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Smashburger names former Starbucks exec as its first female CEO

Denise Nelson Smashburger.
Denise Nelson has been named CEO of Smashburger.

A Starbucks veteran has taken the helm of Smashburger.

The fast-casual burger chain has appointed Denise Nelsen as CEO. In her new role, Nelson will cultivate and lead teams, integrate streamlined business processes and aim to deliver an impactful influence on all Smashburger's employees, locations and the communities they serve, the company said.

Prior to joining Smashburger, Nelson spent some 25 years with Starbucks, including serving as the senior VP of U.S. operations. She led the brand's U.S. business for nearly five years, prior to holding various operations and support roles within the coffee giant for over two decades.

“We are thrilled to welcome Denise Nelsen as Smashburger's newest CEO,” Ernesto Tanmantiong, group president and CEO of Smashburger owner Jollibee Group.  “With her extensive experience and proven leadership in the food and beverage industry, she is set to propel the brand into a new era of growth. With all her capabilities and energy, we are confident that she can drive success for Smashburger, thereby contributing to the growth of the Jollibee Group as a whole."

Jollibee Group took full ownership of Smashburger in 2020. The Asian restaurant company’s other U.S. brands include Jollibee and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.  

"With an unmatched dedication to guest satisfaction, Smashburger has consistently set the standard across the fast-casual industry and I'm looking forward to working with the executive team to continue the brand's legacy," said Nelsen. "As we embark on various new brand ventures in 2024, I'm eager to support our continuous efforts to stay at the forefront of taste innovation in the industry, while collaborating with our international expansion teams to bring the joys of Smashburger to more guests worldwide."

Founded in 2007 in Denver, Smashburger has 235 corporate and franchise restaurants operating in 34 states and seven countries.

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