Bill Cecil Jr.
John `Jack ‘ Cecil
Dennis ‘Denny’ Edward
CEO | Biscuitville
When Kathie Niven joined family-owned Biscuitville as brand officer in 2011, she began to make her mark on the North Carolina-based chain that opened its first restaurant in 1975 across the Virginia line in Danville.
She oversaw the brand’s positioning itself as “Fresh Southern,” as well as new menu options such as the popular spicy chicken and honey biscuit. The Elon University graduate, who has a degree in English, drew upon her earlier marketing experience with Arby’s, Burger King, Krispy Kreme and Quizno’s to build a team within Biscuitville responsible for communications and marketing initiatives, public relations and social media. She started a collegiate summer internship program to develop talent.
In 2018, the company named her president, and in 2021 she became CEO, succeeding Burney Jennings, who is executive chair. He is the son of the late company founder Maurice Jennings.
When Niven became CEO, the brand known for opening at 5 a.m. and closing at 2 p.m. had about 62 stores, mostly in the Triad and eastern North Carolina, as well as Virginia. It now has 74, with two more planned in the South Carolina towns of Hartsville and Florence, its first in the Palmetto State. The recent growth has come from initial restaurants in Fayetteville, Greenville and Winston-Salem, along with some suburban towns near Charlotte.
Since Niven joined Biscuitville’s executive leadership, annual revenue has increased from $55 million to $150 million. She also has helped grow the average sales per restaurant to more than $2 million annually, according to the company.
In March, Elon University added Niven to its Distinguished Alumni list.
Favorite family tradition: Camping with the entire extended family. (A 45-year tradition)
Favorite N.C. place to visit: New Bern, Beaufort & Wrightsville Beach
What do you listen to on your commute: Lifestyle books or TV streaming shows — don’t shame me!
Major inspiration: Brene Brown
Career highlight: Rebranding 100% of Biscuitville’s facility portfolio
Favorite hobby after work: Cook with the family, gardening and travel
Best advice to industry newcomer: Keep a long-term view of success and be careful not to get sidetracked on short-term losses or environmental shifts.
Key industry change in next five years: Gas stations becoming viable restaurant options. More ghost kitchens and reduced brick-and-mortar
CEO | Bojangles
The spicy-chicken chain founded in Charlotte in 1977 is growing aggressively under the University of Miami graduate’s lead since he took the post in 2019. He has pressed for expansions into Ohio, New York and Texas. The chain’s 800th store that opened last year marked the first in Louisiana. The company launched alcoholic sweet tea in the Carolinas with Appalachian Mountain Brewing.
Favorite family tradition: Cuban tradition involves throwing a dirty bucket of water out at midnight New Year’s Eve to forget the bad. We eat 12 grapes to bring good luck in each month of the new year. We toast the new year with Cidra, a Spanish-apple sparkling cider.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Bojangles for biscuits, chicken and tea.
What do you listen to on your commute: News
Major inspiration: My Mom sacrificed bringing up two boys, and as Cuban immigrants, it reminds me of how our country provides opportunities if you work hard. I have been blessed with an incredible family, and would never want to let them down.
Career highlight: Becoming Bojangles’ CEO and moving to Charlotte.
Favorite hobby after work: Spending time and playing golf with my wife, Mary. My best supporter and critic.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Folks in the restaurant are your most important assets. Take care of them and business will do well.
Key industry change in next five years: More digital convenience and access to allow customers to interact with business. Labor is more precious and valuable.
president, CEO | Boddie-Noell Enterprises
He’s been at the helm since 1990, when he succeeded his father, Mayo, a prominent civic and philanthropic leader. Formed in 1962, the family-owned business remains the largest Hardee’s franchisee, with 334 sites in four states as of November 2022. Boddie-Noell also develops real estate such as the Currituck Club at the Outer Banks.
BILL CECIL JR.
president | Biltmore Co.
Cecil oversees the 250-room Biltmore House, the centerpiece of the estate developed by great-grandfather George Vanderbilt. It welcomes about 1.4 million tourists annually, and includes a winery. Cecil heads a staff of more than 2,000. “A Biltmore Christmas” will be part of the 2023 Hallmark movie lineup.
JOHN ‘JACK’ CECIL
president, CEO | Biltmore Farms
The UNC Chapel Hill graduate presides over real-estate projects such as a shopping mall, medical offices, hotels and a 1,000-home development. He joined Biltmore Farms in 1984 and was named president and CEO in 1992. The company’s legacy dates back to George Vanderbilt, scion of industrialist William Henry Vanderbilt.
owner | AC Restaurants
The N.C. State University graduate has been named one of the nation’s best chefs multiple times. Raleigh restaurants include Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, and Death & Taxes. She authored “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner.” She has been a vocal critic of sexual harassment in the industry.
Favorite family tradition: I really love holiday meals, especially Easter and Thanksgiving.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: The N.C. coast. I love Wrightsville Beach in the off-season especially.
What do you listen to on your commute: NPR/WUNC
Major inspiration: I love to call my friends across the country in the industry and bounce ideas. The wealth of knowledge that can be celebrated when folks are generous and open with experiences is incredible and wildly inspiring. It’s one of my favorite things about our expansive shared culinary community.
Career highlight: Becoming a restaurant owner. Many wonderful things have happened over the course of my career, but that is the highlight that shines on any accomplishment since.
Favorite hobby after work: Take my shoes off and
hang out with my wife and our wonderful puppy dogs. Cooking remains my favorite hobby, but I’ve become more interested as of late in baking and framing artwork at home.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Be patient. The opportunity to learn in the field of culinary hospitality is endless. Take your time and soak it up. There is a lesson in every experience, even the lesson of how not to
Key industry change in next five years: The growing shift in industry compensation models is extremely important, and I feel confident that we will continue to see this grow in the next five years and beyond.
restaurateur | Bayhaven Restaurant Group
A semi-finalist in the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards in 2019 and 2020, Collier opened Leah & Louise, a self-described modern juke joint serving Southern dishes in 2020. Esquire Magazine named it one of the best new restaurants of 2020. He has paused plans to open three other restaurants.
president | R.H. Barringer
The fourth-generation, family-owned distributor of Anheuser-Busch products and dozens of other brands added Wake County to its central N.C. operations in a 2019 acquisition from Goldsboro-based R.A. Jeffreys Distributing. Craig’s great-grandfather founded his namesake company in 1933. The company now has branches in Greensboro, Hickory, Linwood, North Wilkesboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.
DENNIS ‘DENNY’ EDWARDS
president, CEO | Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau
Edwards markets Raleigh/Wake County with a staff of 32 and a $9.2 million annual budget. A University of Northern Iowa graduate, he has led the bureau since 2007. He
held similar jobs in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Palm
Favorite family tradition: Spending a week at the beach with the entire family
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Anywhere with water
What do you listen to on your commute: Local news or sports radio
Major inspiration: My former boss in Palm Springs and Houston. I respected his work ethic, drive to succeed and ability to think five steps ahead.
Career highlight: Ability to work with the
community and our partners to shift Wake County from
a relatively unknown tourism destination nationally, to a sought-after location for leisure travel, sporting events and conventions.
Favorite hobby after work: Riding the Peloton bike. Spending time with the family and golf. I like to explore restaurants and breweries in the area.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Have long-term goals and work every day with passion. Be respectful to everyone you work with and do business with.
Key industry change in next five years:
How electric vehicles may impact travel and how destinations need to be ready for demand for charging stations. How technology is impacting travel. From more hybrid meetings, mobile check-in at hotels, and the ease travelers have to research and obtain information
CEO | Kitty Hawk Kites
History says Harris was the first to hang glide from Grandfather Mountain in 1974, when he started his business. Since then, he has turned his passion for unpowered flight into Kitty Hawk Kites, selling hang gliders and giving lessons at nearly 20 East Coast locations that employ 350 people. He’s a Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate.
Favorite family tradition: Getting together with family for Christmas.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Grandfather Mountain
Major inspiration: Serving and continuing to see smiling, happy and excited faces on our customers.
Career highlight: Staying in business for almost 50 years and teaching the world to fly.
Favorite hobby after work: Flying
Best advice to industry newcomer: Work hard and find an area you really enjoy serving in.
Key industry change in next five years: High labor costs in the service/tourism industry will force the industry to automate and do more with less labor.
president, CEO | Explore Asheville
Convention & Visitors Bureau
A Rockingham County native, Isley was appointed
to the post in 2020 after stints promoting Bermuda, Washington, D.C., and Tampa Bay, Florida. Buncombe County expects $700 million in 2024 fiscal year lodging revenue, 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
That kicks off about $40 million in occupancy taxes.
She is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate.
Favorite family tradition: Annual multi-gen trip to Outer Banks.
What do you listen to on your commute: Blue Ridge Public Radio or WFUV
Major inspiration: Sunrises and sunsets
Favorite hobby after work:
Walking, cooking, live music.
president, CEO | Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance
The UNC Charlotte graduate, 63, has headed the 900-plus member alliance since it was created nearly 30 years ago. Hotels and industry suppliers dominate the nonprofit group’s membership. In recent years, he’s spoken
against what he sees as the state’s lack of support for
the movie industry.
Favorite family tradition: Traveling
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Boone and Blowing Rock areas
What do you listen to on your commute: Telephone messages on my phone
Major inspiration: Making a positive difference
Career highlight: Helping with the massive growth of the Charlotte region’s hospitality business.
Favorite hobby after work: Walking
Best advice to industry newcomer: Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you.
Key industry change in next five years: Technology will continue to dictate changes in our industry and make business less labor intensive.
president, CEO | Concord Hospitality Enterprises
He started the business in 1985 and expanded it to more than 90 hotels under management through its sale of a majority interest to New York-based Alleghany Capital in 2018. The company signed a development deal last year to build 15 new Extended Stay America Premier Suites hotels in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
CEO | McConnell Golf
The Virginia Tech graduate founded two medical software companies that sold for a combined $1.4 billion. He bought Raleigh Country Club in 2003. McConnell Golf now owns or has long-term leases with 15 courses in the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee. It may buy the Donald Ross-designed Lakeside Park Club near Richmond, Virginia, according to a March report.
president, CEO | Tands
McRae opened his first Bojangles’ location in Kinston in 1980. He has since grown to become one of the chain’s largest franchisees, operating nearly 70 restaurants throughout eastern North Carolina and the Richmond, Virginia, area. Over the years, the former N.C. Transportation Board member has also invested in real estate, golf courses and minor league baseball.
president , CEO | North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association
Minges’ group represents more than 20,000 restaurants and lodging establishments, which represent $27 billion in annual sales and employ 11% of the state’s workforce. A former N.C. Commerce Department marketing executive, the Bladen County native has degrees from N.C. State University and Peace College.
Favorite family tradition: Our family enjoys quality time together along the North Carolina Crystal Coast.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Crystal Coast
What do you listen to on your commute: Audiobooks
Major inspiration: My father was an incredible leader and strong influence in my life. He believed that I could do anything and his confidence and belief in me from an early age has stayed with me my entire life.
Career highlight: Helping the restaurant and lodging industry navigate evolving business conditions during Covid-19. It was one of the most challenging times of my professional career.
Favorite hobby after work: Spending time with my four precious grandchildren who live close by.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Build and nurture relationships within your professional circle. I learn new things and grow professionally through every interaction with colleagues and peers.
Key industry change in next five years: Worker shortages will continue to challenge our industry. Successful owners and operators will adapt their business models accordingly with a renewed focus on fostering positive workplace cultures and by embracing new and emerging technologies.
CEO | Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
The Villanova University graduate has promoted Charlotte as a tourism destination since 2011. The authority-run Charlotte Convention Center completed a $130 million expansion in the last year. He previously worked at Marriott, InterContinental and other hotel groups.
Career highlight: For years, we nurtured relationships with community partners and industry leaders. The importance of those connections were never more essential than during the COVID-19 global pandemic.Together, we kept people working and got the Charlotte hospitality industry back on its feet when it was safe to do so.
Major inspiration: My team members inspire me. I believe success comes from the individual, and every single person at the CRVA plays a part in those achievements. We have developed great trust collaborating across all departments and venues to work toward a common goal.
Best advice for an industry newcomer: Developing others is the most important role that leaders have. When I speak to recent graduates and MBA students, I tell them their “learning has just begun.” Instead of setting your gaze on the highest salary opportunity or dream city to live in, visualize your career through the lens of learning.
Key industry change in next five years: The power of strategic events to bring people together in-person is undeniable. Business travel will continue to blend with leisure travel, not only supporting economic importance but elevating societal experiences for residents and visitors alike.
founder, CEO | Summit Hospitality Group
Parrish started the business in 1988 and now operates 18 hotels in North Carolina, including properties with Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott brands. The company has 700 employees and $250 million in assets. The Wake Forest University and UNC Chapel Hill graduate is a former UNC Board of Governors member.
president | Pinehurst Resort
The Duke University MBA joined the resort in 2000 and has had his current post since 2014. Construction on a new Tom Doak-designed golf course began in early 2023 and will open in 2024 to coincide with the return of the U.S. Open to the resort’s famed Pinehurst No. 2 course.
president | CN Hotels
Patel’s family immigrated from India and bought a small California hotel in 1976. He moved to North Carolina a couple of years later and has built a chain of about 30 hotels in the Southeast. CN Hotels will open a dual-brand hotel in downtown Raleigh later this year, combining a Tempo by Hilton and Homewood Suites.
owner | Raffaldini Vineyards
Raffaldini started in Wall Street in 1985, and now he and his partners manage a $45 billion hedge fund affiliated with UBS. In 2000, he bought a Wilkes County farm to grow wine grapes. Raffaldini Vineyards now attracts 25,000 visitors annually. The New York University MBA graduate moved to Winston-Salem in 2008.
CEO | Cook Out
His father, Morris Reaves, opened the first Cook Out in Greensboro in 1989. It now ranks among the fastest-growing restaurants nationally with more than 300 units in 10 states from Georgia to West Virginia. Known for milkshake flavors from banana pudding to watermelon, Cook Out employs about 13,000.
president and CEO | Greenville-Pitt County Convention & Visitors Bureau
president | North Carolina Travel Industry Association
Schmidt has a master’s degree in public administration and hospitality from East Carolina University, where he taught classes for many years. He’s spent virtually his entire career at the Greenville trade association. In his trade association role, he stresses the importance of tourism in local and state economic development.
Favorite family tradition: On Christmas Eve, we have an open house. Family and friends come by and visit, share a meal, and engage in gift giving. Christmas games get everyone’s competitive spirit flowing.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: If there’s sand and water in the same place, I’m happy.
Major inspiration: Our Dad passed away when we were kids, and my big brother was a father figure for me growing up. He showed me that challenges turn into opportunities. He still sets the right example for everyone that he cares about.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Concentrate on the art of public speaking. Although the majority of our daily communication occurs electronically, it’s imperative that tourism professionals feel comfortable speaking in front of clients and large groups.
Key industry change in next five years: Greater connectivity and the growing number of people that are no longer in the workforce will combine to increase travel numbers on both a domestic and international level. I also think we will see “bleisure travel,” the blending of business and leisure travel together continue to extend trip times.
principal chief | Eastern Band,
The graduate of Universal Technical College in Arizona oversees one of the most powerful Native American tribes, which has major investments in gaming and medical marijuana. He stresses education, cultural preservation and economic opportunity. The son of a former Cherokee tribal council member is a licensed industrial-arts teacher in North Carolina.
president, CEO | Golden Corral
The leader of the largest U.S. buffet operator became CEO in 2015, having joined the business in 1986. A Mississippi State University graduate, he chaired the National Restaurant Association board in 2022 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association earlier this year.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: I enjoy fly fishing and our beautiful mountains, but I also like spending time at the beach in the Outer Banks.
What do you listen to on your commute: Talking with our independent franchisees. Our team takes a very collaborative approach to decision-making, and this tends to be a great time to discuss new ideas and initiatives with key operators.
Career highlight: Celebrating our company’s 50th anniversary after battling through the business impact of the pandemic. As a buffet concept, we had to overcome nearly impossible odds. I credit our ability to survive and now thrive, to the incredible resilience of our franchisees and our people, who demonstrated their steadfast commitment to Golden Corral and
Key changes in next five years: Innovation and technology will continue at an even faster rate and with broader applications across our industry. Second, maintaining a solid value position with today’s consumers will be more critical than ever. Lastly, we must continue identifying new ways to hire and retain great talent.
vice president of tourism | Economic DevelopmentPartnership of North Carolina
Last year, the U.S. Travel Association
named Tuttell its State Tourism Director of the Year for his work in the sixth-most visited state. The University of Florida graduate has led the state’s marketing
of tourism, film-making, sports development and other ventures since 2014. He previously promoted tourism
in St. Petersburg, Florida.