Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Transitioning into National Role

Mar 22

Emily Williams Knight, Ed.D., moving to the National Restaurant Association as Chief Collaboration Officer and EVP of Industry Relations focused on uniting the industry as it navigates recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

AUSTIN, Texas (March 22, 2021) – After two years of successfully leading one of the most influential trade associations in Texas, advancing and protecting all aspects of the restaurant and foodservice industry, as well as leading the sector through the COVID-19 pandemic, Emily Williams Knight, Ed.D., has been tapped to move into a newly formed, critical role at the National Restaurant Association. In this role, Knight will lead the National Restaurant Association’s strategic portfolio and will focus on collectively advancing and protecting the industry by strengthening partnerships with state restaurant associations and by developing new products, services, and capabilities designed to meet the changing needs of current and prospective members. Knight will begin her transition in May while continuing to oversee the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) and its efforts through the summer of 2021.

“It has been a privilege to work with Emily during my tenure as a board officer and now Chair. Emily built a talented team that is poised to continue delivering with excellence for our members. We will miss her leadership and contribution, yet we are excited for her leadership to be extended to the national level, for the benefit of all the restaurant community across the United States,” said Board Chairman, Gary Johnson of Frontier Enterprises.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the Texas Restaurant Association. While none of us could have anticipated the challenges we’d face with the onset of COVID-19, I am proud of all we have accomplished together and the difference we made for operators and their employees across the state. From drafting the reopening guidelines, keeping restaurants open since May 1, 2020, securing important executive orders including alcohol-to-go, and leading on federal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Fund, it has been important and deeply meaningful work,” said Knight.

Since Knight joined TRA in 2019, new members have doubled, the largest gain in more than a decade. Revenues have grown with a substantial increase to the Association’s reserves to sustain the organization into the future. The influence and standing of the Association is strong, and the Texas Legislature is poised to pass several pieces of legislation critical to the sector. Perhaps most important, in two years, Knight and the board reconstituted the board of directors, passing new bylaws and adding more than 30 business leaders representing multiple sectors, geographies, and demographics who will ensure the important work and impact continues.

Along with her focus at TRA, Knight also worked to reposition the Education Foundation as the workforce arm of the Association, creating the Texas Restaurant Relief Fund that raised more than $3 million for independent restaurants impacted by the pandemic. She also partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission and Dallas College to secure more than $1 million for job training and certification programs to support the sectors significant job growth. Knight increased the number of schools offering the ProStart program, a K12 curriculum for students interested in careers in the restaurant and foodservice industry, and stood as a fierce advocate for career and technical education.

“Having someone with strong and natural leadership abilities at the helm during the pandemic saved restaurants across the state. Emily’s tenacity, skill in uniting people, strategic thinking, and desire to drive meaningful change are all reasons Tom Bené, CEO of the National Restaurant Association recruited Emily into this national role. She is a force to be reckoned with, and I know she will ensure all restaurants across the United States continue to receive the support they deserve,” said John Gessner, Past Chairman of the Board and Partner with Fox Rothschild, LLP.

Board leadership have selected Stanton Chase to assist with the President & CEO search.

Knight joined the Texas Restaurant Association with more than 20 years in national and global leadership positions. Prior to arriving to the TRA, she served as Managing Director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a leading provider of international education. She was President of Kendall College where she expanded culinary arts education into Latin America and the Middle East, led student recruitment for several hospitality schools located in Switzerland, Australia, Jordan, Spain and China, and was a senior sales and marketing leader at Pearson. She partnered with private equity firms, associations, and the U.S. government building industry training and certification programs and consistently builds and leads high performing teams. Knight began her career out of Boston University School of Hospitality Administration in Pizza Hut’s Management Training Program in Key West Florida and went on to serve as catering sales manager at the iconic Casa Marina and Reach Resorts.

About the Texas Restaurant Association
The Texas Restaurant Association was formed in 1937 to serve as the advocate in Texas and the indispensable resource for the foodservice industry. Today, as a leading business association, TRA represents the state’s $70 billion restaurant industry, which is comprised of more than 50,000 locations and a workforce of 1.3 million employees. Along with the Texas Restaurant Association Education Foundation, the Association protects, advances, and educates the growing industry.


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