2013 Nightclub & Bar Awards Judges Bios
Consultant and Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" Expert
InterContinental Hotel Group
Raymond Burton is a Certified Hospitality Educator and the primary Food & Beverage educator for InterContinental Hotels Group (the largest hotel company in the world). He conducts food & beverage training workshops across North America. He has been employed by IHG over a decade and has influenced thousands of IHG employees. Raymond also holds every major certification offered by the American Hotel Lodging Association. But he is not a product of academia, he is real world, having owned and operated nightclubs and bars. He holds a real world view of this business and loves to tilt, if not knock over the corporate barriers that often hold back delivering world class guest experiences. He believes that this business is all about Friends helping Friends and he lives that belief everyday.
Commer Beverage Consulting
Donna Hood Crecca
Donna Hood Crecca is Senior Director of the Adult Beverage Resource Group at Technomic Inc. She is a veteran of the drinks industry, having written about beverage alcohol in on-premise establishments and at retail for nearly two decades. Before joining Technomic, she was Publisher & Editorial Director at Nightclub & Bar, and prior to that was Editor of Cheers. In addition, she served as a Contributing Editor to Chain Leader and Editor of F&B Business. She has broad knowledge of bar, nightclub and restaurant marketing, operations, human resources and growth strategies, with specific expertise in beverage sales, promotion, service and training, having covered these topics for a number of industry magazines. She is a frequent presenter at industry events, including the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show, Tales of the Cocktail, National Restaurant Association Show, Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) and the Alcohol Responsibility Conference. Donna holds a bachelor degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and has done graduate work in magazine publishing management at New York University. She is BarSmarts Advanced Certified, and has served as President of the International Foodservice Editorial Council.
Diageo and Spike TV "Bar Rescue" Expert
World traveler, cocktail guru, James Beard Nominee and spirits expert Elayne Duke has been the head mixologist and Spirits Ambassador for Diageo Wine and Spirits luxury portfolio for the past Seven years. She studied mixology as a student of the Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR), America’s premiere course on spirits and cocktails, where she honed her technique under world-renowned mixology experts Paul Pacult, David Wondrich, Steve Olson, Doug Frost and Dale Degroff. Elayne is a champion of top quality spirits, fresh ingredients, and uncomplicated recipes. She crafts cocktails for Manhattan’s top restaurants, bars, hotels, lounges and is currently on a national tour training bartenders at the newly designed Delta Airlines Elite Lounges. In addition, she has designed cocktails for celebrity-studded events including Sean Combs-White Party (New York), Sean Combs-Walk of Fame (Los Angeles), NBC Ben Silverman Upfront Event, Hampton Magazine’s 30th Anniversary Party, Nicole Miller’s in store fashion week party and Gourmet Magazine’s On-Line Application launch. “Elayne’s devotion for all things spirits and cocktails is truly infectious,” says Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology, and founder of Cocktails in the Country. “She has the personality of a top-notch bartender, a thirst for knowledge, and an innate ability to communicate with anyone and everyone.” Her dedication has sent her around the world, exploring the true integrity of the craft at some of today’s most prominent spirits distilleries. On top of creating cocktails, her talent as an entertaining and engaging speaker, has made her welcome at many prominent Industry trade shows around the world, including Tales of the Cocktail, Art of the Cocktail (Victoria BC), Berlin Bar Show, Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and Copenhagen Wine and Spirits. She also teaches monthly classes at Astor Wine and Spirits center and hosts numerous tastings and classes at both private homes and businesses in the New York City Area. When not teaching or creating cocktails, Elayne can usually be found playing with her five-year old daughter Dylan, with whom she lives with in Manhattan.
Chef Brian Duffy
Consultant and Spike TV "Bar Rescue" Expert
A graduate of The Restaurant School in Philadelphia, Chef Brian Duffy defies the trends with his cuisine, maintaining an adventurous and unique flair with every dish. After working with some of the nation’s top chefs, Duffy spent the last eight years creating and re-creating Irish cuisine. Calling it “New Celtic,” he utilizes the best local organic meats and produce to develop eclectic twists on traditional favorites, stimulating the palate while appealing to the soul. Now, as the Corporate Executive Chef/Product Development for CBD Solutions, Duffy is able to reach a wider audience through the retail end, creating bolder dishes and still keeping true to a healthier, more exciting way of cooking and eating. In addition, Chef Duffy appears monthly on NBC Philadelphia’s “10! Show”. He also travels the country as the culinary spokesperson for the GE Profile Series and works with Residence Inn by Marriot for a series of videos showing guests how to maintain balance while on the road. He has been seen on NBC’s “Today”show, “Irish Stew Showdown 2006,” “Irish Chef Showdown” Food Network’s “Date Plate” and “Hot Trends”, Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” and has appeared on DIY Network, HGTV and Fine Living Network. When he’s not working in the kitchens or making appearances, Duffy has a thriving consulting firm, he teaches cooking classes and he volunteers his time with local shelters and kitchens.
Carlson Restaurant Group / T.G.I. Friday’s
During his tenure as a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, Sean spent several thousand hours in nightclubs all over the world. Aside from a number of formidable hangovers, the experience has left him with a deep understanding of the nightlife world and mentality. You're most likely to find him in a darkened corner of some establishment, Scotch in hand, dancing awkwardly. During the days, he writes for ESPN The Magazine, CityUnlisted and Gotham Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @NightlifeSean.
Next Level Marketing
Greco Holdings, Inc.
Thom Greco is educated as a scientist with a degree in biology and chemistry but, also pursued hospitality while a student. At age 17 he owned his first nightclub, an under 21 dance club, The Vox Box, which within two years resulted in three locations and a TV show on the nationally number one ABC affiliate, WNEP-TV; in Wilkes Barre/Scranton, PA. remarkably all before the age of 23. To further his education, Thom trained at the Culinary lnstitute of America (ClA) and then also branched out into the restaurant, hotel and concert promoting business. Thom Greco promoted artists from Paul Anka to Aerosmith in area venues as well as owning and operating two amphitheaters, Bud Light Amphitheatre at Harvey's Lake and Montage Performing Arts Center in Scranton, PA, Greco purchased and operated FM radio stations, real estate holdings and had a record label deal with music giant, Tommy Mattola, which resulted in a rock artist that went to the Top 10 in Billboard. Some of Greco's key successful facilities included Market Street Square, Martini Ristorante & Bar, The Factory, and more – presently Oyster Restaurant, Oyster Saloon, The Cabana and The Mines. Greco as Creative Chef of his operations appears regularly on cooking shows and is currently authoring his own lifestyle book called "The Coconut Water Diet -Zumba lnspired". Greco has created and hosts several festivals each year and produces, designs and consults to some of the more discriminating weddings and events on the East Coast. Continuing his interest in science, Thom Greco consults in broadband technology and is currently working on a fiber optic city and a geothermal project which utilizes abandoned coal mine water. When Thom Greco can find time, he performs as a Bobby Darin tribute and is currently developing a teleplay about the mob in Northeastern United States set in the 70's & '80's for a major studio in Los Angeles. Greco is a Charter and Founding Member * past-Chairman of the advisory board of the Nightclub & Bar Magazine & Oxford Publishing.
As President and CEO of Guest Counts Hospitality, Barry provides the vision, strategy and leadership behind its unique and profitable restaurant, nightlife and catering concepts. Barry has led the development of distinctive concepts that have transformed the Philadelphia and Atlantic City dining and nightlife scenes. Having the vision to identify trends and circumvent fads, Guest Counts Hospitality’s concepts stand the test of time. Barry and his business partner, Larry Cohen, have built a growing multi-division company with revenue exceeding $25 million. Prior to forming Guest Counts Hospitality, Barry operated some of the most impressive and successful food, beverage and entertainment facilities in the Northeast. In addition to his experience in food and beverage operations, he has expertise in marketing, public relations, real estate selection and entertainment production. Barry is regularly tapped as an authority to present at major hospitality conferences including Chain Leader Live and G2E’s Global Gaming Expo. He has written numerous articles for Nightclub & Bar Magazine, the leading publication of the nightlife industry and is frequently quoted for his expertise in the consumer and trade press. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Barry serves on the advisory board for Nightclub & Bar Magazine.
BWR Public Relations
Darnell Holloway is Yelp's Manager of Local Business Outreach. He hosts informational sessions with local business owners across the country to educate them on the value of engaging with their Yelp listings, and joining the conversations happening about their businesses. He oversees Yelp's Small Business Advisory Council, and delivers constructive feedback from the business community to the different divisions within Yelp. He also hosts a series of monthly webinars about Yelp's free online tools, and regularly produces informative content for Yelp's Blog for Business Owners. Prior to joining Yelp in 2009, Darnell worked as an Associate in Institutional Equity Research Sales for Thomas Weisel Partners. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Davis.
Renegade Hospitality Group
Tim Kirkland is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on sales-building, service-energizing and team-building in the foodservice industry. His best-selling book, “The Renegade Server” is used in 10,000 restaurant, hotels, retail locations and universities worldwide to train and inspire front-line crews to sell more and serve better. He specializes in innovative ways to recruit, engage and retain today’s emerging, “Generation i” workforce. Leading brands that use Tim's training materials and programs include Applebee's, Burger King, Buffalo Wild Wings, Marriott, Kimpton, US Foods, MillerCoors, Beam Global and Sodexo. During his 25+ years in the hospitality industry, Tim has lead training and beverage departments for numerous respected restaurant brands, been an award-winning operator and successful entrepreneur. His books and training materials focus on specific, actionable tactics that increase sales and intensify guest loyalty by aligning the interests of the company, the crew, and the customer. Tim is an editorial contributor to Nightclub & Bar Magazine, Cheers Magazine and CokeSolutions.com. Many industry organizations utilize Tim’s consulting and expertise including the National Restaurant Association, the council of hotel and Restaurant Trainers, the Convenience Retail Association, and the Society for Foodservices Management.
Sujit Kundu didn’t grow up dreaming of being an artist or a major behind-the-scenes music executive though he’s now the CEO of a thriving management company and vice president at the world’s largest music label. Kundu started out by holding Rave parities, which were drawing crowds of 4,000. That success grew into him promoting parties and performances that featured some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest acts at the time from Warren G, Cypress Hill, KRS-One and Mobb Deep. By the time he graduated from University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), Kundu expanded his party promotion business into radio promotions and mix shows. He also created a production and DJ management company. Meanwhile, Sujit took a radio promotions job at MCA Records, and a few years later. when his production/management company disbanded, his partner kept the production arm and Kundu kept the DJ management side, renaming it SKAM (Sujit Kundu Artist Management). Now SKAM employs five people: three in Los Angeles, one in New York, one in Miami and manages a roster of 18 DJs, including big names like Vice, Irie and D-Nice. He currently works as the Vice President of Promotions at Universal Music Group and is responsible for an artist cache that includes Lil Wayne, Nelly and Akon. In addition to getting those artists’ records played on the radio, his duties include things such as organizing and overseeing promo tours and radio shows.
From a very early age Robin Leach knew he wanted to be involved in the communications world, becoming the youngest Page One reporter at Britain’s Daily Mail at 18. In 1963, Leach moved to America and wrote for a number of publications including New York Daily News, People, Ladies Home Journal, etc., before launching GO Magazine; he also was the show business editor of The Star and Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide publications for 10 years. His television work includes reporting on CNN’s “People Tonight,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous,” which ran 14 years. He also hosted “Gourmet Getaways” on the Food Network beginning in 1996. Currently Leach is partnering in a high-definition (HD) television studio production facility in Las Vegas where he makes numerous guest appearances on programs from the resort playground/gaming Mecca. In addition, his Total Vegas Television company produces Vegas video vignettes and a daily LuxeLife Internet blog. Leach also is a hotel/restaurant/chef consultant and his best-selling cookbook, “Entertaining With The Rich And Famous,” (Viking, 1992) was followed up by “Healthy Lifestyles” (1995). He previously authored three books. He is a lifetime board member of the New York-based City Meals on Wheels charitable home food delivery organization and he workswith the Alzheimer’s charity Keep Memory Alive and the International Myeloma Foundation. Leach maintains a home in Las Vegas, but more often is traveling the world for his various projects.
Chris Lenahan, author of “The Little Black Bar Book” www.excellentbars.com has been involved in owning, operating, developing, designing, and consulting for the highly competitive Bar/Nightclub industry worldwide since 1996. He has owned and operated successful bars and nightclubs, including the Library Bar and Grill, “Bar of the Year 2002” Tempe Arizona, and presently owns and operates the EDGE Group which has four successful venues all opened in the worst economic crisis in 70 years.
Steve Lewis is what you might call a lifer in the nightclub industry. From his start as a club operator, Lewis quickly found acclaim and success as a interior designer, designing and building some of the nation’s most successful nightlife concepts, including Butter, Marquee, Stash, Snap Sports Bar, Home & Guesthouse, Webster Hall and SPA in New York City; Shampoo in Philadelphia; Brule'/32 Degrees Atlantic City; Stone Lotus in Chicago; TAO’s Opium Room in Las Vegas; and The Room at Harry O’s in Park City, Utah, among scores of others. It wasn’t just nightlife where Lewis found design success, proving adept at transitioning nightlife elements into popular see-and-be-seen restaurants like NYC’s Darby, Amalia, Aspen Social Club and Aspen. As the Big Apple nightlife scene continued to flourish, Lewis found a void in the media coverage of all things New York nightlife and knew he could offer an insider’s take while helping to sort through the gossip and rumors running rampant on the streets. Enter Goodnight Mr. Lewis, a nightlife blog that quickly captured a loyal following within the industry and community. Lewis still continues to blog about one of the nation’s busiest nightlife scene with BlackBook’s online network. He is also a working Rock and Roll DJ signed with 4Am Management Agency. He also helped give back to the community by serving on the board for the Nightclub Preservation Community and the New York Nightclub Hall of Fame.
Liquid Relations and Aviation Gin
For the past decade, Ryan's unique "chef like" approach to mixed drinks along with the development of several innovative and efficient Professional Cocktail and Spirit Service Cultures locally, nationally, and internationally, has gained him recognition as one of America’s top mixologists. Based in Portland, OR., Ryan oversees the day to day operations of Liquid Relations™ and contributes to the ongoing development of Aviation Gin, his partnership with Portland’s own House Spirits™. Always pushing for consistency and innovation, Ryan has a singularly unique and purely recognizable approach to his craft that allows for a balance of creative and richly flavored cocktails, consistent drink production, speed, and well- honed technique. In his years “behind the stick” and on the consulting front, Ryan has worked extensively with world renowned culinary pioneer Kathy Casey at Kathy Casey Food Studios® in Seattle, WA., received a nomination as Best Bartender in the city of Portland (Citysearch; 2000), was named Best Bartender in Seattle (Seattle Magazine; 2002), received a coveted Tastemaker Award (Food and Wine Magazine; 2004) and, most recently, was tapped as Seattle’s Best Mixologist (Seattle Weekly; 2005).
Tampa Bay Partners
Since 1993, Baja Sharkeez Restaurant Group has earned its reputation as one of the most successful group of restaurant and bar concepts in Southern California, let alone the United States, with locations in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Santa Barbara. Co-founded by Greg Newman and his father Ron (who also co-founded The Red Onion), Baja Sharkeez Group is an ongoing testament to the quintessential SoCal lifestyle: great food and drinks at an exceptional value in a laid back and festive atmosphere where customers can cheer on their favorite sports teams or sit mesmerized by surf videos playing on various screens. In the evening, the lights lower and the DJ music begins, turning Baja Sharkeez into the go-to spot for fun-seekers looking for a great night on the town. As President, Greg, along with his father, has led the concept through a variety of conceptual incarnations, menu changes, and various other challenges that have helped Baja Sharkeez defy the typically much shorter life cycle of a restaurant concept that enjoys a robust bar business. In addition to Baja Sharkeez, Greg’s company also owns the Sandbar in Santa Barbara, Panama Joe’s in Long Beach and the now open and highly successful upscale Mexican concept, Palmilla Cocina y Tequila. Baja Sharkeez Group has been honored by having three of their concepts in NCB’s “Top 100” for the last several years.
Ron Newman has been a leading edge innovator the restaurant bar/nightclub business since 1968 as co-founder of The Red Onion chain, at one time owning and operating 17 units throughout Southern California. The Red Onions pioneered nightlife concepts such as disco, hip-hop, techno clubs, as well as country western, combined with a full service Mexican-Sonora restaurant. In 1993, he and son, Greg Newman, founded the first Baja Sharkeez in Manhattan Beach, California. It very quickly became known as the “go-to place” in the South Bay. There are now five operating units from Santa Barbara to Newport Beach, as well as Panama Joe’s in Belmont Shores, the Sandbar in Santa Barbara and a new upscale concept, Palmilla, set to premiere in 2011. They have been featured on the Travel Channel, USA Today and are listed as one of the Top 100 Clubs in the US three consecutive years. In 1990 he was one of the three original inductees to the Nightclub & Bar Hall of Fame. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of PSI World Seminars, an educational self-improvement company; the Executive Board of the Chamber of Commerce of Hermosa Beach; a member of the Advisory Board of Nightclub & Bar.
Born in Dublin, Peter has spent the last 12 years working in the drinks industry. He started in a local Dublin bar where his love for both whiskey and cocktails began. Peter has worked in some of Ireland’s biggest cocktail and whiskey bars and has also worked in Australia, for one of Sydney’s high-end spirit bars. Peter was employed by Diageo – Ireland, where he worked as Ireland’s Mixologist and Spirit brand Ambassador at the home of Guinness, St. James Gate Brewery and The Old Bushmills Distillery in Co. Antrim. Peter has trained over 350 bars, hotels and restaurants in both Mixology and Spirit Knowledge and continues to train staff on an ongoing basis. Peter now educates bartenders and consumers within the State of New Jersey on all of the Diageo whiskey range and stared as an “Expert” on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue Show in 2011 and 2012 where he trains bar staff on Whiskey and cocktails. In 2009, Peter had the pleasure and good fortune to work alongside Colum Egan, the Master Distiller of Bushmills Whiskey and his team. There, Peter grew his knowledge of both Bushmills and Whisky, in general. Peter was the only Bushmills Ambassador for the Republic of Ireland. In his new role as Master of Whisky for the US, based in NJ, he will continue to drive Bushmills Irish Whiskey and all Diageo Whisky brands across the US. The extensive portfolio now includes the entire selection of whiskies from Johnnie Walker, The Classic Malts, Crown Royal, Buchanan’s, Bulleit Bourbon & Bushmills. In addition to his love for his job, family, and Irish culture, Peter really enjoys outdoor activities from mountain biking, hiking and camping. He also is a fond reader of philosophy and a keen collector of spirits and old cocktail equipment.
Jack Robertiello has worked with or written about wine, spirits, cocktails, food and restaurants for most of his adult life. He’s written for many publications including Metropolitan Home, New York Daily News, The Washington Post, Caribbean Travel and Life, Nightclub & Bar, Beverage Media, Beverage Dynamics, Santé, Nation’s Restaurant News, Flavor and the Menu and Americas magazine. He is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits competition, the New York Spirits Awards, the International Rum Fest competition and the Spirits of Mexico competition. He has consulted with numerous spirit companies and is the author of “Mangia: The Best Italian Food In NYC.” His blog can be found at drinksink.blogspot.com.
Robert Plotkin is an expert in the field of mixology and beverage management. With over 30 years of hands-on industry experience augmented by 20 years as a consultant and writer, Plotkin is no stranger to the demands of beverage industry business. He has authored 16 books over the last 20 years based on his proven policies, procedures and operational strategies for profit generating beverage operations. His books are used in university classrooms and as in-house guides for on-premise operators. Over the years, Plotkin has written for state, regional and trade publications, as well as for a growing number of web-based sources as well. His publication list includes such prestigious publications as Wine Enthusiast, Santé, Cheers, Beverage Dynamics, State Ways, Restaurant Hospitality, Wine & Spirits International, Nation’s Restaurant News, El Restaurante Mexican, Nightclub & Bar, Beverage Retailer and RestaurantOwner.com. He is a frequent lecturer at industry trade shows where he speaks on cost control, beverage marketing and how to increase sales. His sense of humor is as well known as his reputation for professionalism, which makes his speaking engagements as much fun as they are informational. In 1999, he developed BarMedia.com, one of the first websites for beverage operators. Plotkin also produces The American Mixologist, an online magazine dedicated to the beverage industry.
Nightclub & Bar and Spike TV "Bar Rescue"
Jon Taffer is an internationally recognized, award-winning restaurant operator, owner and concept developer. He’s a respected industry “voice” with nearly 30 years of hands-on experience, and is president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, which includes the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show and Nightclub & Bar’s targeted e-newsletters and other digital media products including THE industry’s online destination, nightclub.com. Taffer is also star and co-executive producer of the successful Spike TV “Bar Rescue” series and chairman of Taffer Dynamics where he acts as a consultant and development adviser to the restaurants, nightclubs and hotels around the world.
Nightclub & Bar
The digital content manager of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, Kristen Santoro has spent the past 10 years in the events industry. From 2003 to 2007, she worked for an I&D company on internationally recognized events before heading back to further her education. After graduating from Suffolk University with a Masters in Public Relations and Communication, Santoro became an event planner for Advanstar Communications. During this time she traveled the country and internationally to various events as an onsite manger. Santoro handled conference and special events at Nightclub & Bar prior to being promoted the digital content manager in 2012.
Incentivize Solutions and SMART Restaurant Group
TJ Schier is the President and Founder of Incentivize Solutions, and p.o.d.Training. Prior to founding the company, he spent over 18 years at Chuck E Cheese’s Pizza, leaving as the VP of Field Support. He has written 3 books and over 100 articles on guest service and motivating today’s generation and is a past contributing editor for QSR Magazine as well as a past president of the Council of Hotel & Restaurant Trainers (CHART). He is also a past long-time member of the NRA Ed Foundation HR Advisory Council and has developed operational training materials around drive-thru, guest service and carryout for Coca Cola, Kraft and Evian, as well as dozens of leading restaurant and hotel chains. Recently he founded SMART Restaurant Group which operates 10 Which Wich Superior Sandwiches with a track record of high sales, employee retention and guest service scores. He utilizes cutting-edge hiring, guest survey and training methods in his company in his quest to build ‘SMART’ restaurants and prove out the theories he speaks about to his clients and their managers.
bigInk Public Relations
From his days as a roving restauranteur to his current work leading PR clients to extensive accolades and booming business, Jeffrey Yarbrough has achieved unequivocal success in all aspects of the hospitality industry. An entrepreneur by nature, Yarbrough shares with his clients the real life experience he gained from running his own business. His first entertainment accomplishment (Concept Nouveau, Inc.) was Dallas’ original four-clubs-in-one complex, including Art Bar, Blind Lemon, Club Clearview and Red. In 1998 Jeffrey’s innovative entrepreneurial spirit led him to launch Liberty Noodles, the first pan-Asian noodle house in Texas. In 2004, Jeffrey took his knowledge of the hospitality industry and opened Big Ink PR & Marketing, using his experience to help other restauranteurs and business owners avoid painful mistakes and reach sweeping success.