PULLMAN, Wash. — A dozen of the nation’s top restaurant industry executives will be guest speakers and panelists at the 13th Annual Donald I. Smith Chain Restaurant Management Conference March 9-10 on the WSU campus.
“Show Me the Opportunity” is the theme of the two-day event, hosted by the WSU Hotel and Restaurant Administration (HRA) Program. A career fair for students is set for the evening of March 9.
“Our own Professor Emeritus ‘Coach’ Don Smith and Charles Bernstein, editor-at-large of “Chain Leader” magazine, have once again brought together a winning team of hospitality leaders for this conference,” said HRA Program Director W. Terry Umbreit. “We’re expecting that 250 people will attend the popular seminar to learn about current issues and trends in the industry, including chain owners and managers from around the country and our HRA students.”
“The first day will feature examinations of ‘money’ — how to get it, how to expand it, how to succeed on a shoestring. Day Two will concentrate on ‘hot concepts,’ on how to make dining out an experience.”
Robert Taft, president of Au Bon Pain Co. Inc., is the March 9 keynote speaker, presenting his views on “The True Valuation of Restaurant Chains.” Michael Hurst, owner of 15th Street Fisheries and professor at Florida International University School of Hospitality Management, kicks off the second day of the conference with his keynote address, “Food for Thought.”
Other presentations include “The Restaurant Business is Simple…Simple is Hard,” by Malcolm Knapp, president of Malcolm M. Knapp, Inc.; “The Seven Keys of Highly Successful Restaurants,” by David Geraty, managing director for research at Wellels, Arnold, and Henderson, LLC; “Show Me the Opportunity,” by Smith; and “Turnaround Burnaround…How Not to Get Singed,” by Greg Dollarhyde, president and CEO of Country Harvest Buffet Restaurants, Inc.
Other presenters and conference panelists are Dave Anderson, founder and CEO of Famous Dave’s of America Inc.; Gerard Centioli, president and CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc.; Joseph Micatrotto, president and CEO of Buca Inc.; Ernie Renaud, executive vice chairman of Fazoli’s Management Inc.; Steve Schussler, founder and executive vice president of Rainforest Cafe Inc.; and Smith’s son, Dirk Smith, market director of Corner Bakery.
About 75 WSU HRA students will help with the conference. Many are fans of Coach Smith. He returns to the Pullman campus each fall to teach a three-week, upper-division crash course on chain restaurant management to about three dozen hospitality majors who sign waiting lists for this class. Smith’s students each year evaluate area eateries on their hospitality and then present popular “best” awards to restaurants and their employees.
Skits by those students will highlight the first morning of the conference. HRA students will once again have a chance to meet the professionals at a special career fair that evening following the day’s presentations.
The WSU HRA program is celebrating its 65th anniversary, and for the past several years has graduated approximately 100 seniors annually who take their places in tourism; hotel, restaurant and club administration; and managed services. Nearly 70 national and international internships are available to WSU’s HRA students who must complete 1,000 service hours before graduation. WSU HRA majors can study for their four-year undergraduate degrees in Pullman, Seattle or in Brig, Switzerland. The HRA Program is part of the WSU College of Business and Economics.

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