In the quick service restaurant industry, it is often the young men and women who are taking their business to the next level. Here are ten rising stars of the QSR industry that you should know about.


The fast food industry is going through a tough time over the past few years, first due to the pandemic and then an economic slowdown, topped with the mass layoffs and resignations. The pandemic has also managed to affect and change consumer behaviors in drastic ways. Convenience often takes over dining experiences. With new behavioral patterns shaping up the post-Covid food and beverage industry, particularly the QSR sector, the industry is facing new challenges every day. This is the time when the industry is looking up to the future leaders who will drive both adaptation and radical changes to bring growth. There is a bunch of young women and men who have taken up this challenge to tide over the recent roadblocks and get to the other side. And today, we will talk about 10 such business leaders of the QSR industry who we will be watching in the coming years.

Top 10 rising stars of QSR

1. J.R. Galardi, Galardi Group

J.R. Galardi, the 35-year-old son of Galardi Group founder John Galardi has stepped up to take controls of the company that owns the much-loved fast food restaurants Wienerschnitzel, Tastee Freeze and Hamburger Stand, a group of over 350 restaurant units. Although he had started out with a concert promotion company in Denver to make a mark of his own, he has found his way back to the empire created by his now deceased father. John Galardi had started with a single hot dog outlet back in 1961. Junior Galardi has now pledged to make sure his father's legacy doesn't suffer in his absence.
Since he took over the reins in 2017, Galardi has managed to boost same-store sales by 42% and digital sales by a staggering 400%. Talking about J.R. Galardi, his mother, Cindy Galardi Culpepper, has said he is extremely forward thinking when it comes to strategizing for what's next.

2. Kyra Butler, Dominos

Kyra Butler started with Dominos as a delivery person at the age of 18. She is now leading change within the Dominos delivery system by speedening up the process, generating more revenue as well as garnering more money for the drivers. After gaining on-road experience as a delivery driver, Butler took a break of 5 years and came back as a General Manager, in a role in which she managed to open 12 new outlets. Butler quickly climbed the steps of success and became a trainer. At the age of 33, she now oversees 45 Dominos restaurants.
Her path of rapid growth and innovation kickstarted when she along with some colleagues helped Dominos launch a new system in 2021 that now dominates the pizza chain's operations. The Load and Go' system has managed to streamline operations, reduce delivery time by 5-10 minutes, teams producing more work with fewer staff and drivers earning more. The system is now working wonders for Dominos in a global scale. Butler and her team are now training more franchisees to implement the system and derive better results.

3. Harold Isaac Walters, Shootz Hawaiian

Shootz Hawaiian, a quick service restaurant in Southern California, was launched in the early days of Covid-19 and its Hawaii-inspired food is taking it places, quite literally so. And one of the key driving forces behind its success is Harold Isaac Walters, the 33-year-old CEO, who has spearheaded its success with his technological knowhow and digital marketing skills. The business that he started with his childhood buddies is now on the brink of becoming something big. With Covid-19 crippling the food industry and customers looking for online ordering and delivery, Walters found the right channel for his tech knowledge.
The pandemic led Walters to introduce new POS technology, tech marketing tools and loyalty programs that reaped huge benefits for Shootz Hawaiian. Shootz Hawaiian is now opening its third outlet in California while the team has also launched a separate Latin-Asian fusion QSR and is also planning a cookie shop soon.

4. Jennifer Lewis, Chronic Tacos

Her family owns 10 Las Vegas McDonald's franchisees. But that's not her story. After graduation, Jennifer Lewis entered the family business, however, when they retired, she felt the need for something new for herself and this led her to Chronic Tacos. Soon, the company took note and asked her to oversee a kitty of multiple Chronic Tacos outlets. After spearheading strategies to counter the pandemic, address communication and aids needs, in 2022, Lewis was named the Director of Operations at Chronic Tacos. She has been working with individual franchisees to understand the issues they face, come up with strategic solutions, provide communication channels and open up new avenues of growth.
Chronic Tacos CEO Michael Mohammed is all praises about Lewis's style. He raves about how she managed to communicate with individual franchisees to identify their needs, issue grants, setup new third party delivery methods, introduce new menus and marketing methods to help both the franchise owners as well as the brand to sail through the pandemic.

5. Kayleen Alexson, Caribou Coffee

As the Director of Brand Experience, Kayleen Alexson is doing it all, from social media strategy to both internal and external communications and also creating a content strategy for Caribou Coffee. Alexson's strategies for a purpose-driven outreach program has led the brand to position itself at the center of conversations around coffee. From Covid-19 to the Black Lives Matter movement surrounding George Floyd's murder, Alexson has managed to create a program that is all about giving back to the society and contributing in exhaustive ways.
From handling team needs to store requirements and building a community around the brand, Caribou has managed to rebuild its entire outreach program since the pandemic began. These strategies, with Alexson as their driving force, has led to Caribou creating a community and experience around its coffee brand. Alexson says her brand is now focussed on bringing in change in the society through the voices of her customers.

6. Kristin Tormey, Wendy’s

Fast food major Wendy's has managed to curate a unique and creative style of its own on all its social media channels. Staying true to its hip and fun brand image, Wendy's social media has moulded itself into a smooth-talking persona that the fast food consumers (who are mostly a young crowd) relate to. The persona-building has worked out so well for the brand that Kristin Tormey, its Social Media and Gaming Manager, now aims at giving the character a female identity and making a cultural influencer out of it. And Kristin Tormey can very well be attributed the credit for this character building of Wendy's as a social media personality. From Facebook to Twitter, TikTok, Tormey is at the center of not just social media channels but also multi-agency campaigns.
The brand has also managed to build its presence in Metaverse in its nascent stages itself. The immersive Metaverse experience created by Wendy's included a branded park facility with fountains and basketball courts. Apart from the social media strategies, in 2019, Tormey also managed to devise Wendy's own game-streaming platform, the Twitch. With every new channel explored, Tormey has taken the Wendy's brand to new heights and stayed ahead of competition.

7. Salem Najjar, SERVE Hospitality Group

32-year-old Salem Najjar is a restaurateur like no other. He has years of financial exposure as a tax consultant with Deloitte before this stint, which has set him apart in the QSR industry. With years of finance experience under his belt, Najjar has managed to open 6 new units for the brand with 19 more in the pipeline. Although the QSR industry has thrown up many challenges and Najjar is still in the learning stages, his way of work has reaped huge benefits for the brand already.
From being a proactive CEO to taking care of individual franchisee leaders and on-ground staff during the pandemic, Najjar has made his presence felt in the company. From Covid care to extending financial and logistics support to workers and their families during the pandemic to reaching out to those in need, Najjar has created an inspirational position for himself, which has only helped build the brand's likeable persona.

8. Candice Beck, Chipotle

As the Director of Social and Influencer, Chipotle, Candice Beck has managed to take Chipotle's TikTok follower count to over a million. It has also become the first QSR brand of its kind to create a hashtag challenge that garnered over 100 million TikTok videos. These social media campaigns have managed to take Chipotle to a large number of fans and some superfans who drive the brand's organic growth. And in doing so, Beck has managed to create some great relationships with creators and fans.
From creating a campaign around Burritos or Bitcoin' that saw the participation of 4 million unique users to its annual Halloween event and now Chipotle's entry into the Metaverse, Beck has managed to gain success at all major touchpoints that boost customer outreach. The Chipotle driving force, according to Beck, is now always on the lookout for more innovative ways of communication and culture-driven outreach initiatives.

9. Andrew Verhagen, Blaze Pizza

Andrew Verhagen has been in the pizza-making business thanks to his family. Apart from his family, Verhagen later had more exposure from Bojangles. At Blaze Pizza, he has taken bold steps to strategize for the brand's franchise-driven growth plans. His efforts over the past year has now led to the chances of opening up several new outlets. Meanwhile, he has also managed to create a completely new digital strategy and conceptualization for the brand.
Verhagen says his exposure to both ends of the franchise model has given him a unique perspective in brand-building that is now helping Blaze grow in leaps and bounds. He agrees that the pandemic has led to very unique behavioral changes among its customer base. The new situations and demands have prompted the creation of exceptional products and services that cater to the various needs of convenience and endearment customers now seek from their favorite brands. And Verhagen is only grateful for what he has been exposed to and how he plans to take the brand ahead in the coming years.

10. Emily Romme, Smashburger

Emily Romme joined the Smashburger team right at the start of the pandemic and since then has been a driving force behind its marketing and branding growth. Her years of experience with different restaurant groups has aided Romme to drive Smashburger's growth even during the pandemic. During the Covid crisis, Romme focused on garnering funds to help frontline workers across 25 states with hot meals. The outreach program led to Smashburger earning a good name in the minds of consumers.
On the other hand, Romme has also managed to launch new menu items to Smashburger's list of offerings. From video ad campaigns to rewards programs, outreach initiatives and collaborations, she has helped Smashburger's marketing initiatives explore new avenues. These have helped the brand see phenomenal growth in the past few years as compared to the brand's negative returns over the past decade.