Speaker Bios

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Keynote: Kara DioGuardi

Grammy nominated Songwriter, Former American Idol Judge, Restaurant Owner

Kara DioGuardi is a passionate Grammy nominated songwriter, former American Idol judge, college professor, mother, producer and music publisher. As one of the most successful contemporary songwriters in the world, Kara’s songs have appeared on more than 160 million albums. She has won 21 BMI awards for most performed songs, including BMI’s 2007 Songwriter of the Year award. As of 2 years ago, Kara is now also a co-owner of elite restaurant, Walker’s Maine.


Vincenza Carrieri-Russo

Owner, V&M Bistro

Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, former Miss Delaware United States, current model, actress and businesswoman opened up V&M Bistro with her sister Margherita in 2014 as 3rd generation restaurateurs. The restaurant has captured the heart of Delaware and has won many Best of Delaware awards over the years. She is also the founder of Success Won’t Wait, a literacy organization improving the lives of children in the community, and acts as a passionate spokesperson for Lupus disease, which she has suffered with since 2011. 

Julie Coker Graham

President & CEO, Philadelphia Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Julie Coker Graham is the President and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (PHLCVB) where she oversees all of the organization’s departments and operational duties. Prior to being named to this position she served as the Senior Vice President of Convention Sales and managed a staff of 25 sales and services professionals at the PHLCVB. Coker Graham joined the PHLCVB after serving as General Manager for the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia, and was with the Hyatt for 21 years.

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Meg Gardner

Co-Owner, Blue Moon Rehoboth

Meg Gardner is an energetic restaurant owner and mother whose organizational talent and love for people make her the ideal leader for the Blue Moon’s comprehensive, personalized catering service since 2002.  In addition, Meg carefully selects each wine offered at the Blue Moon, and supports local artists by displaying their work in various rooms throughout the historic venue.

Carlie Carey

Owner, OneCoastal Restaurant & Farm

I was proudly born and raised in Sussex County. After high school - where I was mildly nerdy and slightly chubby - I went off to the University of Colorado at Boulder...which I chose solely off pictures from the internet, never having been there in my life. (Had a great time, by the way.) Fast forward to what alternately feels like 15 seconds and 50 years and here I am. Still nerdy, less chubby, but confident and at ease back home in Sussex County, on a new adventure. I love owning a restaurant but I also love digging in the dirt on our farm. Being a mama to a perfect tiny human definitely tops the list but it's kind of tied with being married to someone who has never once said "we can't do that" and instead leaves notes on the fridge that say "we're gonna crush this". My life is filled with flowers, and food, and animals. With staff that feel like family, a never ending to-do list, and beauty in every nook and cranny. It's messy, and chaotic, and I'm so thankful it's mine.

Joanna James

CEO, Director/Producer/Writer/Filmmaker, Zoel Productions

Joanna’s directorial debut with A Fine Line, which she has produced and edited, has led to her passion of filmmaking and sharing people’s stories. Joanna is the founder and CEO of Zoel Productions, an independent film, television and multimedia production company out of New York. Based on Joanna’s experience making this film, combined with years of research and interviews, she developed the MAPP Impact Campaign to increase women in leadership.

Carrie Leishman

President & CEO, Delaware Restaurant Association

Carrie Leishman is the President & CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association (DRA) and its philanthropic arm--The Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (DRAEF). 2019 marked Carrie's 19th year as President & CEO of the DRA, the state trade association dedicated to promoting, educating and advocating for the Delaware’s foodservice industry; which represents close to 2,000 restaurants in the state.

Amanda Mack

Chef and Founder, Crust by Mack

The skills that Mack developed at a young age have now come full circle with Crust By Mack, her small-batch baking business that specializes in hand pie varieties.  She spent years fighting for food justice with urban farms and the B’More Healthy program at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and even penned a children’s book educating kids about food deserts titled Greens Don’t Grow in Cans.

Representative Melissa Minor-Brown

RD 17

After 7 years of service at the VA Hospital, Rep. Minor-Brown turned her attention to where the need was greatest, the community. Taking on responsibilities working with Assertive Community Treatment Teams, before reaching down to serve the less fortunate as a statewide nursing educator for the Department of Corrections. Professional, devoted wife and mother of a teenager daughter and a preschooler, Rep. Minor-Brown remains committed to her community of New Castle Delaware.


Jasmine Norton

Owner, The Urban Oyster Baltimore

As Jasmine grew older, she discovered that majority of the restaurants that served oysters or were true oyster bars were extremely sophisticated & required a certain dining attire. It was then that she decided she would like to fill the void for people like herself who love and appreciate oysters and all things seafood but in a more relaxed environment as well as not just raw, so she established The Urban Oyster in Baltimore. The company is both the first female and black-owned oyster bar in Maryland.

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Denny Post

President & CEO, Women’s Foodservice Forum, Former President & CEO, Red Robin Inc.

Presently, Denny Marie Post is President & Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Foodservice Forum, and former President & CEO and Director at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. She is also on the board of Wyndham Destinations, Inc., Nurse-Family Partnership and Women's Foodservice Forum and Director-Denver Branch at Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In the past she was Chief Innovation Officer of Yum! Brands, Inc., Managing Member at MM&I Consulting LLC, Senior Vice President-Global Food & Beverages at Starbucks Corp., Vice President & Partner at Whittle Communications LP, Chief Concept Officer at Burger King Corp., Chief Innovation Officer at KFC Corp. and Chief Marketing Officer & Senior Vice President at T-Mobile USA, Inc.

Rous & Angie Robles

Owners, My Sister’s Fault Bakery

Puerto Rican Sisters Angie & Rous Robles moved to DE 10 years ago. The sisters always dreamed of having a bakery, Sweet Sister Rous is a self-thought baker while Savory Sister Angie loves to cook. Today they are the owners of My Sisters Fault bakery in Milford, DE!


Dawn Sweeney

President & CEO, National Restaurant Association

Dawn Sweeney is the President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. She leads the $863 billion restaurant and foodservice industry's largest trade association in addressing a wide-range of business and advocacy issues, offering services and products that promote the industry, and helping individual operators, franchisees, suppliers and multi-unit companies succeed.

Catina Smith

Founder, Just Call Me Chef

Catina Smith has been in the culinary industry for 15 years, She is a private Chef and Founder and CEO of Just Call me Chef; an alliance of women of color promoting diversity and inclusion in the professional culinary arena, fostering opportunity, exposure, and support. Chef Cat also curated several food events to include, Taste Baltimore, Crust and Cocktails, Brunch for Brothers, and Sunset Kickback.

Jenna Telesca

Editor in Chief, Nation’s Restaurant News

Jenna Telesca is Editor-in-Chief of Nation’s Restaurant News and Editorial Director of Restaurant Hospitality. She's all business about the food business — and has covered it for the last decade. Her newsroom was recently recognized by the Neal, Folio and Min awards for reporting on substance abuse in restaurants, immigration’s impact on hospitality and the changing role of teen labor. She is an unapologetic cannoli enthusiast.


Xavier Teixido

Owner, Harry’s Hospitality Group

Former Chairman of the Board for the National Restaurant Association, the Delaware Restaurant Association and current owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group, Xavier Teixido acts as a passionate advocate for the restaurant industry in Delaware. While serving on the state’s Tourism Advisory Board, the Riverfront Development Corporation Board Of Directors and the University of Delaware Hotel Restaurant Institutional management (HRIM) Advisory Board, Teixido also makes time to be active in many charitable causes and has established a culture of community service at Harry’s.

Carol Watson

General Manager, Hotel Palomar Philadelphia

Carol Watson is the current General Manager of Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia, a 230-room boutique hotel located in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. In her role, Carol oversees the operation on property as well as the professional growth of employees. Throughout her ten years with Kimpton, Carol has demonstrated clear success, earning titles such as Best in Total Asset Management for the brand. She also takes pride in mentoring employees and helping them grow their own careers within Kimpton, something she notes is one of her favorite parts of her job.