Farmer, Owner, NDFU President
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.
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 (FRG) 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.
Within the industry and among his own team, Dan Simons 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 (FRG), 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. Everyday, 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.
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 Farmers Restaurant Group 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.”
According to 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 were grown or exactly where the cows were born and how they were raised, he believes that the hallmark of a great chef is one that creates fresh, memorable meals for every guest.
Managing Partner, Beverage & Distillery
Jon Arroyo started his career in the acting world and, like most actors, spent a lot of time working in restaurants, specifically, behind the bar.
A decade of experience in the industry gave this Los Angeles native an appreciation for, as he puts it, “all things liquid.”
At Farmers Restaurant Group, Jon has been able to pursue his true passion: the art of the craft cocktail. He runs all bar & beverage programs, overseeing the development of our award-winning cocktails; from-scratch mixers to our house-made nonalcoholic sodas.
Always looking to up our bar service ante, Jon developed The Founding Farmers Spirit Project, working hand in hand with Rick Wasmund, of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA, on our Founding Farmers Rye Whisky and Founding Farmers Gin. He traveled to Macchu Pisco to create our Founding Farmers Pisco Blend, toiled with the talented vintner teams at two different vineyards in order to bring guests our house line of wines, Virginia Vines Rosé and New York Vines White, and is currently working with a winery in the Northwest on a house Pinot Noir. Jon’s desire to continue developing unique spirits with his own recipes and blend of ingredients was instrumental in building our micro-batch distillery, Founding Spirits, located in Farmers & Distillers. As Distillery Director, Jon is calling the shots, which include creating our Founding Spirits Vodka, Founding Spirits Arroyo’s “Never Bitter” Amaro, and Founding Spirits American Whiskey.
According to Jon, he finds inspiration through all of his experiences. His ultimate goal is to provide fresh and interesting flavors that resonate with guests and deliver a positive experience.
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 Michael Vucurevich 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 co-owner 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.
Senior Vice President, Finance & Administration
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 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.
Outside his role at FRG, Nate enjoys spending time with his family, golfing with friends, running, and traveling.
Vice President, Quality Assurance & Purchasing
Vicki’s restaurant industry introduction was as unique and interesting as she is.
As a teen, Vicki began babysitting for a child of a restaurant owner. Her nightly routine required her to wait for the child in the restaurant’s bar. Watching the staff at work and guests pour in, she was hooked. Pretty soon, she parlayed her babysitting gig to jobs as busser, server, back office accountant, and pastry cook.
At Rochester Institute of Technology, she enrolled in their hospitality program and never looked back. Vicki began her career cooking in kitchens from New York City to St. Pete Beach, FL to Greenwich, CT, arriving in Washington, D.C. in 1993. Working for a restaurant group in receiving, then as purchasing manager and produce coordinator, she soon discovered her penchant for, and the importance of, food safety and quality assurance.
Opening her own consulting company in 2011 gave Vicki the platform to make a positive impact on her clients and their businesses every day, as well as to increase her knowledge of and experience in food service and quality assurance. A highlight was serving as food safety liaison for one of President Obama’s Inaugural Balls, where Vicki worked closely with the Department of Health and the FDA.
As her professional reputation grew, our own Mike Vucurevich came calling and Vicki joined our Farmers Restaurant Group team in a diverse and highly effective role.
As a Certified Professional in Food Safety, Vicki is responsible for developing and overseeing our distinctive program that marries quality assurance and purchasing. “Quality drives us,” Vicki says, “not price.” Every ingredient we use and partnership we consider is checked for quality through Vicki, our culinary team, and management.
Her mantra “be open to the possibilities” has taken her on an incredible professional journey, and threads through her life as a military spouse, an avid philanthropist for breast cancer awareness, and the RIT Alumni Association’s president-elect. We look to Vicki as an example of what we all strive for every day – quality in work and in life.
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
There’s a reason why Meaghan’s team calls her their fearless leader. Since joining the company in 2008, Meaghan has tackled every job with tenacity, enthusiasm, confidence, and smarts.
Meaghan uses her engaging sense of humor to lighten everyone’s load when the work gets especially challenging, and as the company has grown, so too has Meaghan’s role, or should we say… her many roles.
Her FRG trajectory reads like a lesson in how to succeed in the restaurant industry. It all began with a cold call after reading an online job posting by one of our Co-Owners, Dan Simons. Meaghan was looking for a new experience in a new city. She had spent her childhood outside of Boston, earned a degree from the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte, NC, and was ready to make a move to our nation’s capital.
One simple phone call, and Meaghan quickly became a clear company asset. She quickly moved from front desk coordinator to front desk manager to bar manager to senior service manager to general manager. And she didn’t stop there. Transitioning out of restaurant operations, she became the company’s marketing manager, then director of marketing & communications, and now serves as vice president of our growing marketing and 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, and I had actually voiced that I didn’t want to become a general manager in my initial interview, but what kept me around was the fact 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!), I truly love the work I do and the people I get to work with.”
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 career dedicating herself to learning the restaurant business by holding nearly every restaurant staff 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 filled with drive and determination, for not only her own success but also that of coworkers and staff.
Her next stop was general manager of a $35 million, upscale food market business where she was responsible for operations. Other business industry director and management positions followed, but Dawn soon found her home at Farmers Restaurant Group.
As our first multi-store managing partner, Dawn’s role has increased to a well-deserved, Managing Partner | Vice President status, due in part to her passion for our FRG brands, providing excellent guest experiences, and guiding her team.
During her off-hours, Dawn is just as passionate about her role as an accomplished equestrian and national competitor. Based out of their family run farm, Dawn’s daughter, sister, and mother are also accomplished equestrians.
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 current position as managing partner where she oversees her FRG team and restaurant guests alike.
During her freshman year, Kendra took a job as a host for an upscale restaurant group and soon moved her way up through the group’s ranks and into what would become her career industry of choice.
A move to New York City kept her with the company as she was offered a position in management. During the next ten years, Kendra continued developing her industry skillset and learning from her diverse experience within the group, until she left her senior management position to join Farmers Restaurant Group in 2012.
Kendra began her FRG journey as general operations manager for Founding Farmers DC, and then moved to general manager of Farmers Fishers Bakers. By the summer of 2014, Kendra was promoted to the challenging role of managing partner, where she has met all of the demands of the job, and more.
Her drive to rise above and learn from challenges with grace and ease is what makes Kendra a success. Her inspiration and love for what the dining table represents shines through everyday.
While witnessing thousands of guests come in each week to share a meal, whether its business related, a gathering of friends, a first date, or a family affair, she relishes sharing in those experiences and seeing guests brought together at our table, enjoying our food and drink.
Growing up as one of nine children in Baton Rouge, Christine’s love of food and embracing the concept of and joy derived from gathering around a table to share a meal was instilled in her at an early age.
Her ability to organize a restaurant and make sure every guest is happy is an integral part of the process for her as she began cooking for her family at the age of nine. Christine’s remarkable career is a reflection of what food and family means to her.
While attending the University of Dallas, Christine entered the culinary world as a waitress at a popular breakfast joint. After graduation, a move to Charleston, SC brought her to the Kiawah Island Club where she began as the beverage cart girl, then as server, and then a clubhouse manager. Next, brought an opportunity to train with famed chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio and his staff to open their then newest clubhouse on Kiawah Island. Christine stayed for 11 years, traveling to other properties in Ireland and St. Kitts, BWI to oversee their food and beverage operations.
Christine’s next position took her to Virginia as director of food and beverage for an upscale golf club. Then fate intervened as she was introduced to FRG Co-Owners Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons, and immediately became enamored with their passion, their company, and the mission of their business. Christine soon joined the FRG family.
Her position as managing partner is the perfect fit for Christine, as “Nothing makes me happier than to see people enjoying food and drink together and watching them make memories.”
Darragh’s wide range of restaurant management experience has been developed over the past two decades and honed in some of the most amazing restaurants around the world. All of which have led him here to Farmers Restaurant Group, and we couldn’t be happier.
A fateful internship ignited Darragh’s restaurant & hospitality career while pursuing an education in hospitality business management. After graduation, Darragh took his degree, industry passion, and thirst for knowledge through hands-on training and hard work to famed restaurants in France, England, Ireland, and Bermuda.
A move to New York followed where Darragh went right to work serving as general manager at two prominent NYC restaurants. Next, he took his burgeoning operating and management style to the flourishing Miami restaurant & hospitality scene. There, he launched and managed 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 reconceptualization of the famed Fontainebleau hotel.
Darragh soon channeled that unparalleled experience into a coveted spot on the development team behind Marriott International’s EDITION brand, a groundbreaking global luxury lifestyle hotel concept. During that time, he also launched three wildly successful restaurants within the EDITION brand.
We’re thrilled that Darragh’s global training and experience have led him here to Farmers Restaurant Group, where his valuable knowledge, team spirit, and work ethic prove a tremendous asset. What else do we love about Darragh? That his good-humored signature claim to fame is… he owned the only car in Ireland where you had to clean your feet getting out of it!
Director of Human Resources
Service. Engagement. Hospitality. Connection. These are just some of the words Jillian used to describe what initially inspired her passion for people, and what ultimately has kept her on a professional path as a human resources expert.
As the youngest of five siblings with a large extended family, Jillian’s passion for and experience learning about people, personalities, and the subtle art of persuasion developed early. A native of Buffalo, NY, Jillian took her first job in specialty retail after high school, which only heightened her passion for people, customer service, and hospitality. Jillian pursued a degree in Psychology, graduating with a BA in Psychology from the University at Buffalo, and further forged her professional path by earning an MBA in Human Resources Management from Niagara University.
Jillian’s proven breadth of experience, 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, has led her here to our Farmers Restaurant Group family.
As Director of Human Resources, Jillian is pioneering our company-wide, in-house Human Resources services. Jillian’s focus and mantra, as she grows our HR program from the ground up, is based upon her belief that if you take care of your team, they will be engaged in and committed to supporting company culture, overall mission, and to serving guests with focused expertise. In turn, the business, and our people, will flourish. Together, Jillian, her team, and our entire FRG staff will work to build a best-in-class workforce.
Driven by positivity and the power of laughter, Jillian and her husband, a U.S. Navy recruiter, live by that ethos at work and in their family life. Rooted here in our nation’s capital, Jillian, her husband, and children can usually be found having fun at home during family game night or experiencing new cultures, food, and adventures in their global travels.
Director of Kitchen Operations
Chef Tony’s family life had everything to do with his love of cooking. At a young age, he realized that a family of eight living on 13 acres in a bucolic farm town in Maryland required rules, helping hands, and large family meals.
For Chef Tony, that came to mean two things: he could pick the best food to save for himself, and perhaps more importantly, that cooking for eight meant no dish duty. And a savvy, skillful chef was born.
What began with that love of cooking and seeing the enjoyment one can provide with something as simple as a meal has become the driving force for Chef Tony’s career.
Running crews for his father’s construction company at age 15 and learning the restaurant ropes in every position from front-to-back of house, all while attending Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts, provided Chef Tony with deeper culinary experience and the chops to run a busy kitchen.
A position as sous chef provided Chef Tony the opportunity to cook, travel, and have a hand in opening multiple outposts for a large restaurant company. That experience led him to a culinary partnership with a busy eatery in the DC area, setting the stage for him to meet Mike V and Dan, and ultimately joining the FRG team.
Starting at our flagship Founding Farmers DC, Chef Tony then took on a central culinary role in the development and opening of Farmers Fishers Bakers and Founding Farmers Tysons, and continues to lend his talents to all our outposts.
As his FRG journey unfolds, Chef Tony lives by the notion, “In striving for perfection we may just achieve excellence.” He subscribes to that mantra everyday and in doing so he not only inspires our team, but also gives all he has in order to provide our guests with the best food he can.
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 FRG 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 finds design inspiration throughout her travels and in the beauty of nature. So far, she has explored 30 countries, many of which she visited while living in Hong Kong for two years.
Leah holds a B.A. in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and is a LEED Accredited Professional. Leah supports Farmers Restaurant Group’s 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.
Some of Angela’s earliest memories are of helping her mother work in the coat check room and greeting guests at her father’s Italian restaurants in New Jersey.
Growing up in the industry and working seemingly every job from coat check to server in the restaurants, fostered Angela’s work ethic and understanding of how good service applies to the core principles of any job. It is within that foundation of values, instilled early on, that has allowed her to be successful today. Angela derives as much joy in serving others as she hopes those around her get from her commitment to working hard and providing good service.
Angela went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City to study graphic design, and began her career at NYC design firm, Doyle Partners. Here, Angela learned from the ground up, working on everything from print, web, environmental, and package design for high profile clients like Johnson & Johnson, Stephen Colbert, Martha Stewart, and Scholastic publishing.
Joining Farmers Restaurant Group in 2016 as Design Director, Angela was able to meld together the perfect combination of a childhood spent in her father’s restaurants with her passion for design. Company Co-Owner Dan Simons has said, “Angela showed up unafraid and ready to jump right in. She has created her job helping us showcase our company brand and mission, and drives for results across the board.”
Her role touches virtually every part of our business from internal company collateral to guest-facing menu design to consumer point of sale highlighting our in-house, proprietary distillery products. She continues to take on new challenges as we grow our company and raise our bar for excellence with every new venture.
We are inspired by Angela outside our office as well, through her dedication to cycling. In 2008 and 2010, Angela biked across the country with the non-profit, Bike & Build, to raise money and awareness for affordable housing. This led her to move to DC in 2011 to pursue a job in bicycle advocacy. Since then, Angela has made her mark on the DC cycling scene, on and off the bike. She has rebranded one of the leading bike shops in the DMV, provided marketing and branding services and campaigns for local advocacy groups like The Washington Area Bicyclist Association and BikeArlington, and is a women’s brand ambassador for world-renowned apparel company, Rapha.
Angela races for an elite cycling team, Battley-Harley Davidson/Founding Farmers, which FRG proudly sponsors, and is the women’s squad team manager.