Mr. Blanchette is a respected food industry veteran with more than two decades of restaurant experience and has served as our Chief Executive Officer since joining Ignite in May 2007. Prior to Ignite, Mr. Blanchette served as President and Chief Operating Officer for Pick Up Stix, a leader in the quick-casual dining segment. He also held multiple leadership positions with Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. During his 18-year tenure with Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, Mr. Blanchette not only was recognized for his financial and operations accomplishments, but also for his success in developing high-performance teams.
Mr. Blanchette consistently gives back to the restaurant industry through his volunteer support of many organizations that need his leadership and insights. These organizations include board member and previous chairman of Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, member of the CEO Leadership Roundtable where he is focused on solving industry issues, member and recruiter for the NRA's Restaurant Advocacy Fund and also serves on the executive board of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. Mr. Blanchette earned a Master's Degree in Business Administration from SMU.
Michael J. Dixon President and Chief Financial Officer
Mr. Dixon has served as our Chief Financial Officer since joining Ignite in January 2013 and assumed the role of President in February 2013. He brought more than 25 years of corporate finance leadership and public accounting experience to Ignite, including more than 12 years in the food service industry. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Pinkberry, a leader in the premium frozen yogurt category with 220 outlets. Prior to his role at Pinkberry, Mr. Dixon served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at The Cheesecake Factory, Inc., from 2004 to 2008, as well as Controller from 2000 to 2004. In 2000, Mr. Dixon was Vice President and Controller of Petsmart.com, and prior to that, he served as Director, Finance and Business Development at The Walt Disney Company from 1994 to 2000. Before joining The Walt Disney Company, Mr. Dixon spent nine years at Coopers & Lybrand, a predecessor firm to PricewaterhouseCoopers. He also served recently as a member of the board of directors of Brinker International, the owner, operator and franchisor of the Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant brands. Mr. Dixon holds a master's degree in accounting and a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.
James F. Mazany President of Joe's Crab Shack
Mr. Mazany has served as our President of Joe’s Crab Shack since February 2013. He previously served as our Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Joe's Crab Shack since December 2010 and has a proven track record of leading operations teams to increase sales and traffic. He brings his experience to Ignite from Apple Gold, the second largest Applebee's franchise group. He served as Vice President of Operations, supervised the function of 68 restaurants, recruited directors, developed his team and lucratively executed a turn-around plan to improve sales and margins. Prior to Apple Gold, Mr. Mazany served as Director of Operations for T.G.I. Friday's where he ran the highest volume market in the country located in Long Island, New York.
As an advocator for several philanthropies, Mr. Mazany encourages his teams to get involved with charities within their local communities. Most notably, Joe's has partnered nationally with Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry.
James W. Kuhn President of Brick House Tavern + Tap
Mr. Kuhn has more than 30 years of restaurant experience and has served as our President of Brick House Tavern+Tap since February 2013. He previously served as our Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Brick House Tavern+Tap since December 2010. Prior to joining Ignite in 2007, Mr. Kuhn was with Ruby Tuesday's as Regional Vice President, responsible for improvement in key areas including sales growth, people development, margin and facilities.
Mr. Kuhn has also served as Vice President for Sbarro's, and as Regional Vice President for Bertucci's Restaurants. He directed Bertucci's food development and menu evolution, management recruiting, remodels and IT Systems. Those efforts, coupled with a renewed focus on operations, resulted in double-digit sales growth for four consecutive years. Mr. Kuhn earned a Bachelor's Degree in both Accounting and Management from Jacksonville University.
David Catalano President of Macaroni Grill
Mr. Catalano has 25 years of experience in the casual dining and hospitality industry, and has served as our President of Macaroni Grill since April 2013. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer for Rave Cinemas. Prior to that, Mr. Catalano also served as Chief Operating Officer for Apple Gold, an Applebee's franchisee with approximately 70 locations, Chief Operating Officer for Hard Rock Café and spent 15 years with TGI Fridays holding a variety of leadership positions including Vice President of Operations.
Robin N. Ahearn Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Ms. Ahearn has served as our Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer since December 2010. She has a broad range of marketing, advertising and media experience, along with a proven track record for creating and leading marketing programs that increase sales and traffic. Prior to joining Ignite in 2007, Ms. Ahearn was with Applebee's International where she led all media and national campaign plans for the 1,700-unit casual dining leader. Her experience includes work with Pepsi core brands and new products at Tracy-Locke and management of the in-house media department for Michaels Stores, Inc., the largest arts-and-crafts retailer in the country.
In addition, Ms. Ahearn serves on the Marketing Advisory Board for the Great American Dine out, an annual event sponsored by the nonprofit organization, Share Our Strength. The charity event brings together more than 4,000 restaurants nationwide to raise funds to end childhood hunger in America.
Ms. Ahearn received her BA in Radio, Television and Film from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and her EMBA from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Robin lives in Houston, Texas.
Edward W. Engel General Counsel, Senior Vice President of Legal and Corporate Secretary
Mr. Engel has served as our Senior Vice President of Legal and General Counsel since January 2010 and has more than 25 years of legal experience. Prior to joining Ignite in 2006, Mr. Engel spent five years as associate counsel for Landry's Restaurants, Inc., working primarily in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, real estate, and international franchises. He also has served as the chief legal counsel to Rainforest Cafe, Inc.; as a member of the board of directors of companies in England, Japan and Hong Kong; and has successfully negotiated franchise agreements throughout the Middle East.
Mr. Engel is a current member of the Texas College of Real Estate Attorneys and a former member of the College of the State Bar and was longtime board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Commercial Real Estate Law.
Mr. Engel has a bachelor's of business administration from the University of Texas at Austin and a doctor of jurisprudence degree from South Texas College of Law. He resides in Houston, Texas.
Edward J. McGraw Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer
Mr. McGraw has served as our Chief Development Officer since February 2013. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Development since December 2010 and has over 20 years of business experience with a focus on restaurant real estate and legal matters. He has extensive tenant-side retail and restaurant deal making experience throughout the country where he has developed hundreds of restaurant and retail stores. Prior to joining Ignite in 2009, Mr. McGraw held senior level development positions with Carlson Restaurants Worldwide (T.G.I. Friday's, Pick up Stix), Wagamama and David's Bridal. He is also an attorney with civil litigation experience in Philadelphia.
Mr. McGraw received B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from SUNY at Buffalo, and has a J.D. from Widener University School of Law, where he graduated Cum Laude and was a member of Law Review. He lives in Syracuse, NY.