UCLA Extension's 17th Annual Restaurant Industry Conference is scheduled for April 3 on the UCLA Campus at Covel Commons in Los Angeles. The event will explore emerging concepts, culinary trends and other topics affecting the restaurant industry such as Obamacare.

"It was at prior (UCLA Extension) conferences that the size and scope of the farm-to-fork and food truck phenomena were first explored, as well as the importance of internal marketing and leadership from multiple dimensions. We expect more substantive trends to be unveiled this year," said Anna Graves, conference chair and co-leader of the restaurant, food and beverage industry group for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

This year's conference includes keynote speeches from Greg Creed, CEO, Taco Bell Corp., and Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Markets.

Adam Fleischman, founder and CEO of the Umami Restaurant Group, (which also launched its 800 Degrees pizza chain) will join an "emerging concepts" panel that includes Alan Jackson, founder, and Ian Olsen, COO, of the Lemonade Restaurant Group, as well as Tony Shure, co-founder of the Chop't Creative Salad Company and Burton Heiss, senior vice president of Nando's Restaurant Group Inc.

Examining menu evolution will be Amy Alarcon, vice president of Culinary Innovation, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen; Alex Benes, partner at Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill; Randy Kies, senior vice president for growth and development, Lark Creek Restaurant Group; and Donald Moore, chief culinary officer and SVP of kitchen operations, The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. Moderating this panel will be Steven Goldstein, partner, The Culinary Edge.

Which restaurants are winning over customers the best – and maintaining their loyalty – will be part of a market research discussion by Ron Paul, president and CEO, and Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. Unveiled during this session will be the top 500 chain restaurant performance index compiled by Technomic.

Also, an expert panel will offer attendees the latest advice and insights into the Affordable Care Act. Panelists include Behzad Cohan, president, CG Investments Inc.; Scott Morsch, area senior vice president, Gallagher Hospitality & Restaurant Group; Michelle Neblett, director of labor and workforce policy, National Restaurant Association; Scott Nicholson, vice president of operations, Veggie Grill; and Paul Potvin, CFO, Elephant Bar Restaurants.

The conference also features a panel discussing crisis communication and brand protection.

UCLA economist Dr. Edward E. Leamer will offer the latest figures on whether the U.S. will recover more jobs lost during the recession and how employment rates will likely impact restaurants.

Finally, the presentation of the 2013 Innovation Award will go to Dr. Tim Ryan, president, The Culinary Institute of America. Presenting the award to Dr. Ryan will be last year's winner, Jerry Deitchle, chairman of BJ's Restaurants.

Conference details and online registration are available at uclaextension.edu/restaurant.

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