan, FreeRange Concepts

Kyle Noonan is an American entrepreneur, speaker, television personality, sommelier, and creative tastemaker. First known as an entrepreneur who grew his hospitality and entertainment company to a $50mm company in five short years and is on pace to eclipse $100mm in revenue by his seventh year. Not only has Kyle quickly emerged as an innovative entrepreneur and respected speaker, but he has been recognized as an engaging media personality appearing in national outlets such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Bravo, ESPN, FoodNetwork, Travel Channel, Food & Wine Magazine, New York Times, WallStreet Journal, and many more. 

Kyle has been described “as innovative as he is engaging” by the New York Times, and has been recognized as a 40 Under 40 Entrepreneurs to watch, Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, National Restaurant News Restaurateur of the Year, and is currently serving as President of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association.


Gina Wallisa, State Auto

Gina Wallisa is the Affinity Program Manager at State Auto Insurance. She is responsible for profitable growth in targeted industry segments. She designs, develops and produces programs that offer benefits to the members of the state associations. 

Gina has immersed herself in the restaurant association industry and is currently working on creating new program designs that will include premium savings as well as new coverages that are not available in today's marketplace. She seeks to be an advocate for the restaurant industry and works to bridge potential gaps between what insurance companies offer today and what restaurant owners truly need. Understanding these needs and emerging trends are vital to building successful programs. 

Gina's has over 30 years of experience in property and casualty insurance . She is a graduate of Pitzer College in Claremont, California. She proudly proclaims: 
Raised in Califonia, grown in Texas, and a Cowboy fan for life!


Lori Wheeler, Marsh Wortham

Lori Wheeler is responsible for developing program design, implementation, daily service and claims management on Management Liability coverages. She has cultivated numerous relationships with key insurers during her career and utilizes her home office level relationships with carriers and intimate understanding of the underwriting and claims processes to now benefit the insureds she represents. Lori works with insureds from all industry groups and corporate structures: private, public and non-profit companies.
Lori has 29 years of experience in the industry. She specializes in Directors & Officers Liability, Employment Practices Liability, Fiduciary Liability, Crime Coverage, Cyber Liability, Kidnap & Ransom, and Errors & Omissions Liability. She has worked as a broker for J&H and JLT and as regional underwriting manager for AIG, Kemper, and Ace. She is a graduate of Baylor University, was named an Elite Women of Insurance by Insurance Business America and as a Risk & Insurance Magazine’s Power Broker.

David Denney

David Denney, Denney Law Group

David is an attorney whose firm counsels restaurants, bars, chefs, caterers, and other members of the hospitality community.

David currently serves as the President of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, and is an owner of GDRA member restaurant Hillside Tavern.

David and his team focus the majority of their practice on matters including the formation, purchase and sale of business entities; private equity transactions; commercial leases and real estate transactions; trademark protection; employment law; alcoholic beverage licensing; and franchising. The firm also represents its clients in various types of civil litigation.

David’s professional commitment to the food and beverage community is highlighted by his industry-wide involvement, including writing and speaking on various topics in restaurant law throughout the year.

Emily Williams Knight

Emily Williams Knight, Texas Restaurant Association


Knight has more than 20 years of experience and success in national and global leadership positions and is the newly appointed CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association. Most recently, she was the Managing Director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a leading provider of international education. Her career includes senior leadership roles at Laureate Education and serving as President of Kendall College, a leader in hospitality and culinary arts education. During her time as Kendall’s president, Knight expanded access to culinary education throughout the Midwest, Latin America and the Middle East. She worked closely with the Illinois legislature to advance the industry and partnered with the Mayor of Chicago, Choose Chicago, and the Illinois Restaurant Association to drive Chicago visitors to a record 50 million per year.

Knight has extensive experience working with industry, workforce investment boards, and community colleges to create skills training programs designed to fill the growing number of restaurant and hospitality job openings. Early in her career, Knight held several leadership roles at Pearson, including head of marketing for teacher education and head of sales for the west region. Out of undergraduate studies, she was recruited into Pizza Hut’s Management Training Program and also served as a Catering Sales and Event Manager for Marriott’s Key West Resorts.

Knight holds a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Walden University; an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Newbury College; a Master of Science in Management from Troy University in Alabama; a B.S. in Hospitality Administration from Boston University, where she was a Trustee Scholar and an A.S. in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from Newbury College where she was a Presidential Scholar and captain of the women’s basketball team.

Additionally, Dr. Knight is a member of several boards, including the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), where she serves as the chair of the governance committee and is a member of the executive and strategic planning committees. 

Kaiser Lashkari

Kaiser Lashkari, Himalaya Restaurant & Catering

Chef Kaiser Lashkari received his masters degree from Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management in 1989 before opening Himalaya Restaurant & Catering. Lashkari originated from Pakistan, where he draws inspiration and care for the flavors in his food. Chef Kaiser was a James Beard Semi-Finalist in 2019, and Himalaya was rated No. 9 in the Houston Chronicle’s “Top 100 Houston Restaurants” list, and has placed in the top 15 in previous years. He can be found most often in Himalaya’s kitchen when he is not out greeting guests.


Tal Spirer, Tabit

Prior to joining Tabit in April of 2018, Tal dedicated his career to the POS technology space, taking on different roles at Retalix, NCR, and Par Technology. He had spent many years running complex projects and sales-related engagements in the retail and hospitality POS space, that gave him unique insight into what was and was not working for restauranteurs from a technology perspective.

Tal understood that the future of restaurant technology lies not necessarily with the technology itself, but by the adaptation of software to consumer-centric needs.

Tal was excited to join Tabit Technologies as the GM of the Dallas Business Unit, with the main goal of positively disrupting the current technological landscape in the restaurant space.

Matthew Mabel

Matthew Mabel, Surrender, Inc.

Matthew Mabel founded Surrender, a leading Texas-based hospitality, and management consulting firm, in 1991. His life’s work is advising successful restaurateurs to maximize profit, revenue, unit growth, harmony, and personal freedom. He is known for urging restaurateurs to be as good to themselves as they are to their guests. He says “Owning an independent multi-unit restaurant company ought to be a joy, let’s make it that way”. Surrender develops custom programs using their Management Power, Revenue Builder, Creating Consistency, Restaurant Reinvigorator, and High Profile Start-Up processes. He accelerates results by working with ownership, senior management and unit level management teams in operations, organizational development, strategic planning, concept, and management development. He is a trustee of the Texas Restaurant Association Education Foundation, where he also serves on the executive committee, and as chairman of the restaurant education committee. www.surrender.biz


Lucy Garcia, United States Department of Labor - Wage and Hour Division

In 2006, Lucy Garcia joined the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division as an Investigator in the New Orleans District Office and currently serves as the Community Outreach and Resource Planning Specialist in the Houston District Office. Ms. Garcia has a broad base of Wage and Hour experience by conducting investigations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Government Contracts labor standards statutes, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and additional enforcement under The Immigration Reform and Control Act. 

Ms. Garcia has received numerous Worker Protection Awards from the Secretary of Labor and has conducted over 1000 outreach events to proactively engage employers, employees and communities to ensure they are aware of the resources available to assist them in understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

David Scott Peters

David Scott Peters, DavidScottPeters.com

David Scott Peters is a restaurant coach and speaker who teaches restaurant operators how to cut costs and increase profits with his trademark Restaurant Prosperity Formula. Known as THE expert in the restaurant industry, he uses a no-BS style to teach and motivate restaurant owners to take control of their businesses and finally realize their full potential. Thousands of restaurants have used his formula to transform their businesses. To learn more about David Scott Peters and his formula, visit www.davidscottpeters.com.