OvationBrands—parent company to Ryan’s, HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Country Buffet, and Fire Mountain—today announced the newest additions to their leadership lineup as the brand continues on its path to reinvention. The three industry pros joining Ovation Brands include Jeffrey Martinson as Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning, George Wooten, Senior Vice President of Operations, and Michelle Gessner as Senior Vice President of Administration and General Counsel.
Jeffrey Martinson, who will report to Keith Kravcik, Chief Financial Officer for Ovation Brands, will be focused on uncovering breakthrough insights that will continue to help the brand create a new category of family-style casual dining. He will be charged with quantitative, qualitative and data analytics to find the key insight to drive strategy, programming and tactics.
“Jeff brings with him more than 20 years of finance experience, business partnering and leadership skills, making him the perfect candidate for this newly created position,” said Kravcik. “I am excited to have someone on board whose daily mission will be focused on our future vision and associated business modeling.”
Prior to joining Ovation Brands, Martinson worked various leadership positions at the Fortune 50 Company Target, most recently as the Senior Director of Strategic Pricing. He also worked with Midcontinent Media as the Director of Financial Reporting. Early in his career, Martinson was recruited to work for Deloitte & Touche as the Senior Auditor, where he gained experience in public accounting.
Martinson holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Saint Cloud State University and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
George Wooten is the Senior Vice President of Operations for Ovation Brands, reporting to Greg Graber, Chief Operating Officer for the company. Wooten has been in the operations side of the restaurant industry for more than 35 years and joined the Ovation Brands team to lead the operations team in rolling out the new Hospitality Program system-wide. Wooten is a veteran in the turnaround culture.
“George’s extensive operations and entrepreneurial experience paired with his passion for hospitality is a perfect match for our operational objectives,” said Graber.
In his position as Senior Vice President of Operations, Wooten will be responsible for seeding, training and completing the rollout of the Hospitality Program to all 331 buffet restaurants. The Hospitality Program is part of Ovation Brands’ focus on elevating the guest experience through building a culture of hospitality through ‘real food for real people.’ He is being tasked with appointing and training a dedicated Hospitality Manager in each restaurant, whose job is to connect with guests on the dining room floor and to set a positive example for the rest of the staff by training them to do the same.
Wooten started his career as an hourly team member at Wendy’s in 1978 and quickly grew up the operations chain into a managing position. Over the years, he has also developed his expertise in other areas of restaurant development, such as marketing, franchise management, and brand innovation.
Restaurant industry veteran Michelle Gessner joined Ovation Brands as Senior Vice President of Administration and General Counsel. Gessner’s responsibilities include overseeing both the Corporate Headquarters Human Resources function and Legal teams for Ovation Brands. She will also serve as secretary to the Board of Directors. Gessner is based out of the company’s corporate headquarters in Greer, SC and reports to CFO Keith Kravcik.
Gessner most recently served as Vice President and Division General Counsel of Employment Law and Litigation for Darden Restaurants. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Mountain State University, a Master’s degree in Industrial Labor Relations and a law degree, both from West Virginia University.
“These recent enhancements to our leadership team will allow us to take many areas of our business to improved levels and further enable us to execute and grow our brand while increasing value for all our stakeholders,” said Kravcik.
“We are working day and night to not only re-invent our brands but to actually create a new category of family-style dining by combining the best attributes of buffet and casual style dining,” said Anthony Wedo, Chief Executive Officer of Ovation Brands. “To do that, we need innovative thinkers who can bring new solutions to our business keeping the guest in the forefront of our decisions.”
Ovation Brands currently operates 340 restaurants in 35 states, comprised of 331 steak-buffet restaurants and nine Tahoe Joe’s Famous Steakhouse restaurants. The restaurants are principally operated under the Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet and Ryan’s brands. Ovation employs approximately 18,000 team members and serves approximately 100 million customers annually. Corporate headquarters are based in Greer, SC with a Corporate Support Center located in Eagan, MN. For more information, visit www.OvationBrands.com.