Focus Brands, parent company of iconic brands Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli and Schlotzsky’s, today announced newly appointed executive brand management and marketing leadership to oversee the strategic direction of some of its brands and continue to drive brand relevance and market share.
The appointments include the following: Kendall Ware, chief brand officer for Carvel and Cinnabon; Alisa Gmelich, chief brand officer for Auntie Anne’s; Cynthia Liu, vice president of Marketing for Auntie Anne’s and Danielle Porto Parra, vice president of Marketing for McAlister’s Deli. Additionally, with the company’s continuing focus on recruitment, retention and company culture, Melissa Smith, SPHR, MBA will take the helm as chief people officer for Focus Brands.
“This year has been about refining our structure and our brands to accelerate performance and prepare us for the future,” said Focus Brands CEO Jim Holthouser. “As we end 2020, I know we have the right talent, with the right strategies in place to take our brands and our business to the next level.”
Kendall Ware, Chief Brand Officer, Carvel and Cinnabon
Kendall Ware has joined Carvel and Cinnabon as chief brand officer, where he is responsible for all aspects of brand management for the two specialty brands, including franchise and company operations, as well as marketing. He is an experienced franchise and operations leader and has 15 years of experience growing brands, developing teams and enhancing operations. 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 worked for CiCi’s Pizza, hospitality and retail executive search firm Patrice & Associates and Genghis Grill.
Alisa Gmelich, Chief Brand Officer, Auntie Anne’s
Alisa Gmelich has joined Auntie Anne’s as chief brand officer, where she will lead the global brand’s operations, marketing and brand management. She is succeeding Heather Neary who will step down from her position as brand president of Auntie Anne’s at the end of the year. 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 and Burger King, and for the past eight-plus years at IHOP, as vice president of Marketing and Strategic Planning. Gmelich has a strong background in franchising and has driven results as a focused leader, team builder, marketer and strategist. Gmelich will work closely with Neary to gain perspective as Neary transitions to the next phase of her career in January.
Cynthia Liu, Vice President of Marketing, Auntie Anne’s
Cynthia Liu has joined Auntie Anne’s as vice president of Marketing from The Hershey Company, where she most recently served as director of partnerships and occasion marketing. During her time at Hershey’s, she also held an international role working with the Mexico business and has worked on the flagship Hershey’s brand as senior brand manager. With nearly 15 years in the food industry, Cynthia has also worked for the Kraft Heinz Company serving in several brand management roles for Jell-O, Grey Poupon and Shake ‘N Bake.
Danielle Porto Parra, Vice President of Marketing, McAlister’s Deli
Danielle Porto Parra has joined McAlister’s Deli as the vice president of Marketing. Parra has been in the hospitality and retail industry for more than 20 years, serving as chief marketing officer and head of eCommerce. Throughout her career, she has led company growth through a combination of brand experience and product innovation, personalized digital marketing, developed breakthrough creative and ensured a focus on profitable results. Most recently, Parra worked on building automotive aftermarket brands, including Pep Boys, AAMCO Transmissions and Total Car Care, Precision Tune Auto Care and Auto Plus, as well as Petco, Build.com and Caesars Entertainment Corporation. She started her career working for Darden Restaurants and Logan’s Roadhouse.
Melissa Smith, SPHR, MBA, Chief People Officer, Focus Brands
Melissa Smith was named chief people officer to lead human capital strategy and employee engagement to bring the company’s workforce together to drive success. She and her team will be champions of HR across business functions to build culture, diversity and inclusion, while also focusing on recruitment and retention. She has worked at Focus Brands for nearly nine years and most recently served as SVP of Human Resources for the company, where she has helped the organization and its employees navigate through a time of great change during the pandemic.