From Super Bowl to Mixing Bowl: Former Steeler Shares Food Business Insights at Duquesne Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference

J.T. Thomas knows about a thing or two about bowls—not just the Super Bowl.

Steeler Pro Bowler Thomas transitioned from the legendary Steel Curtain defense and four Super Bowl wins to the food and restaurant business. He’ll share his 30 years of experience in the food industry as one of the speakers at the Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference on Friday, May 15, at Duquesne University.

Sponsored by Duquesne’s Small Business Development Center, which has helped thousands of local entrepreneurs to launch and grow their companies, the annual event will bring together more than 400 entrepreneurs and managers with nearly 40 knowledgeable, been-there, done-that business owners.

Thomas is the owner of Black-N-Gold Cheesecake Co., which distributes, markets and sells frozen gourmet desserts. A licensee for Crazy Mocha Coffee Co. in Pittsburgh, he also has developed the Applebee’s chain in the region as well as Burger King and Red Hot & Blue restaurants.

He will be one of three speakers to share experiences in the breakout session From Your Kitchen to the Marketplace: Starting a Food Business. Also speaking will be James Rich, owner and president of the PGH Taco Truck, which has been voted the No. 1 food truck of the year by two publications; and Anes Dracic, co-founder of Naturi, which produces exotic organic food. Ed Troup, the healthy foods financing specialist at Bridgeway Capital, a community development financial institution, will moderate.

This is one of more than a dozen breakout sessions appealing to special interests, such as Sustainable Practices and Better Bottom Lines and Doing Business with Big Business for women and minority entrepreneurs. Other sessions will focus on raising money, stabilizing cash flow, leveraging technology such as LinkedIn and Google Tools, closing the deal and many other strategic management, technology and funding topics.

The 17th annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference will start with registration at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m. The business-building tradeshow will be from 2 to 3:15 p.m.

Keynote speakers will include:

Rob Daley, 4 moms, Creating the Best Pitch

Daley is CEO of the 10-year-old company that sells baby products designed to make parents’ lives easier. This Pittsburgh company sells in more than 50 countries, working with more than 2,000 North American retailers alone. A former venture capitalist and investment banker, Daley has pitched to a number of angel investors as well as to Bain Capital, Newell Rubbermaid and Innovation Works.

Bill Sarris, Sarris Candies, Sweet Success—The Story of a Candy Maker

Sarris joined the family chocolate business after college, expanding the company by targeting different markets, such as catalog, mail order, fundraising, corporate gifts, private label and retail. Through the company’s first equipment purchase, the company was able to increase production and propel its fundraising and retail businesses. In 2014, Sarris was named by Ernest and Young as the family business Entrepreneur of the Year in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

To learn more about the Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference, one of the area’s largest events for small businesses, visit Full- and half-day, as well as student registrations are available.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

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