Chief of Staff
We’re dedicated to our people, our guests, and the American family farmer. Meet the leaders who continue to raise the bar, develop our teams, and grow the future. Farmers Restaurant Group also relies on a paid advisory group, our Council on Color, with quarterly meetings to help guide us on human resources, employee relations, communication (internally and externally), career development, and our communities.
Chief of Staff
Growing up as one of nine children in Baton Rouge, Christine’s passion for food and hospitality started early. She began cooking at the age of nine and loved gathering around a table to share a meal with her family. Dinner has always been her favorite part of the day, a time to relax and enjoy delicious food with good company.
For Farmers Restaurant Group, Christine is driven to create efficient restaurant systems to make sure every guest is happy, has great food & drink, and can fully enjoy their time around the table. She loves the excitement people get when you deliver a beautiful meal and strives to develop company structures that can bring that experience to life for all of our guests. She oversees new programs and focuses on brand expansion and bringing new concepts to life, even those seemingly impossible ideas that often arise at the end of a long meeting.
Christine loves being part of a team – it reminds her of her family – and facilitating cross-functional collaborations so everyone can effectively pitch in with their expertise to get the job done. One of her passions is helping her teammates grow, both professionally and personally.
Christine’s hospitality career began while attending the University of Dallas where she worked as a restaurant server and quickly made her way to management. She eventually landed an opportunity to train with famed chef and restaurateur, Tom Colicchio, to open a clubhouse on Kiawah Island, SC. Christine continued working with his team for 11 years, traveling to other properties in Ireland and St. Kitts to oversee their food and beverage operations. Soon after, she met Co-Owners Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons, and joined our team.
In her spare time, Christine loves to cook, experimenting and serving her creations to others. She has developed a line of allergen-free baking mixes, Grain Free Baker.
Having lived in five different countries and visited 14, Kojo is moved by people’s histories and cultures. Hospitality gives him the opportunity to engage with people and his community.
Originally from Ghana, Kojo was born a twin – the fifth of ten children – and was raised working on his grandfather’s farm. He had an early entry into the hospitality industry when his mother operated a canteen that served his local elementary school.
After pursuing an education and career in electrical engineering, Kojo realized his passion to host and entertain. With his family, he opened the first movie theater complex in his hometown, which included a restaurant, a nightclub, and other businesses.
His family’s involvement in politics caused him to flee Ghana in 1982, leading him on a sojourn of learning across West Africa, a quest that took him through 14 countries. Along the way, he stopped and lived in Nigeria, where taught grade school; in Senegal and Guinea, where he imported and distributed fishing nets; and in Togo, where he opened and ran The Café des Arts, a watering hole for foreigners, especially Peace Corp volunteers.
In 1989, Kojo moved to the US at the invitation of one of those Peace Corp volunteers and has been working here in the hospitality industry ever since. He owned or co-owned two restaurants in DC, has worked with Vie de France, Zanzibar on the Waterfront, Red Robin, Matchbox Food Group, and Izora Night Club, among others.
Kojo says joining Farmers Restaurant Group is akin to how he grew up: on the farm and entertaining. His wide-ranging experience, strong work ethic, and genuine love for the true nature of hospitality are an exceptional asset to our team, our restaurants, and our company.
Father to five children, including twins, in his rare free time, Kojo likes to read, play tennis, enjoy a good glass of wine, and keep up with current affairs.
A lifelong hospitality professional, Michael has made his mark and earned a reputation for consistent, proven industry experience.
From executive chef to food and beverage director to senior management, Michael brings a strong, accomplished track record to our team.
Driven to succeed in a competitive environment, Michael studied culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. After graduation, he sought to learn all he could about the hospitality and restaurant industry working in kitchens, on service floors, and training in food and beverage programs. Along the way, Michael has amassed an extensive resume that includes top managerial, culinary, sales, marketing, and operations positions within full-service hospitality companies, such as The Regis Hotel Corporation, The Flatley Company, Matchbox Food Group, and more.
Looking to work for a company, “that is truly passionate about food and beverage quality and has a commitment to positive team culture,” Michael joined our team in 2019.
As managing partner, Michael oversees all operations and systems, including financial performance, quality of food, beverage, and service, as well as developing and building the workings of a strong, successful, and unified team.
Michael’s diverse industry experience and education affords him a unique understanding of the intricate workings of the industry and a restaurant team as a whole. Combining the perfect blend of leadership with camaraderie is just one of the many exceptional offerings Michael has brought to our table.
Chief Financial Officer
With a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from James Madison University and an MBA in Finance from La Salle University, Nate began his career at Ernst & Young.
While the experience of public accounting was invaluable to building the foundation for his career, it was an internship rooted in the manufacturing industry while in graduate school that sparked Nate’s interest in seeking an opportunity to translate his accounting knowledge into a more tangible, product-based industry.
Joining Farmers Restaurant Group was the perfect fit, as he says restaurants act much like manufacturing companies with an assembly line function bringing a product – food on the plate/beverage in the glass – to life.
Nate was drawn not only to FRG’s concept, but also to the positive reputation the brand has built within the DC market, the company’s mission, its position for growth, and Mike V and Dan’s passion for the business. “I wanted to work at a company that embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and had room to grow,” says Nate.
Overseeing that growth and providing financial direction for the company are daily aspects of Nate’s job. He and his team are poised to keep day-to-day operations running smoothly, while forecasting and working to ensure a strong financial future as the company grows.
When it comes to restaurants, David feels at home in the kitchen and working with guests. At one point early in his career, he was both as a prep cook in one restaurant and a bartender in another.
For over 25 years, David has worked in the hospitality industry, beginning as a prep cook at 16 years old in a Maryland scratch kitchen and working his way up to management by the end high school. A graduate of the University of Maryland, David worked in restaurants through college, eventually landing at the Cheesecake Factory where he remained for nearly two decades. He held positions from server to senior general manager and is proud to say he has always been instrumental in helping his team reach their career goals, promoting countless managers, while managing a fast-paced restaurant.
In his career, David has become a dynamic, high-performing leader focused on raising standards in food quality and service, developing people, building strong company culture, ensuring exceptional safety and sanitation standards, and raising profit margins. His lifelong passion for food, people, and all things hospitality is a natural fit for FRG. “Throughout my years in the DMV, I have always been a big fan of the FRG restaurants. I am excited to join the company and help grow the brand.”
Creative Director, LEED AP
As creative director, Leah works with Co-Owners Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons to develop highly curated restaurant interiors, telling our brand stories through artwork and design.
Throughout the design process, Leah and our design and development team work closely with architects, artists, and craftsmen to bring our vision to life. Leah touches every phase of design: from concept creation, schematic design, and design development through to construction, training, and implementation of design-related systems.
Her Farmers Restaurant Group journey began in 2009 as in-house designer. Her diverse design skills and aesthetic versatility allowed her to produce everything from concept books, conceptual floor plans, mood boards, and mock menus to food photography, headshots, menus, and art installations. As the company has grown and her career has evolved, Leah focuses her talents towards creative direction for new construction and renovation projects, always keeping her goal of creating beautiful, highly functional, sustainable spaces in focus.
“My role,” says Leah, “is to represent and bring to life the visions of Mike V, Dan, and our farmer-owners in our restaurant designs. As our process has evolved, so too has our team and our brand. We are in a really exciting place.”
Leah holds a B.A. in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and is a LEED Accredited Professional. Leah supports our ongoing commitment to building and operating sustainable restaurants by showcasing our company’s sustainable practices through design and commissioned artwork.
We can’t wait to see what our future looks like through Leah’s keen, creative lens.
Managing Partner, Culinary & Bakery
Joe Goetze’s official title is managing partner, culinary & bakery, but within the Farmers Restaurant Group family, he’s simply known as Chef Joe.
He’s the culinary mastermind behind all of the dishes and extensive menus that our guests know and love at the Farmers Restaurant Group of restaurants.
Chef Joe’s extensive experience includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, and years spent developing menus and running kitchens at notable restaurants around the country.
Chef Joe started working with Mike V and Dan back in 1997, and in 2004 joined their VSAG team where he worked on a variety of successful ventures. A few years later, Chef Joe became an integral part of the FRG development team, where he aims for authenticity in every recipe and strives to create, as he likes to put it, “exactly what people are expecting, but better.”
For Chef Joe, the most interesting and important part of his job is sourcing the food and knowing the origins of each ingredient. Whether it’s how and where the tomatoes we use were grown or where and how the cows or chickens were born and raised, he believes that the hallmark of a great chef is one that creates fresh, memorable meals for every guest.
Kim brings focus, tenacity, and leadership to her role as general manager.
Characteristics that helped guide her collegiate rowing team to the NCAA championships three times and garnered her a spot on the coveted All-American First Team.
Pushing herself and her team to greatness is part of what makes Kim such an outstanding leader. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, Kim juggled life as a competitive athlete with the rigors of being an honor student while creating a successful campus culinary house with fellow scholar athletes. Their program functioned as the students’ main food source and was built on a community-supported agriculture partnership.
When Kim moved to the DC area after graduation, she sought out local restaurants that focused on sustainable agriculture and community outreach. Her favorite: Founding Farmers.
Kim joined our team in 2013 as host, coordinator, server, and expeditor. She soon transitioned to working as a sous chef in our kitchens. Now general manager, Kim says her path with Farmers Restaurant Group has been, “very unique and a wonderful challenge.”
Dedicated, focused, and results-driven, Kim views each challenge as an opportunity to improve operations and performance while creating an inclusive, learning environment for her team. As a steadfast, impactful leader, Kim inspires her team to deliver great hospitality and optimal results in the kitchen and front of house.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Kendra attended California State University where she studied Communication Theory and Theatre.
Some may say, the perfect complement to her success as managing partner, overseeing her Farmers Restaurant Group team and restaurant guests every day.
During her freshman year, Kendra took a job as a host for an upscale restaurant group and soon moved up through the group’s ranks and into the industry that would become her career.
A move to New York City kept her with the company, and soon Kendra was offered a management position. During the decade that followed, Kendra continued developing her industry skillset, learning from her diverse experience within the group, and growing in the ranks of senior management.
Kendra joined FRG in 2012 as general operations manager for our flagship Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C., then moved stores to become general manager of Farmers Fishers Bakers. By the summer of 2014, Kendra was promoted to managing partner, where she has met the demands of the job and continues to thrive.
Her drive to rise above and learn from challenges with grace and ease is what makes Kendra a success. Her love for what the dining table represents shines through to her guests and team every day.
In witnessing the thousands of guests that come into her restaurant each week to share a meal, whether business related, a gathering of friends, a first date, or a family affair, she relishes in those shared experiences and seeing guests brought together at our table, enjoying our food and drink.
Senior Vice President, LEED AP
Growing up abroad, Lara developed a love of fresh food and diverse flavors, and an appreciation for the value of great service at an early age.
Her first job in hospitality turned that love into a passion. Working at a roadside clam shack, with lively gatherings of people enjoying the bounty of fresh, local food and drink, Lara knew she had found her calling.
After graduating from New York University, she found herself working at a high-volume restaurant company, learning from and building a solid foundation with our very own Mike V and Dan Simons. Lara’s drive, determination, and clear penchant for leadership stood out, propelling her to lead trainer. This gave her a behind the scenes glimpse of all the moving parts associated with opening a restaurant.
When Mike V and Dan branched out on their own, they called Lara. She’s been with Farmers Restaurant Group since its inception, overseeing each of our restaurant builds from idea to opening.
According to Dan, “Lara stands out. She simultaneously masters the intensity of restaurant openings and remodels, all the while becoming the most incredible boss and developer of people.”
Lara touches everything from lease negotiation and budgeting to facilities, furniture, and foodservice design to engineering, permitting and licensing, construction, inspections, and daily operations. As a LEED AP, Lara ensures all of our restaurants are sustainably built, and LEED and Green Restaurant Association (GRA) certified.
For Lara, her favorite role is that of teacher. From her early days, teaching and guiding her teams has remained a passion. Not only is she a great leader and boss, she is also involved in teaching in-house classes to our teams on FRG’s mission and framework. It’s the ideal forum for Lara to engage with our team and pass on her extensive knowledge and love for good hospitality and all things Farmers Restaurant Group.
Vice President, Human Resources
Service. Engagement. Connection. Just some of the words Jillian uses to describe her professional HR philosophy.
Jillian’s first job, in specialty retail during high school in her native Buffalo, NY, sparked her love for customer service. The engagement and hospitality aspects of the job spoke to her and later helped her decide to pursue a degree in Psychology from the University at Buffalo. Further forging her professional path, Jillian also earned an MBA in Human Resources Management from Niagara University.
A wide range of work experience followed. From retail management to HR facilities business partner to director of HR for a premier catering company to HR hospitality consultant to regional HR director for a national wireless dealer, Jillian’s depth of expertise has led her to our FRG family.
As Vice President of HR, Jillian established our company-wide, in-house Human Resources services. As she continues to grow our HR program from the ground up, Jillian trains our staff with this philosophy: If we take care of our people, they will remain engaged in and committed to supporting our company culture, overall mission, and serving guests with expertise. In turn, not only will our business flourish, but most importantly, so too will our people.
Darragh’s wide range of restaurant management experience has been developed over the past two decades with experience working in some of the world's most recognized restaurants. All of which have led him to Farmers Restaurant Group.
Working as an industry intern while studying hospitality business management in his native Ireland, ignited Darragh’s restaurant and hospitality career. After graduation, Darragh took his industry passion, degree, and thirst for knowledge through hard work and hands-on training to France, England, Ireland, and Bermuda.
A move to the states followed, and Darragh went to work serving as general manager at two prominent New York City restaurants. He then took his burgeoning management and operational style to the then flourishing Miami restaurant and hospitality scene, launching and managing successful eateries in Boca Raton and South Beach. In 2009, he was handpicked to be part of one of the most dynamic F&B operations teams in the U.S. tasked with the successful resurgence and rebranding of the famed Fontainebleau hotel.
He soon parlayed his experience into winning a coveted spot on the development team behind Marriott International’s EDITION brand, a groundbreaking global luxury lifestyle hotel concept. During which time he launched three successful restaurants for the brand.
Darragh has brought his global training, varied experience, and work ethic to FRG and proves to be a tremendous asset to his team and our company as a whole, every day.
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
Since joining FRG in 2008, Meaghan has tackled every job with tenacity, enthusiasm, confidence, and smarts.
As the company has grown, so too has Meaghan’s role, or should we say… her many roles. Her trajectory reads like a lesson in how to succeed in the restaurant business.
It all began with a cold call. After reading an online job posting by one of our co-owners, she thought the time was right for a new experience in a new city. Growing up outside of Boston, Meaghan earned a degree from the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte, NC, and was looking to make a move to our nation’s capital.
Meaghan made the call, joined Farmers Restaurant Group, and soon become a clear company asset. Quickly moving from front desk coordinator to front desk manager to bar manager to senior service manager to general manager, she didn’t stop there. Transitioning out of operations, Meaghan became the company’s marketing & communications manager then director, and now serves as vice president of our growing marketing & communications team.
Every position has required commitment and the ability to plow through the infamous long hours of the restaurant industry. For Meaghan, it has been well worth it. “While in operations,” she says, “I didn’t always love the hours. I said in my initial interview that I didn’t want to become a general manager, but what kept me around was that I loved the people I worked with. I had found a team that I knew was just as invested in me as I was in them. At the end of the day, even the really hard ones, because let’s face it, they exist,” she says, “I truly love the work I do and the people I get to work with.”
Within the industry and among his own team, Dan is known for his energetic leadership style and passion for hospitality.
An impressive career in the management ranks at several large, high-volume restaurants helped propel him toward starting his own firm, Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG), which he founded in 2004 with mentor Michael Vucurevich. The two form a well-balanced partnership based on mutual respect and a shared vision that proved critical in their formation of Farmers Restaurant Group, which began with the first Founding Farmers in 2008.
As co-owner and skilled communicator, Dan is frequently called upon to serve as the voice of FRG’s growing collection of sustainable, farmer-owned restaurants. Every day, he works to educate guests and the media about the importance of family farming and sustainable operations, to share his hospitality industry and management expertise, and encourage responsible industry practices. He blogs regularly @Dan Simons Says about restaurants and hospitality, personal productivity and time management, developing partnerships and brands, environmental issues, and a range of other topics that capture his attention.
Always out in front for FRG, Dan was named Ernst & Young’s 2018 Entrepreneur of The Year Mid-Atlantic for his business acumen, novel approaches, and success.
He is the founder of Our Last Straw, a non-profit company devoted to eliminating the use of plastic straws and raising awareness about the environmental and health hazards of single-use plastics. Dan launched Our Last Straw to bring together a coalition of restaurant and hospitality industry partners with government leaders and NGOs to lead the charge for change.
Food Safety & Culture Systems Manager
Our food safety and sanitation expert, Keysi manages our quality assurance guidelines, health and sanitation trainings, certifications, and best practices across all of our stores.
She has developed our health and safety inspection protocols and is the in-house inspector for all of our facilities and operations.
Interested in the hospitality industry from an early age, Keysi studied Food & Beverage Management at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. Known for their competitive culinary arts program, Keysi knew that the university’s unique academic-work experience model would allow her to integrate what she was learning in the classroom with her desire for hands-on industry experience.
After graduation, Keysi went right to work as a line cook. The fast pace, teamwork, and experience adhering to food safety protocols gave her the foundation to seamlessly transition to catering supervisor at Miami’s Grove Isle Hotel & Spa. A great introduction to leadership and quality control, she soon transitioned to the role of food safety specialist for Florida’s Department of Health.
A move to the Washington, D.C. area brought Keysi to Farmers Restaurant Group. Initially working in purchasing with a focus on quality control, she quickly expanded her role to include: conducting monthly health safety and sanitation inspections; serving as trainer and proctor to help team members become Certified Professional Food Managers; providing English/Spanish language food safety guidance and training; and maintaining company-wide systems, standards, certifications, and health department food code guidelines in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. When COVID-19 hit our region, Keysi was integral to our enhanced health and safety protocols, and helped the company develop our essential Reopening Resource Guide.
Keysi’s commitment to and passion for delivering the best in quality and consistency to our guests has garnered us an award-winning food safety program. Her work is essential to the quality of our food and drink, as well as the health and safety of our guests and team.
Director of Kitchen Operations & People Development
Chef Richard brings such expertise and passion for cooking to our team, we created a new role just for him.
As our very first director of kitchen operations & people development, Chef Richard continues to lead his crews through all of the daily intricacies of running successful kitchens within a high-volume restaurant company such as ours, but he also now plays an integral role in our management team, helping to develop our people and bring new culinary talent to our kitchens.
Raised in the small town of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, Chef Richard was born into hospitality. His great-grandparents made their living selling food, his grandfather was a well-respected local restaurant owner, and his father a talented chef and restaurant owner as well. Chef Richard continues his family tradition today at Farmers Restaurant Group, where we support the shared values of family farming, service, and delicious food and drink made from scratch.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus, Chef Richard set out to learn and perfect his craft working alongside many of Miami’s top chefs and for some of Miami’s busiest, upscale hotel and hospitality kitchen operations.
A chance meeting with our very own Mike V, and the prospect of growing his culinary craft in the nation’s capital, was so appealing it led Chef Richard to move to DC and join our team.
“I love FRG, because here, we honor tradition. We don’t reinvent our cooking,” says Chef Richard. “Instead, we make it better than anyone else by sourcing great ingredients and cooking with a conscience. I’m proud to carry on my family’s culinary tradition here at FRG. And I am proud to be part of this team.”
Managing Partner | Vice President
Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Dawn’s love of the culinary world began early.
In fact, her first job, as a pizza maker at age 14, was her initial taste of the industry and ignited her passion for great food, scratch cooking, and a commitment to providing excellent service in a busy restaurant environment.
After college, Dawn hit the ground running at a large, successful restaurant group. From 1991 through 2004, Dawn made her mark dedicating herself to learning the restaurant business by holding virtually every front of house and back of house position. From unit controller to service manager to kitchen manager to general manager to area director, Dawn developed into the ultimate team player with the drive and determination for not only her personal success, but also that of her team.
Her next stop: general manager of a $35 million, upscale food market business where she was responsible for all operations. Other leadership positions as business industry director and team management followed, then Dawn found her home at Farmers Restaurant Group.
As our first multi-store managing partner, Dawn’s role has grown to include vice president. Her passion for our restaurant brands and providing excellent guest experiences, along with her operational expertise and ability to guide our teams through every turn, every day, all contribute to her success.
Michael Vucurevich (also affectionately known to our team as “Mike V”) is one of the industry’s most respected restaurant concept developers for his knowledge of every aspect of the business, from brand creation to profitability.
Since the age of 19, when he ran his first high-volume kitchen, Mike V has helped some of America’s best-known restaurants evolve and succeed.
Through his restaurant consulting firm, Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG), formed in 2004 with partner Dan Simons, Mike V pursues many projects with a hands-on approach. As co-owner and visionary leader behind the Farmers Restaurant Group concepts, he and Dan oversee the restaurant brand’s growth, as well as its daily operations.
Mike V has enjoyed living in and traveling to many of our nation’s destinations, enabling him to experience local cuisines and be inspired by them when creating the delicious, diverse, and interesting menu offerings FRG has become known for.
Farmer, Owner, NDFU President
As a fourth-generation wheat, corn, barley, and soybean farmer who understands the challenges facing today’s American family farmers, Mark Watne has dedicated the better part of his career to working for the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU).
He is the union’s ninth president and uses his love of farming and the farming community, his know-how, and innovative ideas to improve and grow the organization. This includes opening their first restaurant in 2006.
With the ideal of growing the NDFU, Mark and his fellow North Dakota farmers enlisted the help of Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons of the successful restaurant consulting group VSAG, to develop a restaurant brand with its foundation rooted in the notion that family farming was, and remains, essential to our nation’s well-being. Together, they opened the flagship Founding Farmers DC.
Mark continues to represent the more than 47,000 American family farmers in North Dakota through a flourishing partnership with Mike V and Dan for the Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG). Working passionately on NDFU’s behalf, Mark ensures that the Founding Farmers venture and its sister restaurants, Farmers Fishers Bakers and Farmers & Distillers, continue to honor both their shared way of life and directly benefit them and their families.