I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life, and my first restaurant job was as a waitress at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor when I was 16. After that, I worked in various restaurants, even at the Hyatt Maui, before I got into marketing and advertising. I stayed in it mostly because I think it’s addictive. I think the pace of the industry and the service mentality draws people in, and I was one of those people.

I moved into foodservice with a PepsiCo client, and then my next job was a field-marketing manager for Carl’s Jr. I stayed there for 12 years and worked my way up to vice president of marketing. I got all of my quick-serve marketing experience through Carl’s Jr., and that’s where I first worked with franchisees. I really got an understanding of how we could support franchisees in the restaurant industry, and they motivate me in my work.

Togo’s has franchisees that have been in the business for 38 years and some that have been in the business for three months. Helping them achieve their goals and become profitable is the main reason I do what I do. Togo’s is a 40-year-old company, and I’ve been here for six years. I brought forth an evolution of the brand when I first came on, and now we’re continuing that. It’s included a refresh of the brand identity, from logo to menuboard to menu to crew uniforms. We’ve also engaged in social and visual media in a way we never had before. We’re very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I want to be remembered as an energetic leader that helps my teams do their best, feel rewarded, and, most importantly, try new things. I encourage all my teams to be innovative, and that’s across functional teams as well, not just marketing, but operations and supply chain. I want them to be innovative, positive, and bring new ideas forward so we can grow the business.

What is your favorite dish at Togo’s?

I love our No. 24 made with freshly mashed California avocados and hand-sliced turkey. But I still crave our No. 9, Hot Pastrami.

Which menu item or operational strategy at Togo’s are you most proud of?

I introduced a new line for Togo’s that helped us compete in a way we never thought we could. My team developed a craveable lineup of Toasted Sandwiches: Pepperjack Pastrami, Viva Veggie, and the huge Triple Dip, to name a few. The cross-functional team developed a system that enabled our franchisees to get into the toasted game with a minimal investment.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken as CMO?

In my early career as a CMO, I went head to head against a national chain in a comparative television ad. We used real people comparing our product against the national competitor. Risky? Yes. Although the spots were effective, they had limited airtime. I learned that it is probably best not to go head to head against brands that have unlimited legal funds!

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

Sheryl Sandberg for bringing forward a conversation about women in work and how we can be better leaders and role models. Colin Powell, who once said, “Optimism is a force multiplier.” I believe in saying, “We can do this,” and struggle with those who say, “Our challenge is…” Find a way around the challenges, or don’t bring it up.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Marketing & Promotions, Sandwiches, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Togo's