Texas Restaurant Association names Emily Williams Knight CEO

New TRA CEO to advocate for a $66B Texas restaurant industry

The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) has chosen a new leader to succeed its chief executive, Richie Jackson. Emily Williams Knight is the new TRA CEO, according to an announcement. She takes over for Jackson, who retires this year after 34 years as the head of TRA. Knight’s duties as the new TRA CEO begin in July, following the TRA Marketplace. The event is the largest event the association organizes each year for its membership. As an executive with 20 years in leadership positions, Knight currently serves as managing director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, an international education provider.

According to the TRA, Knight has the right experience due to her work with industry, workforce investment boards and community colleges. Additionally, as an advocate for education and skills training, she’s the right fit to be TRA CEO to help fill industry jobs in Texas, suggested the association. The restaurant industry in Texas has 1.3 million jobs in the state and represents 48,000 locations grossing $66B in sales—about 10 percent of the national tally for restaurant revenue.


Knight’s career rooted in expanding educational reach, bringing people together

She worked for Laureate Education and also Kendall College, where she was president of the established hospitality and culinary arts institution. With Knight at the helm, the school expanded education across the Midwest, Latin America and the Middle East. Working with the Illinois legislature, she advanced tourism in Chicago to a record number, in partnership with Chicago’s Mayor and Choose Chicago.

“Dr. Knight is clearly the best person to lead TRA into the future,” said John Gessner, chairman of the search committee, who is also the owner of Dallas-based Tacos y Vino and president-elect of TRA’s Board of Directors. “She is a proven leader with strategic business development skills, a vision of good culture for our stakeholders, and the ability to bring people together…. exactly what TRA needs as the organization enters its next chapter of expanded member value and growth.”

Earlier in her impressive career, Knight worked for Pearson, Pizza Hut and Marriott’s Key West Resorts. She earned a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Walden University; an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Newbury College; and a Master of Science in Management from Troy University in Alabama. Also, she holds a B.S. in Hospitality Administration from Boston University, where she was a Trustee Scholar.


As part of her first order of business, Knight said she will be dedicating herself to increasing value for the TRA membership and advocating for restaurants in the Texas legislature.

Photo credit: Texas Restaurant Association (featured)

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