Synergy is a team of experienced restaurant professionals with the financial, operations and culinary expertise to reduce costs, drive sales and grow guest counts. 25 years of unparalleled experience is the cornerstone of our company’s success and the reason over 200 nationally recognized restaurant organizations call on Synergy. Our guarantee is to reduce expenses, improve operating efficiencies and lead our clients to immediate and long-term profitable growth. With Synergy on your team, our hands-on managing partners are always by your side.
Restaurant companies of all sizes can confidently add the seasoned Synergy professionals to their team to support key sales and profit-building initiatives.
Meet the Synergy Restaurant Consulting Team
Dean Small and Danny Bendas, Managing Partners
Dean & Danny have worked on the front lines leading profit-generating changes in over 200 of the country’s top restaurant companies from all dining segments. With over 60 years combined experience in hundreds of kitchens, they are trusted authorities on creating cutting-edge culinary programs and efficiency strategies for today’s competitive environment. Widely recognized as authorities on operations efficiencies, both are graduates of the internationally acclaimed Culinary Institute of America, and individually hold advanced business degrees from Hofstra and Penn State University, respectively.
In 1988 they launched Synergy Restaurant Consultants, and in 1991 they started Dean & Danny’s Custom Foods, a line of distinctive seasonings for home and commercial use.
Dean Small is the Founder and a Managing Partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants. Dean has over thirty-five years of hands-on food service experience. In addition to his two decades leading Synergy he has owned and operated restaurants, bakeries, juice bars and retail specialty food concepts. Dean holds an AOS from the Culinary Institute Of America.
Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute Of America Dean completed a two-year culinary apprenticeship at Window’s On The World located atop the former World Trade Center in New York City. This restaurant was the #1 sales volume restaurant worldwide. During his apprenticeship Dean also served as personal Executive Chef to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. In 1985 Dean joined El Torito Restaurants as Director of Culinary Development and Purchasing Manager. El Torito operated over two hundred and twenty units, twelve restaurant concepts and its operations grossed over $420 million.
In 1988 Dean founded Synergy Restaurant Consultants to provide innovation and efficiency strategies to restaurants and food manufacturers. Since 1988 Synergy has been a food, beverage and operations resource to over two hundred national restaurant chains and independent operators.
Dean was awarded a Bachelor’s Degree from Hofstra University and an AOS from the Culinary Institute Of America.
Danny Bendas is a Managing Partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants. He has over 30 years of practical food service experience, having worked for numerous restaurant operations ranging from quick service to fine dining establishments.
Following his culinary education Danny became opening chef at Houlihan’s Old Place in Kansas City, MO; this was followed by rapid promotion to the position of the company’s first regional/corporate chef. Danny’s experience also includes numerous positions with a variety of restaurant operations; he was Chef at the acclaimed American Restaurant in Kansas City; Director Of Operations for American Food Service Enterprises (food service division of Hallmark Cards) in Kansas City, Missouri, and Vice President, Food & Beverage for Nanco Enterprises Santa Barbara, CA, operator of a nationwide chain of casual theme and steak house restaurants.
Since 1989 Mr. Bendas has been a Managing Partner at Synergy where he has partnered with over 200 clients with services ranging from new concept development, menu innovation, operations assessments, strategic planning, management development and the development of restaurant operating systems.
Danny was awarded a Bachelor’s degree from Penn State University, an AAS degree from Bucks County Community College and an AOS from the Culinary Institute Of America where he was the recipient of the Waldorf Astoria Scholastic Achievement Award.
Phil Ratner, Managing Director
Phil Ratner is a veteran restaurant executive, who served as a CEO for more than twenty years in the casual-full service segment.
His record of successful turnarounds began at Acapulco Restaurants in 1984, where he served as President and CEO for nearly ten years, taking the nearly bankrupt company and doubling its size to $90 million in sales with a 10 percent EBITDA. He moved onto Spaghetti Warehouse in 1994, where he reduced debt from $19 million to $6 million in less than four years and improved earnings per share, from a low of $.04 to a high of $.34 when the company was sold in 1998. Most recently, he served as CEO of Marie Callender’s Restaurants where he improved both sales and profits and successfully merged the company with Perkins Family Restaurants.
In 2008, Phil formed Bicoastal Restaurant Partners, a Five Guys franchise group. We are currently operating 7 restaurants in the Orange County and have three in development with the rights to 23 additional units.
Phil has both a Bachelors Degree and an M.B.A from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and has served on the boards of five publicly traded restaurant companies
Charlie Candelas, Special Projects
Charlie Candelas’ 25-year career in the food service industry has incorporated a vast diversity of skillsets and achievements. But the professional traits that most define him and have enabled success after success are strategic thinking and tenacity. Charlie continually evaluates and refines goals and achievements, then stays in place until the results exceed expectations.
As Senior Vice President of Operations for Darden/Olive Garden, Charlie was responsible for creating and leading the team that grew a 38-unit brand into a 400-unit mega-brand. His influence was not limited to restaurant roll-outs, however. His team ideated and implemented new satellite training center programs for management and hourly personnel which drastically reduced employee turnover and subsequently increased efficiency throughout the chain.
With Wolfgang Puck, Charlie turned around his 20-unit chain that had lain dormant for 5 years and achieved turbo charged profitability in 18 months. The last 7 years were spent rebranding an existing restaurant chain, but this time his role was elevated to Director/Operating Partner. At Harry’s Pacific Grill all Charlie’s prior experiences combined to shape the restaurant’s marketing positioning, help design a new streamlined kitchen and to develop innovative and satisfying recipes.
Charlie attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America as well as participated in Central Florida University’s Executive Development Program.
Mark Ladisky, Senior Operations Associate
Mark is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and brings 17 years of honed culinary, resort skills and resort and restaurant management experience to the Synergy team. Having held such wide ranging positions as Director of Food and Beverage, Executive Chef and General Manager, Mark brings creative food and beverage strategies, high-standard service training programs, and a disciplined approach to controlling costs.
Tim Green, Resident Pizza Expert
Tim has been extensively involved in the art of Stone Hearth Cooking, specifically for pizza, since 2001. His focus has been different styles of pizza, from traditional Neapolitan to the classic American style. He is well versed in all things pizza, from the dough to the fuel. Due to the differences in cooking on a stone hearth oven using wood, gas, coal, or a combination has the pizza, Tim has been brought in by pizza restaurateurs looking to better understand their pizza.
Tim has worked with hundreds of pizza concepts, from QSR and institutions to corporate cafeterias, VPN Certified Pizza, full service dining, casual pizzerias, and fine dining restaurants. His primary areas of work have been dough development, production, and the managing of dough. At the centerpiece of this work is oven operations: the understanding oven technicalities and temperature management is critical in ensuring a consistent product. The final step in a successful pizza operation is the continued training and development of staff to understand all aspects of building a great pizza.
In the realm of Coal-Fired Pizza, Tim has worked with more than a dozen concepts. The first part of this journey is managing the fuel with regards to different temperatures and understanding how that affects the pizza and the safety of the end product. Because Coal-Fired Pizza requires a unique dough style, managing the dough for building pizza, time and oven management, and product flow are all very important. Executing these intricacies properly is the best way to capture and emphasize the Coal-Fired aspect of the restaurant
Tim’s experience stems from 25 years in the hospitality industry working in various resort hotels around the country. He is a 1981 graduate of Johnson & Wales College (Providence, RI) with an Associate Degree in Hospitality. He defines himself as a goal-orientated individual who puts the customers’ needs for first as well as someone with a great work ethic and genuinely enjoys his work.
Morreen Rukin Bayles, Senior Training and Management Development Associate
Morreen specializes in leadership development and the management of front-of-the-house operations. Her training expertise spans all aspects of hourly, management and executive positions. She is instrumental in developing user-friendly and customized training materials, operations manuals and management development programs that work within each client’s culture. Training programs can be developed for classroom facilitation or customized interactive CD Rom training and Web based training. Morreen has a Masters Degree from Pennsylvania State University in Instructional Design and Training.
Margee Drews, Senior Design Associate
Margee Drews is a Senior Associate and a graduate from California State University, Long Beach where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Design with a Minor in Industrial Design.
Margee was the Director of Design for Acapulco Restaurants, Long Beach CA and Senior Interior Designer at Beckham Eisenman Commercial Design in Irvine CA and In–house Interior Designer for El Torito Restaurants located in Irvine Ca.
With experience that extends over two decades Margee has brought her distinctive design, creativity and extensive resources to restaurant organizations such as California Pizza Kitchen, Marie Callender’s, Impresario Restaurant at the Los Angeles Music Center, Amazing Jake’s Food and Fun, Chevy’s Restaurants, Crazy Horse Saloon, Mozambique Restaurant in Laguna Beach CA and dozens of other high profile restaurants throughout the country.
Margee is an Allied Member of American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Network of Executive Women in Hospitality (NEWH) and Illuminating Engineers Society (IES)
Karen A. Brennan, Marketing & Branding Strategy
Karen Brennan is an accomplished, results-oriented restaurant marketing executive who brings a broad knowledge of the restaurant industry, a deep understanding of consumer behavior, the expertise of 25 years of restaurant marketing leadership and a record of award winning marketing initiatives for more than 30 restaurant brands including executive positions with the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, Coco’s Bakery Restaurants and Max & Erma’s Restaurants, Inc. She holds an MBA from The Ohio State University and serves on the College of Business Alumni Board of Directors and the National Restaurant Association Marketing Executives Group Board.
She is the founder and principle of brand strategy group, Brandscapes, LLC, where she has produced impressive results for both large and small companies in every segment of the industry for start ups, interim solutions, jump starting growth initiatives and turnarounds. She brings proven strategies and results to the table in an effort to help restaurateurs figure out their toughest brand challenges and succeed by translating consumer insights into marketing and branding solutions for growth.
Jim Campbell, Restaurant Supply Chain Management
Jim has 30 years of supply chain management experience with a dozen different restaurant concepts from fast food to fine dining. His career in supply chain management began with Far West Services as a Director of Purchasing for Ruben’s, Coco’s, and the Ruben E. Lee where he built an effective supply chain department and began to develop his expertise in commodity analysis and contract negotiations. At Restaurant Enterprise Group he was a Vice President of Purchasing for concepts including El Torito, Gladstone’s for Fish, RJ’s Ribs, Baxter’s, Charlie Brown’s, Houlihan’s, Del Taco, and Jojo’s. With sales at Restaurant Enterprise Group in excess of $1 billion Jim was responsible for a supply chain spend in excess of $300 million annually.
Jim served as Vice President of Purchasing and Distribution for American Restaurant Group concepts Black Angus Steakhouse, Spoons, Velvet Turtle, Grandy’s, and National Sports Grill. While at American Restaurant Group he excelled at negotiating long term protein contracts, developed and consolidated distribution systems, contributed to menu development and improved the overall supply chain for the company.
Jim specializes in the development of strategic long term supply chain management. He is as skilled at commodity market analysis and evaluation as he is at negotiating long term contracts to protect restaurant operating margins. Jim has a proven vendor selection process and methodology that delivers quality and value to operating groups. He excels at developing center-of-the-plate programs with primary producers that emphasize specifications, production requirements, and food safety with the end result of delivering value. He is knowledgeable at both domestic and global sourcing.
Jim has a Bachelors Degree from California State University, Fullerton.
Jennifer Ladisky, Sugar Chef
Working with pastry and chocolate starting at the age of 13, Jennifer Ladisky learned from her Grandmother, an expert wedding cake designer in Ecuador. In a career spanning over 20 years, Jennifer served as the Executive Pastry Chef or Assistant Pastry Chef at a range of nationally recognized properties. Some of those properties include the five diamond rated Charleston Grill at Charleston Place hotel, McCrady’s and Cypress Lowcountry Grill in Charleston, the Boca Raton Resort and Club, and the Naples Grande Resort and Club.
Always a perfectionist in her work, Jennifer has the awards to prove it. She is recognized for her creative work and contemporary designs; especially for her unique approach to blending classic flavors. A focused competitor, she has medaled in many different regional competitions earning several prizes along with bronze and silver medals over consecutive years for her work with showpieces and chocolate in the Southern Pastry Classic. Her work has graced the cover of magazines such as Coastal Elegance and Wealth. Her clients include celebrities, presidents, and anyone with a love for dessert.
Jennifer graduated from the esteemed Johnson & Wales University, working as a Teaching Assistant while earning her degree in Pastry Arts, and a Bachelor’s degree in foodservice management.
Gary Wiggle AIA, Architectural Design
Gary has memberships in the American Institute of Architects, International Code Council (ICC) and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The firm has licenses in California, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, and Arizona. His portfolio is quite diverse with examples of retail, mixed use, retail/entertainment, hospitality, office and industrial, education, mutifamily and custom residential.
Gary has the responsibility of site planning and conceptual design on all projects. He coordinates the in-house integration of the latest technology, to allow our clients and projects the edge that a successful project now requires. Utilizing his presentation skills, he interfaces with governmental agencies for all of our projects.
Gary always wanted to be an architect. While attending Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, CA, Gary received an Honorable Mention in the Annual AIA Student Design Competition. After high school, he attended Cal Poly Pomona where, at the age of twenty, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture. After passing all of the required state exams on the first attempt, Gary became the youngest licensed Architect in the State of California at the time.
Bob Kuchinski, Kitchen Design Expert
Over the last 30 years, as a design director, Bob has received numerous restaurant industry awards for his innovative and highly adaptable designs.
A cum laude graduate in architecture of Cal Poly Pomona, Bob credits his unique problem solving skills and abilities to the intense training and many years of practical application and experience.
Brad Miller, Operations Associate
Brad Miller brings more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality sector to Synergy. He holds keen expertise in operations, finance, bar and mixology programs, menu revitalization, and FOH efficiencies in both full-service and fast-casual concepts.
Brad’s impressive resume includes 10 years spent as the Director of Operations and President of Tia Juana Management, a successful multi-unit restaurant management company working primarily in the western United States. Brad expanded this company from one single unit into five successful operating units includingfull-service dining, fast casual, large event catering, event production and golf course concessions. Prior to his time with Tia Juana Management, Brad was the Director of Marketing at a large California steakhouse/entertainment concept.
Brad holds a B.S. in business management and finance from the University of Colorado. Brad’s years spent in the finance industry prior to finding his niche and passion in hospitality are what give him a competitive edge in helping restaurant organizations big and small improve their bottom lines.
Chuck Conine, Human Resources
Chuck Conine is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources and a seasoned human resources executive with over 35 years of hospitality industry experience. His record includes successful negotiation of multiple labor agreements for a large commercial foodservice firm and development of money-saving programs in HR, employee benefits, insurance and risk management in both public and privately held restaurants. Chuck also served as project manager to identify and realize HR, insurance and administrative savings during the merger of two restaurant brands. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.
William Taves, Finance and Accounting
Bill has served in the restaurant and retail industries for more than 20 years. As a CFO for the past 13 years, Bill has led the financings for over $500 million in debt and equity capital for both public and private companies. His broad experience includes launching new concepts and managing international chains with over a hundred locations. Bill’s has worked with chains such as Claim Jumper, Black Angus, California Pizza Kitchen, Boudin and others.
Bill’s has managed rapid growth at California Pizza Kitchen, where revenues tripled in three years. In addition, Bill has extensive experience in turnaround situations. While leading the turnaround effort at Claim Jumper, he identified over $15 million in annual cost savings resulting in a 300% increase in expected cash recovery for debt holders.Bill has served both as a corporate secretary for several restaurant concepts as well as a board member. He holds a CPA (inactive) and has a BS Degree in Accounting from Arizona State University.
Joan Lang, Editorial Services and Content Development
Joan Lang is a Jesse Neal award-winning journalist and editor who has covered food, restaurants, and health and wellness issues for more than 25 years. Before starting her own editorial consulting business, Full Plate Communications (www.full-plate.com), she worked as a business reporter for Standard & Poor’s Corp., and has served as both Executive Editor and Food Editor of Restaurant Business magazine.
She helped launch several publications and websites, including Vintage, Allure, the Portland Phoenix, Catering Business, and thesauce.com. Her other clients have included Esquire, The New York Times, New Jersey Monthly, Saveur, Vogue, and Woman’s Day, as well as numerous food manufacturers and marketing boards.
Her services include editorial project management; advertising, marketing and menu copywriting; website content and design; newsletters; customer communications; POS, sales and training materials; and custom publishing.
She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism. She lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.