Chief Executive Officer
Jim Holthouser is the Chief Executive Officer for FOCUS Brands, parent company of Auntie Anne’s®, Carvel®, Cinnabon®, Jamba®, Moe’s Southwest Grill®, McAlister’s Deli®, Schlotzsky’s®, and Seattle’s Best Coffee® (in certain military bases and in certain international markets). He is leading Focus Brands into its next phase of growth for its seven foodservices concepts while delivering value to all company partners, driving results and profitability for franchisees and an exceptional customer experience.
For more than thirty years, Jim Holthouser has leveraged his extensive experience in international business, franchising, brand management and global product development to grow and some of the world’s most well-known brands in the hospitality industry. Under his leadership, hospitality-related companies have thrived with innovative and customer-focused solutions to grow and reinvigorate brands, improve loyalty, create cost savings, and drive revenue and unit growth.
While a senior executive at Hilton, Jim was responsible for a $36B international portfolio of 15 leading hotel brands covering more than 5,000 locations across 105 countries. He directed worldwide brand marketing; product and brand development; owner relations; and the 75 million-member Hilton Honors guest loyalty program. Additionally, he launched five new hotel brands – the most successful brand launches in the company’s 100-year-history – and instituted high-impact digital innovations and apps system-wide.
In his storied career at Hilton, he held several leadership positions, the most recent of which was EVP of Global Brands, Marketing and Loyalty. In addition to 13 individual brands, Jim had responsibility for a number of support disciplines including food and beverage concepts, meetings and events programming, sustainability, spa and fitness, and guest technology. Jim is a transformative leader with a long track record of improving brand performance, customer satisfaction and owner profitability.
Jim earned both an MBA from the America Graduate School of International Management as well as a B.A. and an M.A. in Economics and Political Science from University of Louisville. He has served on boards and advisory councils, including the Executive Committee at the American Lodging Association, and multiple credit unions, hotels, and nonprofit organizations. Jim is fluent in German, conversant in French, and is also a trained pianist with a number of recordings to his credit. He has been married to Bettie for more than 30 years and has two grown children, Kate and Adam.
Chief People Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Mike Dixon joined FOCUS Brands as Chief Financial Officer in March 2016, bringing with him more than 25 years of corporate finance leadership and public accounting experience in the retail and food service industries. Most recently, Mike served as President and Chief Financial Officer for Ignite Restaurant Group, Inc., leading financial and other key support functions for the 350-unit, multi-branded restaurant company. Prior to Ignite, Mike held the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Pinkberry, Inc., where he helped streamline the company’s business development plan and accelerate system-wide sales with a robust franchised growth model. Additionally, Mike also spent eight years as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for The Cheesecake Factory, Inc., during which time he led the development and maintenance of a strategic operational infrastructure that helped triple new store growth across North America. With a proven track record of leadership, knowledge, and mentorship as both a financial and business professional, Mike uses his strong passion for team development to continuously drive high-performing results. Mike received both his bachelor’s degree in business and master’s degree in accounting from the University Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
SVP of Corporate Strategy
Claiborne is an experienced corporate and brand strategist with a demonstrated history of creating and implementing growth and change within medium and Fortune 500 companies. His experience includes corporate strategy, brand positioning, product and experience development, customer insights, market research and franchising.
Claiborne comes to Focus Brands from the Crew Research Group where he worked with both major and independent hotel chains, as well as other hospitality clients, to better understand their customers, optimize their competitive positioning and deliver engaging branded experiences.
Previously, Claiborne spent seven years at Hilton Worldwide leading global brand and portfolio strategy for all 16 brands as well as the guest feedback and insight program for over 5,500 properties across 100 countries. He was responsible for delivering and executing strategies to create, grow and strengthen each of Hilton’s brands including the development and launch of the Tru by Hilton and Canopy by Hilton brands, taking Hampton Inn to China and creating the strategic vision for Hilton Hotels & Resorts ahead of its 100th anniversary.
Prior to Hilton, Claiborne worked on brand strategy at Ralph Lauren and did acquisitions, divestures and corporate strategy at Capital One. He earned his Master’s in Creative Brand Management from the VCU Brandcenter and Bachelor’s degrees in math and economics from Washington & Lee University.
Chief Development Officer
As Chief Development Officer, Brian Krause is responsible for driving strategic, high-quality growth for our seven brands domestically, getting restaurants open, and liaising with our brand teams and owners to create an all-around best development program in the industry.
Most recently, Brian served as Chief Development Officer of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, responsible for overseeing the Franchising, Real Estate, Development Planning, and Design and Construction departments for the Brand.
Prior to Jimmy John’s, Brian was Senior Vice President, Franchise Development for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, responsible for the growth of the company’s more than 18 Brands throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada. Joining Wyndham in 2005, Krause held several leadership roles in the company’s franchise development organization as well as Brand operations, as vice president, for the Hotel Group’s number one consumer rated mid-scale limited service brand, responsible for franchise business growth, strategic direction, operational management and customer satisfaction for the midscale brand’s 157 hotels throughout North America.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a concentration in Communications from the University of Connecticut.
EVP, General Counsel and Secretary
Sarah Powell joined FOCUS Brands in January 2015 as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary. Sarah has over 20 years of experience practicing law, with over 16 years of experience as corporate in-house counsel. Prior to joining FOCUS, she served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary from April 2009 to January 2015 for Advance Auto Parts, a Fortune 500 Company based in Virginia. Sarah spent 12 years at Advance Auto Parts, rising from Senior Attorney to Vice President to Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary during her tenure. Prior to Advance Auto Parts, Sarah served as Assistant General Counsel for Food Lion, LLC, a grocery retailer in Salisbury, North Carolina. Prior to that, she was engaged in the private practice of law.
SVP, Corporate Communications & Public Relations
With more than 20 years of experience in communications and public relations, Dawn Ezekiel Ray has built integrated communications strategies for some of the world’s most well-known brands in the hospitality, real estate, transportation and healthcare industries.
Most recently, Dawn served as Senior Vice President at Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW) where she was the primary senior account lead for the FedEx Global Media Go-to-Market integrated communications strategies. She directed a multi-office team to develop, pitch and implement earned media campaigns for FedEx Diversity & Inclusion, Workplace, Small Business, E-commerce and Peak holiday season to solidify the company’s leadership position in transportation, logistics, e-commerce and innovation.
Additionally, she worked with the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command and the 2020 U.S. Census.
During her tenure at Hilton, she led brand communications and public relations campaigns for several award-winning brands including Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn and launched two of the most successful hotel brands in the company’s 100-year history, Curio Collection and Canopy by Hilton. She also directed global development and PR strategies to support the hotel giant’s entry into new markets, as well as new innovations and multi-brand initiatives. At Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, one of the largest non-profit healthcare systems in the U.S., she created the healthcare system’s first integrated strategic communications plan and helped lead the organization to its first-ever ranking by Great Place to Work® “Top Work Places in Health Care,” “Best Place to Retire From” and “Top 100 Best Work Places for Women,” as featured in Fortune.
She also served as Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing at Greystar Real Estate Partners (formerly EdR Collegiate Housing) where she was responsible for leading all internal and external communications strategies at one of the largest owners, developers and managers of purpose-built collegiate student housing.
Dawn has received both a Silver Anvil and a Bronze Anvil for public relations strategy work at Hilton and has been awarded Hilton’s coveted Spirit of Pride employee award. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism and Public Relations Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from The University of Memphis. She is a passionate baseball mom, an avid college basketball fan and lives in Memphis with her husband, Tom, and their two very busy and athletic boys, Tripp (15) and Zane (10.)
President, Specialty Brands
Kristen Hartman was named President of Cinnabon & Carvel in April 2019. Hartman joined Focus Brands in 2012 as Vice President of Marketing, Cinnabon, where she oversaw brand marketing, menu innovation, and consumer engagement strategies. Her leadership was instrumental in the brand’s resurgence as a global icon. In 2015, she advanced to SVP of Global Marketing for Auntie Anne’s, Carvel and Cinnabon brands where she developed unique, multichannel marketing solutions in support of Focus Brands’ strong global footprint. Most recently, as SVP Brand Marketing Strategy, Hartman led social media, public relations, and new concept development for all brands, and was a key contributor to marketing strategy for licensing and the Global Channels division.
With 20 years of experience in food service, consumer products and retail, Joe Guith has a passion for growing iconic brands that deliver superior experiences and value for guests and franchisees. In April 2018, he became the President of McAlister’s Deli, where he has been instrumental in positioning the brand for success. Under Joe’s leadership, McAlister’s Deli unveiled a complete brand evolution and restaurant redesign, which has propelled its ongoing growth in 27 states, with more than 450 units currently open and operating. Previously, Joe served as President of Cinnabon and worked in general management and strategy with The Coca-Cola Company and Yum! Brands. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation for driving significant results through strong performance management, application of process-driven improvements and building collaborative, high performing teams. Joe is originally from Michigan and has a BBA and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Chief Brand Officer
Alisa Gmelich joined Auntie Anne’s as chief brand officer in December 2020, where she leads the global brand’s operations, marketing and brand management. Alisa has more than 25 years of experience leading marketing and strategic planning to grow brands and drive sales for top restaurant brands including McDonald’s, Burger King and most recently IHOP as vice president of Marketing. Gmelich has a strong background in franchising and has driven results as a focused leader, team builder, marketer and strategist.
Chief Brand Officer
Kendall Ware joined Carvel and Cinnabon as chief brand officer in December 2020, where he is responsible for leading all aspects of brand management and strategy for the two specialty brands, including franchise and company operations, as well as marketing. He is an experienced franchise and operations leader with 15 years of experience growing brands, developing strong teams and increasing shareholder value. Most recently, Ware served as president and chief operating officer of Orange Leaf where, under his leadership, the brand turned around a seven-year sales decline to achieve two consecutive years of same-store sales growth and increased AUV. He has also served in various leadership roles for CiCi’s Pizza, Genghis Grill and was a franchisee for hospitality and retail executive search firm Patrice & Associates.
Geoff Henry joined Focus Brands in January of 2019 as President of Jamba Juice. Geoff brings over 20 years of experience in brand management, marketing strategy and finance. He has a track record of successfully growing brands at all life stages in the beverage and personal care industries and cultivating high performing teams. Prior to joining Focus Brands, Geoff was Vice President & General Manager for The Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for the tea, coffee and water portfolios. During his tenure he grew Gold Peak Tea into a multi-billion dollar brand, doubled the sales of the leading organic tea and juice drink brand (Honest Tea and Honest Kids) and integrated the recently acquired and emerging brand, Peace Tea, into the company. Geoff also pioneered partnerships with restaurant brands, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds, successfully introducing both brands into the bottled coffee retail category. He also has a wealth of experience in packaging and sustainability related matters. Geoff and his team successfully turned around the DASANI brand by introducing new revenue growth models and innovating more eco-conscious packaging to reduce waste.
Before joining Coca-Cola, Geoff held leadership roles in brand management at the Colgate-Palmolive company. Geoff began his career working as an investment banker for JP Morgan on Wall Street and in California with a focus on real estate. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University and his Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard University. He resides in Atlanta with his wife and two children.
Chief Brand Officer
Chief Brand Officer
Tory Bartlett served nine years in the U.S Army Reserve and has a BS in business with a concentration in green sustainable enterprise management. He has an MBA from Kennesaw State University and has been in the restaurant business for over 28 years. A true self-made success, Tory started out as a dishwasher and cook at Hooters of America, Inc. Twenty years and several roles within the company later, including VP of franchise operations, Tory left the organization to pursue his passion for the hospitality industry.
In 2013, he accepted the CEO position with Southern Proper Hospitality (SPH), an entrepreneurial hospitality group in Atlanta, Georgia. As CEO, Bartlett spearheaded the growth of SPH by leading the organization down several strategic disciplines in the hospitality industry and creating a positive corporate culture.
Today, Tory serves as the chief operating officer for Schlotzsky’s, the famous Austin-born sandwich franchise. In his role, he collaborates with franchisees to lead the brand’s strategic organizational initiatives and facilitate financial success. Tory’s passion for the brand is grounded in his respect and admiration for the many long-term stakeholders of Schlotzsky’s.
Tory and his wife, Michelle, live in Marietta, Ga. and have two boys, Michael and Thomas. Tory and Michelle enjoy traveling the world and spending time watching both of their boys participate in competitive swimming.
Beto Guajardo was named President of Focus Brands International in April 2020. He commenced his role as President of Schlotzsky’s in September 2019. Beto brings extensive global experience in corporate and brand strategy, new business development, mergers and acquisitions and organizational structure. Over the past three decades, his career has spanned a broad spectrum of industries, including management consulting, global retail, automotive, energy, consumer packaged goods, and media and entertainment.
Beto joined Focus Brands from Starbucks Coffee, where he served as Senior Vice President, Global Strategy. Beto built the Global Strategy team that was responsible for developing the company’s five-year strategic plan and operated as a coordinating body, developing and implementing strategies to succeed corporate goals. His teams worked extensively on executing Starbucks Delivery, acquiring technology to power Starbucks CRM, and developing new go-to-market processes to streamline store development innovation.
Prior to his tenure with Starbucks, Beto held senior leadership positions in corporate strategy as Global Vice President of Brand Strategy for Levi’s Strauss & Co and Vice President of Strategy for Avon Cosmetics.
Earlier in his career, Beto spent eight years in professional services consulting with McKinsey, Inc. and Deloitte Consulting, LLP. He received an MBA from Northwestern University and a BS from the University of Illinois.
SVP of Supply Chain
Joining Focus Brands in 2011, Anissa has been in the supply chain industry for more than 25 years, gaining experience across various Supply Chain roles. Through her tenure and experience at Focus Brands she has become a valuable leader in the supply chain team, understanding the nuances and complexity involved in working with multiple cross-functional brand teams to drive results. Of note, Anissa was instrumental in the formation of Focus Supply Chain (FSC), which was developed to leverage the combined activities of all brands into a consolidated, best in class supply network delivering competitive and beneficial programs for the seven brand organization at Focus Brands.
In the Senior Vice President role, Anissa is now responsible for overseeing the strategic planning framework for Supply Chain, Distribution, Logistics and Quality Assurance functions for all brands as well as planning and directing all aspects of policies, objectives and initiatives for each supply chain function to ensure adaptable and scalable solutions.
Anissa is a member of the National Restaurant Association Supply Chain Executive Board, a group focused on driving a collective objective to evaluate how to optimize supply chain best practices across all key industry stakeholders.
SVP & President of Global Channels
Dave Mikita was named President, Global Channels in March of 2018, bringing over 20 years of operations, marketing and business development experience in both Retail and Foodservice Industries. Dave has been at Focus Brands since 2012, assuming increasing levels of responsibility within the Global Channels team, and in 2017 assumed complete responsibility for all functions of the business unit while leading the group to double-digit growth. With a focus on strategic leadership, team development, and a process-driven approach, Dave has enabled Focus Brands to successfully execute its multi-channel strategy and expand the reach of its iconic brands to their consumers and fans. Before Focus Brands, Dave held leadership roles at The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, and several early-stage, high growth businesses. In his most recent role prior to Focus Brands, Dave was part of the executive leadership team at Sync Solutions, where he helped lead the successful sale of the company to Archway Marketing Services. Dave received his undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and his Master’s in Business Administration from The University of Virginia. He resides in Atlanta with his wife and three children.
SVP & Chief Information Officer
Steve joined Focus Brands Inc. in September of 2019 as Chief Information Officer. Steve is a seasoned Information Technology Executive with demonstrated leadership experience with a strong record of technology strategy development, IT governance, and delivering innovation with business value. He has a proven track record of successful leadership across the Food & Beverage, Retail, Manufacturing, Insurance, and Utilities industries. Steve has a demonstrated ability to assess the current IT landscape and consult, advise and partner with executive team members on strategic initiatives and projects that ensure alignment with the organization’s strategic direction and business objectives
In his capacity as CIO, Steve is responsible for the strategic management of the Information Technology organization, the development and execution of technology initiatives, and support of the organization’s overall business plan and strategy. He is responsible for all aspects of the IT system operation’s adherence to applicable laws and regulations, while maintaining company data protection. Additionally, Steve oversees technology and support programs for franchisees and company owned shops, bakeries and restaurants.
Before joining Focus Brands, Steve served as the SVP, CIO of F.A.B. Inc., where he was responsible for the IT operations of the company and ongoing development of technology systems that drive efficiency and growth for Frosty Acres and its member distributors. Prior, Steve served as the Vice President of IT and Chief Information Security Officer at Focus Brands, where he lead the enterprise IT infrastructure, applications, quality assurance, IT security, retail platform engineering, telecommunications, and enterprise and retail support teams.
Steve resides with his wife in Atlanta. He is a graduate of Florida State University and a US Navy Submarine force veteran.