hospitality executive exchange HEE East Recap

HEE East 2024: Galactic Focus

By Jen Robinson, CEO/Duchess, The Pineapple Group LLC | April 18, 2024

A voyage into the unknown galaxy of beverage innovation

HEE is known for its focus on conversations and relationships with one of the most requested sessions being topics requested by HEE participants. It’s TED Talk, with an HEE Twist.

Hospitality Executive Exchange East was recently held April 2-5, 2024 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida where for 2 ½ days more than 200 senior level food & beverage professionals joined the conversation, exchanging ideas, insights, and information.

For HEE East 2024, the theme was on focus with a galactic twist, which served as a catalyst for exploring future trends in the beverage industry. By centering the overall HEE agenda around this theme, attendees were encouraged to think beyond conventional boundaries and consider the infinite possibilities that lie beyond this year. Whether it was discussing the use of innovative ingredients or exploring the potential for interstellar branding strategies, the galactic approach to focus provided a unique lens through which to examine and envision the future of beverages. This concentrated attention on the theme fostered a sense of unity and excitement among participants, driving collaboration and sparking creative thinking as they collectively embarked on a voyage into the unknown realms of beverage innovation.

Within HEE East, we had two amazing, featured chats, where FOCUS clearly came into the conversation on their success. Our opening night chat was moderated by Scott Taylor, former CEO of Walk-on’s Sports Bistreaux, who led the conversation with James Walker, Chief Culinary & Concept Officer, Experiential Brands, and they engaged with the HEE family with a unique approach to focus being all around us. James has more than 1.7 million instagram followers and provided his take on focus on a global scale.

Our final breakfast chat was with Joe Vrankin, CEO, Puttshack, who shared many insightful details and focus points on the success of his concept and how focus plays a role within that success. Both of these featured chats provided key insights for our HEE family.

Joe Vrankin, CEO, Puttshack, shared focused insights during his breakfast chat with key takeaways for the HEE family.

The HEE program was filled with out of this world opportunities to engage in conversations with our core foundation of relaxed, laid-back one-on-one meetings carefully balanced within our overall HEE agenda between meals/networking and education. These conversations provide the focus for all of our participants to really learn about beverages without stress or pressure. Our select supplier partners also provided more inspiration for the HEE family, with a fresh take on trends through their featured supplier marketplace activations each evening which truly shined brightly and entered a beverage galaxy all of their own. HEE also held a Cosmic Costume night, where everyone truly got into the galactic spirit of the evening.

Cody Henson and Evan Traub, IMI Agency, definitely understood the assignment of Cosmic Costume night.

Philip Raimondo, Proximo Spirits, presents two trends during his select supplier marketplace activation: Asian influences and the come-back of the Jello being used to “amp” up cocktails as either a garnish, a high-end tasting element or to a flavor booster.

HEE continues to think outside the box when it comes to conversations and content, with our opening kick-off session, which was a unique whiskey blending competition, hosted by Rob Boyer, Whistlepig Whiskey, where the Breakfast Club was named the blending champions.

Mark Boyton, Puttshack, enjoys the opening kick-off whiskey blending session where teams were tasked to formulate the best blend, which was hosted by Whistlepig Whiskey.

Trends are always an on-demand conversation request, and the fabulous Colleen McClellan, Chief Customer Officer, Datassential, sent everyone to a whole new world, with her opening general session that allowed us to look back on trends, in order to look into the future. Colleen truly brought the conversations to a new realm with the data she provided on the future and how far we truly have in the last few years.

Colleen McClellan, Chief Customer Officer, Datassential, always brings a unique and custom presentation filled with valuable data and information for the HEE family.

One of our most popular sessions, which has become part of the fabric and foundation of the HEE program, “Conversations Create Change” was led by Alfio Celia, Crescent Hotels & Resorts; Carolyn White, CMW Consulting and Jeffrey Koch, MS Walker provided many engaging and relevant conversation topics among our participants. These conversations are truly what make HEE unique and special as they are determined by the participants who join us and are done in small groups and ultimately in large group format. Insights from peers and colleagues are always a valuable take-away from each HEE program.

Our final day of programming, focused on our Beverage Bazaar, with four amazing break-out sessions that provided focused conversations in smaller groups. Included in our breakouts was a workshop activation Part II, to the amazing general session hosted by Colleen McClellan and Bill Norris, 3rd Generation Hospitality, where our participants found themselves creating cocktails utilizing the Datassential model.

Heather Baker, IMI Agency, shares a chat during her one-on-one sessions. These sessions provide key information that is relevant to learning about portfolios, menu placements, new introductions and more.

Andres Jimenez, Senior VP of Food & Beverage, Makeready Hotels, looks over key information from Jeffrey Bartfield’s new company and portfolio, Drinks Unlimited.

Aliya Kritzler, HEI Hotels, enjoys one-on-one conversation with New Belgium Brewing.  The one-on-one meetings are laid-back, relaxed yet focused conversations on beverage programming and strategies.  

Our 2nd break-out was hosted by the fabulous Jacki Hannon, Bells Brewing/New Belgium where she boarded everyone on a rocket ship for Chipcraft 2.0, which was a compelling approach to pairing tasty beers with a simple ingredient (chips) within various hospitality segments by elevating it.  Jacki’s energy and passion clearly resonated with all of our HEE family.

HEE was honored to have Charles Woodson with us for a tasting of his Intercept wines in our 3rd break-out, which was hosted by the O’Neill Vintners & Distillers team. Charles shared his story and passion for wine in a delightful and fun session.

Charles Woodson joined HEE East with a fabulous breakout session sharing his passion for wine with a tasting of Intercept. He enjoyed chatting with HEE family, Mitch Hopkins and John Sakakini, Delta Airlines, along with Denise Van Herpen, O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, prior to one of the sessions.

Our 4th break-out, Chaos & Collaboration was a teaser to our final HEE gathering, which was hosted by Wendy Nyberg, Trinchero Family Estates and Kevin Kolman, a world-renowned grill master who has many accolades for his grilling expertise. Wendy & Kevin shared insights on chaos within collaboration which can ultimately lead to a focused success, which is exactly where they led the HEE family in The Ultimate Grill Out Competition, which was our final Happy Hour activation.

Two of our judges for The Ultimate Grill Out Competition evaluating a drink presentation, Wendy Nyberg, Trinchero Family Estates, and Kevin Kolman, World-Renowned Grill-master.

For the Ultimate Grill Out Competition, which was hosted by Trinchero Family Estates, Coco Lopez, Campari America and Weber Grills, the HEE family was broken into 4 amazing teams, where within each team, there were assigned specific tasks and jobs, and together,  they all had to work among the chaos while collaborating,  to present the ultimate burger, the ultimate side, the ultimate dessert and of course, the ultimate beveage to our judges.   Our HEE family truly knocked it to the next galaxy on this fun and most creative final gathering, with Team Freedom /America taking home the title.

The winning team of the Ultimate Grill Out Competition, which was hosted by Trinchero Family Estates, Coco Lopez, Campari America, and Weber Grills was Team USA/Freedom.

Our winning entry for the Ultimate Grill-out Competition. It was a team that came together with every component to create the ultimate grill entry. Teams had 4 components to present: the ultimate burger, the ultimate side, the ultimate dessert, and the ultimate beverage.

Charles Woodson enjoyed his time with the HEE family, even jumping in and helping out with one of the teams on the Ultimate Grill Competition.

Bretton Lammi, Prime Hospitality Group, chatting with industry colleagues Robyn Albert, Banfi Wines, Nik Kundra, Partender and Josh Morton, Barrow’s Intense Ginger, during the final evening.

HEE continues to elevate conversations with a very focused and family atmosphere that resonates with on-premises operators and select suppliers with a very high-end approach.  HEE has become one of the most premiere programs in the hospitality marketplace while remaining small, intimate and keeping conversations and relationships at the heart & soul of every program. HEE hosts two programs each calendar year, with our next program, HEE West scheduled for this fall. Dates and location will be announced in May, so be sure to follow Hospitality Executive Exchange on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates.

The Exchange Awards will also return for the 3rd consecutive year with a new presentation format. Submissions will be open beginning in early June.

For more details and information, please visit and or reach out to Jen Robinson,