Tracy Vaught

Tracy Vaught, H Town Restaurant Group - Backstreet Cafe, Hugo's, Caracol, Xochi

Tracy Vaught may been as an “accidental restaurateur” when she tried her hand at the hospitality industry more than 35 years ago, but she is now one of the most respected in the field. The geologist-turned-restaurateur owns/operates H Town Restaurant Group which includes four of Houston's most successful, award-winning restaurants - Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi. Vaught and James Beard Award-winning husband Chef Hugo Ortega have published two cookbooks, Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes From Our Neighborhood Cafe. She is a three-time semi-finalist for Restaurateur of the Year for James Beard Awards, named 2003 Restaurateur of the Year at Houston Culinary Awards, and recognized in 2017 for her work by Houston Business Journal’s Women Mean Business Awards. In 2008, coinciding with Vaught’s 25th anniversary in the business, she was honored with a Texas Restaurant Association Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year Houston Chapter award.

Tommy Campbell

Tommy Campbell, NickelCommerce

Tommy is the founder and CEO of NickelCommerce, a digital marketplace that tracks restaurant costs and brings transparency to purchasing by allowing operators to share invoice data. Prior to NickelCommerce, he worked as a consultant to large hospital chains and the military, helping develop innovative, cost-effective solutions for healthcare delivery. Tommy holds a Masters in Economics from Boston University and a degree in Management from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a self-taught computer programmer and a craft beer lover.

Rory Arredondo

Rory Arredondo, NickelCommerce

Rory is a cofounder of NickelCommerce and leads product development. He lived in London and worked in financial compliance at RWC Partners, a hedge fund, prior to moving home to Texas to work on NickelCommerce. At RWC, he was instrumental in the operation of funds totaling $14B in assets under management. Rory holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. When not working, you can find Rory playing piano, traveling, or grabbing a cheeky pint with mates.

Linda Neukirchner

Linda Veatch, Fuzzy's Taco Shop

As a marketing executive for Fuzzy's Taco Shop, a 150-unit Fast Casual concept based in Fort Worth, Texas, Linda has contributed to the brand's growth from 32 to 150+ locations in 16 states. Her experience during the last 8 years encompasses franchising, vendor partnerships, onboarding loyalty, and on-line ordering platforms, media buying, research, brand positioning, social media, and old-fashioned guest relations. She wears a lot of hats, eats a lot of french fries, and believes that everything is good in moderation. When Linda isn't leading marketing initiatives for Fuzzy's Taco Shop, she's Mom to four amazing kids and one adorable, yet aging pug!

Thomas Nguyen

Thomas Nguyen, Peli Peli Restaurant Group

Thomas Nguyen is a co-founder of Peli Peli, a South African fine-dining concept top-rated in Houston on both Tripadvisor and Yelp, and Peli Peli Kitchen, a South African fast casual concept that was named Eater Houston's Fast Casual Concept of 2017. 

Thomas was featured on season 3 of CNBC's Restaurant Startup. An alum of the University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas School of Law, Thomas practiced for three years as a litigation attorney. While at UT, Thomas helped found Omega Phi Gamma, currently the largest Asian-interest fraternity in Texas.

Thomas is a 2019 Golden Fork Faces of Diversity Award Recipient (Greater Houston Restaurant Association), 2015 Houston Business Journal 40 Under 40 recipient, 2016 Houston Asian Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year and 2016 & 2017 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist.

Nadav Solomon

Nadav Solomon, Tabit

Over the past few years, Nadav identified the potential in leveraging mobile technologies to streamline operations and transform the restaurant industry.

Together with Barry Shaked, he assembled a strong team of restaurant and technology industry experts, who have brought this solution to market.

Passionate about food, Nadav studied Food Engineering at the Technion and is a Biotech entrepreneur. Previously he worked as a Senior Strategic Consultant at Ernst & Young.

Formerly a Lieutenant Commander in the Israeli navy (Hovlim), where he was in charge of command and control systems, Nadav is experienced in running big operations and monitoring complex systems with multiple embedded workflows.


Giselle Mascarenhas and Ruben Villarreal, Bold Media / Bold Instatute

Giselle & Ruben launched Indigo PR Firm, a full-service Public Relations firm, in 2013 after 13 years of Giselle building her skills in the ownership of bars and branding of restaurants, and Ruben spending 15 years in local government ending his extremely successful career in Politics in 2014.

These past two years, they noticed businesses were not using their social media resources to their full potential and took a pivot to rebrand to BOLD Media, where they teach business owners the skills to build their brand, influence, and community in the ever-growing Instagram world. The evolution of communication through social media has created this opportunity for every person with a passion to develop a strong brand on Instagram without depending on a publicist, a media firm or advertising agency. BOLD Media offers Instagram branding courses & custom workshops called Bold Instatute, which has been recently adopted by South Texas College.

Matt Plapp

Matt Plapp, ROI Experts

Matt started his marketing career in radio advertising in 1999 and a digital agency in 2008. Over the past 11 years Matt has built an agency that focuses on one niche: restaurants. Matt authored "Don't 86 Your Restaurant Sales" in 2018 and it's been a hit worldwide. The book walks through how his program, the ROI Engine, helps restaurants build an engaged customer database and online following with trackable results.


Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri

Anita Jaisinghani, the chef & co-owner of Pondicheri was born and raised in India and is of Sindhi descent. She began her culinary career with an out-of-home catering business & selling chutneys through Whole Foods.

Her first restaurant job was at the famous Café Annie, where she worked in the pastry department for 2 years. Following her time at Café Annie, Anita opened Indika in 2001 serving deeply personal dishes that illustrated her desire to portray Indian food in a new light. Pondicheri, followed in 2011, expanding with the opening of the Bake Lab + Shop in 2014 & it’s first out-of-state outpost in New York City in the summer of 2016. With all of her kaleidoscopic menus, Anita combines the complexities of Indian cuisine with leanings toward the ancient body of wisdom of Ayurveda, the magic of spices & the goodness of fresh, local ingredients.

Chris Shepherd headshot

Chris Shepherd, Georgia James

Chef Chris Shepherd has helped change the landscape of the Houston culinary scene. After opening his first restaurant Underbelly, Chris was named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2013 and the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. 

He owns and operates Georgia James, UB Preserv, One Fifth, Hay Merchant and is a partner in Blacksmith. In 2019, Georgia James, UB Preserv and One Fifth were No. 1 on Texas Monthly's list of the Best New Restaurants in Texas. Georgia James was on GQ's list of the best new restaurants in America. He was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in 2019. Chris’ first cookbook, Cook Like a Local, will be published in September 2019. 

Chris' foundation Southern Smoke has donated $1.3 million to the National MS Society and to those in the food and beverage industry in crisis.