Leadership

The Habit is strategically managed by a strong executive team of seasoned restaurant professionals providing superior support for our franchisees. Please click the names below to learn more about each team member.

Russ Bendel, CEO and President
In June of 2008, Mr. Bendel was appointed to Chief Executive Officer of The Habit Burger Grill. Prior to working for The Habit, Mr. Bendel joined The Cheesecake Factory, in July of 2007, as President and Chief Operating Officer. Beginning June of 2001, Mr. Bendel worked at Mimi’s Cafe as President and CEO. Prior to joining Mimi’s Cafe he was President of Roy’s Restaurants, a joint venture between Outback Steakhouse and Roy Yamaguchi, noted celebrity chef from Hawaii in 1999. From 1995 until June of 1999 Mr. Bendel was a Partner in the Outback Steakhouse franchise group in California. His other experiences include being the Chief Operating Officer for El Torito Restaurants and Panda Express. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel Administration from Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He currently is on the Board of Directors for the California Restaurant Association and has served as their Chairman. In 2003, Mr. Bendel received the distinct honor of Operator of the Year at the MUFSO conference in Atlanta. Mr. Bendel was also recognized in 2004 as the Restaurateur of the Year in Orange County, California and was given the Creative Partnership Award in 2005 from UCLA. In 2012, Mr. Bendel received the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award in Los Angeles, California. He also takes pride in being a board member of the Culinary School for the Art Institute of Los Angeles – Orange County. Mr. Bendel, also, is on the Board of Advisors for the Collins School of Hospitality Management, at California State Polytechnic University.
Ira Fils, CFO and Secretary
Mr. Fils served as Chief Financial Officer of Mimi’s Café from 2005 to 2008 after joining the company as Vice President of Finance in 2003. During that period, the chain grew from 66 locations in seven states to 135 locations in 22 states. Prior to joining Mimi’s Cafe, from 1998 to 2003, he served as Chief Financial Officer and held other positions of increasing responsibility at Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc., a publicly held company. Before joining Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc., Mr. Fils served in various finance positions at The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim from 1996 to 1998. Prior to joining The Walt Disney Company, he was employed at American Restaurant Group and at Family Restaurants, Inc. in various finance positions. Mr. Fils holds an undergraduate degree in economics and an MBA from the University of California, Irvine, and has over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry.
Matt Hood, Chief Marketing Officer
Mr. Hood joined The Habit in 2014 as Chief Marketing Officer after having served as Chief Marketing Officer at BJ’s Restaurants Inc. from 2008 to 2014. During that period, the company grew from 68 restaurants and $316M in sales to 145 restaurants and over $800M in sales. Prior to joining BJ’s, Hood served as the national restaurant brand consultant for Google, Inc. From 2002 to 2006, Mr. Hood served in a series of leadership roles for Carino’s Italian Restaurants, with his last position as Senior Vice President, Marketing and Brand Development. Prior to that, Mr. Hood served as a marketing manager for Brinker International, which owns and operates the Chili’s Grill and Bar and Maggiano’s casual dining concepts. Hood served on the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group Board of Directors from 2003 – 2012, serving as Co-Chair from 2006-2008. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Advertising from Texas Christian University, and his MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
John Phillips, Vice President of Franchising
Mr. Phillips has been our Vice President of Franchising since March 2013. From October 2011 to joining the Habit, he was Director of Franchise Operations in the West Division for Burger King Corporation. Prior to Burger King, Mr. Phillips held various franchise and operations roles at El Pollo Loco, Inc. including Vice President of Operations and Vice President, Franchising Restaurant Opening Group. There he created the Franchise Restaurant Opening Group for complete integrated support of franchise operations. The franchise operations teams under his direction were awarded the 2007 Leadership in Franchise Management Award presented by Nations Restaurant News, QSR Magazine Best of 2006 "Best Helping Hand", Best of 2007 "Best Regional Breakout", and the franchise support program was written about in Area Developer, QSR Magazine, Franchise World, and Chain Leader. Prior to El Pollo Loco, Mr. Phillips also held operations positions at both Denny’s, Inc. and Sizzler USA, Inc. He has extensive operations and development experience and has been providing support and guidance for franchisees for over sixteen years.
Anthony Serritella, Chief Operating Officer
Mr. Serritella attended the University of California, San Diego where he studied economics and psychology. He worked for Sizzler Restaurants from 1982-1997, both on the franchise side and with the parent company Sizzler International. In 1986, he was promoted to District Manager and in 1991 became the Vice President of Operations for one of the leading Sizzler franchises, McAthco Enterprises. In 1997, Mr. Serritella joined the founders of The Habit in a partnership as the Vice President of Operations. Today as Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Serritella is responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations.
Peter Whitwell, Chief Quality Officer
Mr. Whitwell began his restaurant career as manager of the first Baja Fresh Mexican Grill in his hometown of Newbury Park in 1990. He soon moved on to the role of store training manager, then training supervisor while concurrently building the quality assurance department. In 1999 he became the Vice President of Operations and in 2001 he became the Vice President of Franchise Operations and in 2003 promoted to Senior Vice President, to support the growing franchise operations while continuing to oversee quality assurance for the entire system of 300 units in 26 states. Mr. Whitwell joined The Habit as Vice President in January 2005.
Russell Friend, Chief Development Officer
Mr. Friend joined the Habit leadership team in January 2011. Prior to that, he served as real estate development consultant at The Habit from 2007 to 2010 when the company grew from 18 to 33 restaurants. From 2006 to 2007, he served as Senior Real Estate Partner of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro after joining the company as Director of Real Estate of Pei Wei Asian Diner in 2003. During that period, Pei Wei expanded from 21 locations in three states to 120 locations in 15 states. Prior to joining P.F. Chang’s, from 2000 to 2003, he served as real estate consultant of Baja Fresh Mexican Grill where he was in charge of store expansion in seven western states. Mr. Friend has served in various senior corporate real estate positions at NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway, Sega Gameworks, and the Wolfgang Puck Food Company. Mr. Friend attended the University of Arizona and Menlo College and has over 23 years of experience in the restaurant real estate industry.
Mike Repetti, Vice President of Information Technology
Mr. Repetti has been Vice President of Information Technology for The Habit since September 2011 and brings over 10 years of IT experience in the restaurant industry. In addition to creating the IT Department at the Habit, Mike’s experience most recently includes Vice President of IT for Real Mex Restaurants, Inc. and Senior Director of IT for the Catalina Restaurant Group, Inc. During his career, Mike has lead several high profile, cross functional project teams, aligning technology with strategic business objectives, including POS, ERP, Payroll/HRIS and PCI initiatives. Mr. Repetti has a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology Management from National University and sits on the IT Steering Committee for Micros Systems, Inc., a global leader in Hospitality Point of Sale systems.
Adam Baird, Vice President of Procurement, F&B and Culinary Operations
Mr. Baird, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, high honors, has a rich and all-encompassing background in the food service industry with over 20 years experience. Past positions include sous chef at Auberge de Soleil in Rutherford CA, 1994; executive sous chef at Greystone Wine Spectator Restaurant 1995-1998; the Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena, CA; and Walt Disney Resorts International, Anaheim as concept/operations development executive chef for the opening of the Grand Californian Hotel and Napa Rose Restaurant 1999-2004. Most recently, the Australian native worked as corporate executive chef – Vice President of Food, Beverage and Culinary Operations for Mimi’s Cafe Restaurants 2004-2012.