“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” Aristotle’s wisdom has guided Kelli Valade’s career since the age of 16, when she landed her first restaurant job as a hostess. It was there Kelli found the same hospitality, the same love of great food and the same connection around the table she’d experienced her entire childhood, cooking and eating Italian food around her grandmother’s kitchen table in New York. Kelli discovered early where her passion for life intersected with work, and she’s built a career living out that passion.
Determined to make a big impact on the industry she loved, Kelli worked her way through school, earning a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and an MBA from Syracuse University. She rose to General Manager of a local restaurant at age 21, then her people-first style quickly directed her career to Human Resources, where she led HR, Recruiting and Compensation for national chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.
Kelli then spent over 20 years at Brinker International in various roles including SVP of Human Resource for Chili’s Grill & Bar, and later serving as Chief Operating Officer. In 2016, she became the first female President in the brand’s history and was responsible for 80,000 + ChiliHeads and more than 1,600 restaurants in 31 countries and two territories. In this role, she established a clear vision and bold strategies, cultivated a purpose-driven culture and executed the biggest menu change in the brand’s history, all with uncompromising dedication to the guest, and her team members.
In 2019, Kelli joined restaurant insights powerhouse Black Box Intelligence™ as the CEO and President. Black Box Intelligence is the leading provider of data and insights to the restaurant industry with a product suite that is the industry standard for operators seeking to achieve best in class performance. With the largest and most reliable set of real restaurant data in the marketplace, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes more than 300 companies, over 2.8 million employees and over $75 billion in annual revenue.
To give back to the industry, Kelli serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) and on the executive committee of the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). Kelli also served alongside her daughter Morgan on the Allen Chapter of National Charity League (NCL) and currently sits on the Board of Trustees for the Shelton School in Dallas. A compelling and passionate keynote speaker, she also frequently speaks to students and professionals across the industry, sharing best practices and lessons from her lifelong journey.
Kelli has been recognized often by the industry she loves. Nation’s Restaurant News added her to their Top 50 Power List in 2017, The Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo gave her the Beacon Award in 2016 and Dallas Business Journal named her a Woman Worth Watching in 2013.
Together with her husband Don and their two children, Morgan (19) & Christian (17), Kelli has lived in Texas long enough to be called a native, but her heart (and her accent) remain firmly rooted in New York. You can connect with her on Twitter @kvpalooza, find her on Facebook or just follow the scent of the homemade meatballs. They’re worth the trip.