Board of Directors

Colleen Brennan

Rodney Strong Vineyards

Colleen Brennan is a wine industry professional recognized for her innovative sales and marketing achievements which span over 20 years in the beverage and restaurant industries. She is currently vice president of national accounts for Rodney Strong Wine Estates, where she is responsible for business development, marketing, strategic planning, budgeting and sales for all on premise national account chains. Prior to joining Rodney Strong in 2012, she was director of global accounts and the on-premise marketing specialist at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates where she supervised sales to more than 30 restaurant chains. In this role, she increased sales by 65% over a six-year period and was recognized as the 2007 Salesperson of the Year for Antinori Italian wine brand.

Brennan has also held executive level positions with leading restaurant companies including O’Charley’s and Cypress Companies. She served as director of beverage marketing at O’Charley’s, in charge of managing and growing beverage programs and profits for the restaurant chain’s 200 locations. Brennan’s consultative and creative approach to sales and marketing includes developing an innovative wine and spirits training tool for servers at O’Charley’s that dramatically increased product knowledge and beverage sales. She also created successful incentive contests that boosted sales and team member morale. One promotion resulted in over 200,000 incremental beverages sold during the first 10 weeks alone, representing a 200% increase in sales of one featured drink which became O’Charley’s top-selling beverage. Brennan’s creative strategies earned her a Cheers Beverage Excellence Award for best beverage promotion during this time. As director of restaurant marketing at Cypress Companies, owner of several chain concepts including Denny’s, Houlihan’s and An Tobar Irish Pub, she oversaw all marketing activities for 60 restaurants and pubs across five states. Brennan began her restaurant industry career at Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar and Grill where she served as a field marketing manager for all corporate-owned locations in Florida.

Brennan currently serves on the Board of Directors for The California Restaurant Association’s Education Foundation and on the Board of Directors for Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE). She has also served on several industry boards including the American Beverage Institute (Committee Chairperson),Cheer’s Magazine and the Millennium Group. Brennan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science from Yale University.

Joe Smith

Past Chair of the Board / Monin Gourmet Flavorings

Joe has over 40 years of sales and management experience in the food and beverage industry. Currently the Senior Vice President of Sales at Monin and responsible for all sales in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, Joe’s leadership over the last ten years has guided Monin towards many beverage excellence honors by valued customers and organizations. These include the Cheers Small Non-Alcoholic Beverage Supplier of the Year award nine years in a row, and Vibe’s Non-Alcoholic Supplier of the Year 2010. Additionally, OSI has named Monin Supplier of the Year for each of the last four years and Darden has bestowed on Monin the William B.
Darden Award. Prior to joining Monin, Joe’s career included major accomplishments in sales and sales management positions at Ocean Spray Canberries,Inc. and Hills Brothers Coffee. Joe is currently on the Board for CORE, Children of Restaurant Employees, and an active member of ABI. A graduate of Northeastern University, he splits his time at home between Boston and Florida.

Brian Yost

Secretary of the Board / Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

Brian is a veteran of 37 years in the hospitality industry. He was President, On Site Products, North American Concerts for Live Nation, with responsibility for ancillary revenue streams for Live Nations’ 42 amphitheaters and 6 select clubs and theaters, which host 13 million music fans at close to 1400 shows annually. Brian began his professional career with Marriott Hotels and Resorts in property-based positions, where he rose through the ranks in restaurants, bars and catering, ending up a Director of Food and Beverage at a young age.

Brian’s next opportunity came with a move to France, where he was a proud member of the pre-opening and opening teams of the Euro Disney Resort complex. After three years in France, Brian returned to the States, where he continued his tenure with Disney at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island, responsible for the day to day operation of this retail, dining and entertainment complex.

From Pleasure Island and Disney, Brian moved to Universal Studios, Florida, where he spent a brief time heading up the operational development of Universal’s City Walk there. After that stint, he returned to Marriott International, spending almost eight years in restaurants and beverage at the corporate level, eventually becoming corporate Vice President, Global Restaurants and Beverage.

Brian joined Harrah’s Entertainment in June 2005 as Vice President, Global F&B Operations and was responsible for leading the strategic direction of the food and
beverage programming for the world’s largest casino company. After that role, he transitioned into a position on the corporate development team, in which Brian
was charged with international concept and new project development for the casino company.

When not working on ways to help others achieve their business objectives, Yost remains active in the industry through his participation in numerous advisory
boards, as well as through his role as a member of the Board of the 501 (c)(3) charity Children Of Restaurant Employees (CORE).

Sherry King

Treasurer of the Board / IMI Agency

Sherry is currently CFO of IMI Agency and has been a part of the CORE accounting process since its’ inception. In 2015, she was honored to become more of an integral part of CORE as the Treasurer. She came to IMI originally in 1999 through the CPA firm where she worked as a traveling, part-time Controller for several small to midsize businesses in metropolitan Atlanta. In 2003 she was given the opportunity to work solely with IMI as their Accountant and became CFO in 2008. Her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Kennesaw State University has allowed her to work in a variety of interesting businesses over the last 30 years, ranging from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia to a Kendall Motor Oil distributor. None of those experiences have been able to compete with the energy of the beverage industry and the heart of CORE. After making all the numbers work, Sherry makes lots of happy memories with her daughter.

Mara Lee

Founding Member / Total Beverage Solution

Originally from Steel City
A proud Michigan State Spartan Soccer Alumni
Currently living in Charleston, though her heart remains in The Chi…

Mara Lee is nearing twenty years as a professional in beverage and entertainment, working for experiential and multicultural agencies, beverage and glassware suppliers, and currently a beverage importer. Sporting sales and marketing hats throughout her career, Mara has a proven track record of generating new points of distribution and long-term opportunities through successful collaborative partnerships. She is known for helping brands build a strong presence through development of on-premise strategy and execution to market. Mara is an event guru to boot. On tour with Earth, Wind and Fire, drink symposiums in Jamaica, spirited and education activations in New Orleans to Aspen. Brand launches with the likes of Gumball 3000, reviving custom glassware molds in France, to developing programs for the World’s Oldest Brewery here in the U.S.

Outside of work and throughout her life, Mara has always been a philanthropist. At an early age, she got involved with the Special Olympics and eventually led a college student-athlete volunteer program with the Director of Sports Business and Professional Development to engage athletes with hospital patients and K-12 students. This work led her to mentor and coach with Team In Training and eventually, in 2004, she along with four other beverage industry professionals founded CORE (Children Of Restaurant Employees) and remains an active Board Member and contributor to the Marketing and Event Committees supporting the organization today.

Contact Mara directly at:

Larry McGinn

Founding Member / IMI Agency

Larry joined IMI Agency in 2000, following 23 years on the alcohol and non-alcohol National Accounts Supplier side of the business. After working for Suppliers who support National Beverage Programs (Anheuser-Busch, Paddington, DIAGEO and Island Oasis), Larry joined IMI Agency and over the past 15 years led the building of IMI’s Hospitality Client roster to over 30 National On-Premise Chains. Obsessively dedicated to Building Better Beverage Business with each IMI Client, Larry and his Team become each Client’s strategic beverage consultant and legally permissible activation arm in creating effective and profitable beverage programs. Larry’s proudest accomplishment in his 38 years in the industry is assisting in the establishment and growth of CORE.

John Niekrash

Proximo Spirits | VICE PRESIDENT

John Niekrash is a 37-year veteran of the spirits industry. John says of his work on the CORE Board of Directors, “I consider being a Founding Member of CORE and being a part of such a heartfelt and beneficial charity the most rewarding achievement of my career.”

Jeffrey Bartfield

Proximo Spirits

Jeffrey began his sales and marketing career as a second-generation employee of the Joseph E. Seagram
Company in New York City in 1978 and currently serves as the Vice President of National Accounts at
Proximo Spirits.

Michael Bekolay

Venue Hospitality Solutions

Michael is the current SVP of Innovation and Customer Service at Legends Hospitality. He has over 25 years of experience in the concessions F&B world, having worked with and maintained contacts at most of the major industry leaders in that segment. Additionally, Michael has been the advocate for CORE within the Legends organization and continues to a supporter through their hosting of events and annual membership.

Barry Gutin

GuestCounts Hospitality/Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar

As Principal and Co-founder of GuestCounts Hospitality, Barry provides the vision, strategy and leadership behind its hospitality concepts. Barry has led the development of distinctive concepts that have transformed dining, nightlife and special event scenes on the East Coast. Having the vision to identify trends and circumvent fads, GuestCounts Hospitality’s concepts stand the test of time. GuestCounts Hospitality is now singularly focused on the growth of the Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, set to grow to six restaurants by the end of 2021.

Prior to forming GuestCounts Hospitality, Barry and his business partner Larry Cohen, operated some of the most impressive and successful food, beverage and entertainment facilities in the northeast including Egypt Nightclub, Shampoo Nightclub, and 32° Luxe Lounge. The pair built a growing multi-division company with revenue exceeding $40 million prior to their 2017 sale of the premier catering company Brûlée Catering by Chef Jean Marie Lacroix to a division of Comcast Corporation.

In addition to Barry’s experience in food and beverage operations, he has expertise in marketing, public relations and entertainment production. Barry has a longstanding involvement in the Nightclub & Bar Media and Trade Show, the leading authority on the nightlife industry, serving as Vice Chairman on its Advisory Board, speaking at its annual conference and tradeshow and writing articles on operations and marketing.

Barry grew up in the Bronx, New York. While working at his father’s restaurant, Barry attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1979. He has worked in the hospitality industry ever since.

LaMonte Jones

PepsiCo. Foodservice

LaMonte Jones is currently a Director for PepsiCo Foodservice, headquartered in White Plains, NY. He is responsible for leading the strategic direction of the Sales & Marketing – Emerging & Fast Casual Restaurant team for the United States. LaMonte is a 21 year veteran of PepsiCo with past assignments leading the U.S. Multi-Cultural Marketing agenda during his tenure at Pepsi Bottling Group’s headquarters in Somers, NY and the sales and marketing department at PepsiCo Direct in Winston-Salem, NC. With an enthusiastic and genuinely friendly attitude, LaMonte radiates a sincere passion for delivering value and benefits to his customers and network of colleagues. An accountant and marketer by vocation, LaMonte earned his B.S. & MBA in Business Administration at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. After graduating, he spent 10 years at Household Finance Corporation (HFC) in various management roles leading up to the AVP, Assistant to the President; where he led several key Human Resource projects across the U.S. He is currently pursuing his PhD in management. Among many internal accolades, LaMonte’s recognition includes 2008, Who’s Who in Atlanta, 2009 Atlanta’s 100 Most Influential Men, and 2010 Top 40 Emerging Young Leaders. In addition to Warrick Dunn Charities, he is a board member for the Greater North Fulton County Chamber of Commerce. Today, LaMonte resides in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife Sophia and sons Jejuan and Julian. He is an active member of Word of Faith Family Cathedral Church where Bishop Dale C. Bronner is the presiding senior pastor.

Ryan Maher

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Ryan Maher joins the CORE board as the VP of National Accounts for Tito’s Handmade Vodka responsible for the on and off premise channels. He has over 20 years’ experience in the alcohol beverage industry selling beer and distilled spirits for family owned and operated companies. “Having my son with some early health issues, and being exposed to truly sick kids and their families, gave me an entirely different perspective and solidified CORE’s mission and values in my life.

Gerry Fernandez

Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA)

As President and Founder of MFHA - an educational non-profit organization that makes the business case for developing cultural intelligence in the workplace- Gerry has spent decades educating and advocating for the business benefits of cultural diversity and inclusion in the foodservice & hospitality industry. An engagingly energetic Speaker who practices “straight talk”, he travels across the US and internationally, bringing authentic perspective on building Cultural Intelligence that raises the topline, improves the bottom-line, and builds brands’ cultural authenticity. Gerry was named to Nation’s Restaurant News 2018 Power List of the 50 Most Influential People in Foodservice, “the definitive list of industry leaders who are not only setting trends today, but also shaping them for tomorrow”.

Donna Josephson

Chief Marketing Officer / Shipley Do-nuts

Donna Josephson is a dynamic results-oriented marketing professional with over 20 years of restaurant marketing experience with such iconic brands as Chick-Fil-A, Applebee’s, Wendy’s, McAlister’s Deli and Fazoli’s. She is currently Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for Corner Bakery Café where she leads all, brand marketing and strategy, product R&D and menu strategy, as well as off premise strategy and supply chain and distribution management.

Donna’s greatest strengths are her creativity, drive and leadership. She enjoys creative problem solving especially in areas that increase company sales and profits. Other passions include developing high performance teams and creating cross functional partnerships to drive results.

In 2011, Donna was awarded the R. David Thomas Outstanding Management Award for her contributions to operations partnerships and product development. She has served on the Board of Easter Seals North GA, Technomic Operator Advisory Board, and SpenDifference Client Advisory Council.

Scott Hempstead

Senior Director Divisional, Trade & Experiential Marketing / Boston Beer Company

Scott achieved “Tribal Elder” status at The Boston Beer Company a couple of years ago when he hit the 20 year mark with the brewery. Last year, he was named Senior Director Division, Trade and Experiential Marketing and he now oversees local marketing activities and sponsorships in all classes of trade for all Boston Beer Company Brands. Before this promotion, he spent more than a decade leading the Boston Beer National Accounts Team, as well as leading the companies On premise initiatives. In 2006 he won The President’s Award, the company’s top co-worker recognition. Scott knows his beer, and is a Certified Cicerone. His involvement with CORE dates back almost to the organization’s founding. He has been an active participant in furthering CORE’s mission and has served on its Advisory Council.

A native of New Jersey, and a graduate of the University of Vermont, Scott, his wife Maura live with their three children.

Board Emeritus

Paul LaConte


Paul recently retired from a 40 year sales and marketing career at DIAGEO, where his experience included marketing/ promotion, distributor management and National Accounts. Paul founded Casa LaConte, a beverage consulting business, after leaving DIAGEO and resides with his wife Donna in Naples, FL.

Stan Novack

Sammy's Beach Bar & Grill | FOUNDING MEMBER

Recognized as one of the “Marketing 100” by “Advertising Age”, Stan was responsible for the creation, development and implementation of the “Cheers” branded theme restaurant concept based on the television
series. Stan pioneered the development of other specialty concepts including micro-breweries, sports grills, wine bars and Irish Pubs in non-traditional environments, and has led creative teams that worked with popular
names to develop proprietary branded concepts such as FOX Sports Skybox, Jose Cuervo Tequileria, Casa Bacardi, Dewar’s Clubhouse and others. Stan has also worked with celebrity chefs to develop innovative
concepts bearing their name, including Todd English’s Bonfire & Bonfire Bar, Martin Yan’s Yan Can, and David Burke’s Burke in the Box, as well as entertainment icons, such as Dick Clark and Sammy Hagar, to
develop concepts around their music and backgrounds. Stan’s industry specialties include concept development, training, marketing, purchasing, branding and identity, franchising, merchandising, design, and operations.


Sheila Bennett


Sheila Bennett is an accomplished business development and strategist bringing diverse and blended experience in all areas of the food service industry as well as non-profit capitalization. She has the proven ability to successfully innovate ideas in fast-paced environments to improve business programs, services, operations, collaboration, fund-raising and overall efficiencies. Her most recent success as an innovative thought leader and marketing strategist resulted in the development and growth of the successful Dine Out - For No Kid Hungry. From concept to implementation - Sheila built the go to market strategy, rebranded the Great American Dine Out to Dine Out for No Kid Hungry for greater brand transparency and in 2008 engaged restaurant industry leaders to raise more than $25M in seven years to end childhood hunger in America.

She utilized her expertise in as a consummate relationship builder with collaborative, cross-functional leadership style anchored in research, strategy, processes, and establishing best practices with aligned core values.

Sheila brings more than 25 years of experience in marketing, development and program management for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Sara Lee Corporation’s PYA Monarch, Share Our Strength, Compass Group, N.A., Basix Restaurant Services and Ruby Tuesday. She is an active member of Les Dames d’Escoffier – Atlanta Chapter and the Women’s Foodservice Forum, and incredibly connected to the Nation’s industry’s movers and shakers.

Gretchen James


Gretchen has 12 years of experience working with non-profits and over two decades of restaurant experience. She is excited to bring both of her backgrounds together to help CORE maintain and expand their very important corporate partnerships. She is passionate about serving food and beverage service employees with children as her family owns and operates two restaurants in the Nashville area with some very dedicated and amazing employees. She lives in Nolensville, TN with her husband and two daughters.

Rachelle Tully


Blayne Howser


Blayne brings a thorough understanding of the challenges that face the restaurant industry with more than 15 years of consumer insights experience in restaurant marketing. Combined with an extensive background in restaurant franchising, shared services, and customer service, Blayne is excited to bring this experience to the non-profit arena.