Automatic Merchandiser announces the 2023 Legends of the Year award winners

March 13, 2023
Automatic Merchandiser presents this year's Legends of the Year award winners, honoring leaders in vending, micro market and office coffee service.

Automatic Merchandiser launched its inaugural Legends of the Year awards program, honoring leaders in vending, micro market and office coffee service. Criteria included: at least 25 years in the industry, job commitment, leadership, industry involvement, achievements and contributions. The honorees have shown a dedication to their companies, their customers and the industry, and Automatic Merchandiser is proud to honor them with this prestigious recognition.

Automatic Merchandiser's team studied the nominees and selected the Legends of the Year award winners, featured in the February/March 2023 issue.

Congratulations to the following outstanding individuals.

James Brinton

James Brinton founded Evergreen Food Services (now, Evergreen Refreshments) in 1976 while still in high school. He currently serves as president of the full-line vending company. In 2009, he was one of the key founders of Avanti Markets Inc. and in late 2010, served as CEO. He also established Avanti Markets Northwest that operated over 1,000 micro markets in Washington and Oregon. In 2019, he was asked to purchase Slabb Kiosks Inc., Avanti’s kiosk manufacturer in Mesa, Arizona, and now runs that entity producing kiosks for Avanti Markets and other industries. He also added catering services to his portfolio with the purchase of ACT3 Catering in Tukwila, Washington. Brinton is a past president of the Northwest Automatic Vending Association. In 2005, he received the NAMA Industry Person of the Year award. In 2008, he served a two-year term as NAMA’s chairman of the board. In 2009, he was asked to serve as first president and chairman of the board of the newly formed Unified Strategies Group (USG) for a three-year term. And in 2011, he was involved with bringing the Vend Marketing Group (VMI) to USG.

Stu Case (posthumous award)

365 Retail Markets would like to honor its former West Coast account manager, Stu Case, to be posthumously recognized. Case joined Avanti Markets (now 365 Retail Markets) in 2014 and remained a dedicated member of the organization and the industry through his passing. He managed the bulk of 365/Avanti’s customer relationships, creating an exceptional level of customer loyalty; he was also an advocate for foodservice operator needs. Because of his passion for the industry and his respect for and relationships with clients, Case was adamant about involving himself in the onboarding process for new account managers. He wanted to be sure that the insight, positivity and commitment with which he managed his territory permeated the entire company culture. His involvement in the industry also included roles as president of the Northwest Automatic Vending Association (NAVA), president of the California Automatic Vending Council (CAVC) and a board member of Coffee, Tea & Water for NAMA. He was also a spirited advocate for the NAMA D.C. Fly-in, and he earned his place within the CTW Hall of Fame. Each of his operators credit a large part of their success to his support. 

Richard Cassel

Richard Cassel started his career in the vending industry after graduating from high school. He took a part-time position as a vending route driver at MAB Services, which provided an opportunity for him to attend college while learning from the ground up about the vending industry. Cassel received a B.A. in economics and later an MBA in marketing. At MAB Services, he held various positions from sales representative, sales manager, vice president of marketing, and then executive vice president. In 2008, First Class Vending purchased the company, and he joined Matthew and Ryan Marsh’s First Class Vending as executive vice president. Over the years, Cassel has worked with the California Automatic Vending Council and NAMA to support various legislative issues that face the industry. Also, he has had the opportunity to work with various county health departments to simplify the requirements for licensing of micro markets.

Heidi Wittern Chico

Heidi Chico, chief executive officer of the Wittern Group, has spent more than three decades dedicated to the family business. At Wittern, she has led major initiatives including the development of the company’s open connectivity solutions, hardware regulation and compliance projects such as the American Disability Act, and the introduction of new ways to deliver controlled solutions for the self-service industry. Chico earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University. She has served as a board member for the Greater Des Moines Junior Achievement Board, The Wittern Group, Drake University, Des Moines Cold Storage, and the Iowa YPO chapter. Chico is an active member of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA). She served as board co-chair in 2018 and has held various leadership positions within the organization including the Government Affairs Committee, Women in the Industry (WIN), Executive Forum, Executive Committee, and The NAMA Foundation.

Juan Cholico

Juan Cholico is the warehouse manager at Cheesewich Factory, starting with the company 25 years ago when it was known as Registry Steaks & Seafood. He started with no experience and worked extremely hard until he learned it all — from working in the production line to knowing how to run an entire warehouse and production room. Cholico says he has been fortunate to have had many opportunities to help grow the business from the very beginning, and everything he has learned has been through dedication and commitment. Cholico shows his dedication to his work every day. Leading a team of 50 employees, he is the glue that holds the staff together and a problem-solver before the problem occurs.

Geoff Cook

Geoff Cook is the director of operations for Trolley House Refreshments (THR) in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to joining THR in 2018, Cook worked with several companies in the vending industry over the last 35 years on all sides of the business including operator, distributor and broker. As an operator, he worked with companies such as Anchor Services, CRH Catering and RE Services – all within the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Cook worked his way through the ranks starting as an attendant back in 1988 and ultimately operations manager in 1999. He joined Vistar as an account executive in 2013 and spent over four years learning the distributor side of the industry. Cook has been the president of the Virginia Automatic Merchandisers Association (VAMA) since 2020 as well as the committee chairperson for the 2023 ACE Show. He has received both Supplier of the Year by Canteen Mid-South as well as Operator of the Year by VAMA.

Lindel Creed

Lindel Creed started his career in vending with a large vending operator as an electronics technician and street mechanic. He worked for Dick’s Vending for a few years and then joined Lektro-Vend as technical assistance manager, and he soon advanced to distributor training and support manager. After Lektro-Vend was sold to Polyvend, Creed joined USI in Des Moines, Iowa, as customer service manager for that division, where he was responsible for the training of the distributor network. Creed then joined long-time friend and distributor Joe Loparco. While working as operations manager and eventually being promoted to vice president of operations, Creed learned many aspects of the refurbishment business. With Automatic Choice, he was the first to bring vending machine sales to the internet. He then started his online company,, which had become a leading technical and refurbishment company. One of its accomplishments was the first to introduce age verification to the industry to sell age-restricted products by way of biometric identification. The company has been purchased by American Green, where Creed and his staff continue to work in the Vendweb division.

Todd Elliott

Todd Elliott is a second-generation vending operator who grew up in the business since the age of three. His parents (Tom and Sandra) founded Tomdra in 1966. He graduated from college in 1986 and joined the family business in 1988 as the operations manager, working with his siblings. He became vice president/general manager in 1994. Elliott has been an advocate for the vending industry, serving eight years as president of the Arizona Automatic Merchandising Council, seven years on the NAMA board of directors, two years on the NAMA Foundation board, and on the AAMC board from 2003 to today. He has worked diligently to fight burdensome industry legislation, advocate for small business, lead others in using new technology, expand services within the market and elevate customer service within the industry. Elliott, with his wife, Cindy, founded a medical mission trip in 2014, annually serving 500 migrant coffee pickers in Costa Rica by providing basic medical needs and education.

Ken and Gary Gehrlein

At AAA Vending Services, brothers Ken and Gary Gehrlein have achieved their legend status by putting competition aside to invest in the well-being of others, the local business community and the vending industry. Led by the example of their father, Gordon, who founded the snack and beverage business in 1986, the Gehrleins have promoted additional business opportunities in the Erie area by supporting other vendors. Their mentorship and provision of access to resources has created a solid foundation on which countless local vending companies have built their success, and at times, has been uniquely hands-on. On more than one occasion, the Gehrleins have actually operated competing vending companies while their owners dealt with injury and loss. Ken’s mechanical aptitude and interest in vending since childhood earned him an honorable mention ACES award at age 13; Gary’s people skills and sharp intellect were obvious long before his completion of the Dale Carnegie course. They might appear a little too average to accept the title of “legend,” but at AAA Vending Services, they have created something extraordinary.

Patrick (Pat) Grant

Pat Grant is a Florida-based professional with over 34 years of experience in finance and sales leadership roles at major retail and sales organizations. His career has expanded within accounting, finance, merchandising and consumer packaged goods, with over 22 years supporting and impacting the confectionery industry. He serves as the president of Burdette Beckmann Inc. (BBI), a national sales agency with roots in small-format representation, pioneering the space for over 40 years. Grant leads a cross-functional team and oversees traditional retail segments (c-store and grocery) and client services (finance, accounting, analytics, technology, marketing, telesales and human resources). He is skilled in mergers and acquisitions, as he has been involved in the process several times during his career. He also excels in strategic planning, P&L management, cross-functional team leadership and forecasting. Grant graduated with a B.S. in accounting from the University of South Florida.

Scott Halloran

Scott Halloran started in the vending industry in 1993 when he purchased four drink machines and filled them part-time while working full-time in restaurant management. In 1995, he left the restaurant industry to pursue the vending business full time. Starting out, Halloran was his own sales, route and service person until he was able to hire his first full-time driver in 1998. As CEO, he has managed Trolley Hospitality Companies through three acquisitions and one merger. Halloran graduated from Virginia Tech, with a degree in management and marketing from Pamplin College of Business. He has served on various committees and boards including Virginia Automatic Merchandising Association (VAMA) executive board, Atlantic Coast Exposition (ACE), Avanti advisory board, USG board, NAMA board, and Guardian Refresh advisory board. He received VAMA’s Vendor of the Year in 2018, 2009 and 2003 and NAMA’s Operator of the Year in 2022. Halloran says all this would not have been possible without the support of his wonderful wife, Tina.

Darnell Huppert

Darnell Huppert has been with Core-Mark Iowa/Farner-Bocken for 12 years as the vending sales manager. His position includes working with vending/micro market operator customers as well as providing support to several sales reps in the 10 states that the company services from Carroll, Iowa. Previously, Huppert was with Vistar, where he spent 23 years in various sales management positions. He has been involved with many state associations over the years, including more than 20 years on the board of directors of the Iowa Automatic Merchandising Association, and he has been president since 2015. He was also awarded one of Automatic Merchandiser’s Pros to Know in 2017. Since joining Core-Mark/Farner-Bocken, the company has developed and expanded its vending/micro market distribution as the rapid growth of micro markets aligned well with its primary convenience distribution. Originally from Wisconsin, Huppert now resides in Nebraska.

Larry Jones

Larry Jones founded Pot O’ Gold Coffee Service in the early 1980s and is proud of the family owned and operated company, dedicated to providing the ultimate coffee experience in the office. Jones strives to set the bar high on offering B2C brewers that are serviced frequently, ensuring consistent, high-quality beverages and a memorable experience. He is fortunate to have the support of an amazing team that have helped the company carve out a sizable niche in the Seattle coffee scene. Jones is honored to work with so many of Seattle’s finest roasters and represent them in prestigious companies that care about providing the very best coffees as part of their company’s culture. Jones says it is fulfilling to him that his son Blake has decided to join the company – now in charge of sales, marketing and social media – and carry on the legacy.

Michael Kasavana

Michael L. Kasavana, Ph.D., is the Emeritus NAMA Endowed Professor in Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. He retired from MSU after four decades of teaching, research, publication and consulting. He began work in the unattended retail space in the early 1990s. Dr. Kasavana earned an MBA and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He holds CHTP (Certified Hospitality Technology Professional), CFTP (Certified Foodservice Technology Professional), and NCE5 (NAMA Certified Executive) certifications. His involvement with NAMA exceeds 25 years and, for the past two decades, has served as the coordinator of the NAMA VDI technical standards committee and the liaison to the EVA committee. Dr. Kasavana has published academic and trade journal articles, books, certification programs and industry manuals and has led numerous seminars. Dr. Kasavana was the 2011 NAMA Industry Person of the Year.

Bill Kirchoff

Bill Kirchoff has 35 years in the coffee industry in sales, marketing, chain account management and national sales. He is currently a social media manager for Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and presents at NAMA, NACUFs, SCA and many industry events benefiting the coffee industry. His leadership of coffee in these roles has helped the industry to grow. He is a 1987 graduate of SUNY Geneseo where he majored in business and attended graduate school at UMASS. He also graduated from FOCUS Citizens Academy. Currently, he serves as a volunteer with David’s Refuge, On Point for College and Believe in Syracuse as an industry mentor, a case manager at Red Cross Special Armed Forces, and Clear Path for Veterans and Catholic Charities in various roles. He is a father of two autistic children who graduated from Lemoyne College with graduate degrees in education and psychology.

Mark Kronenberg

Mark Kronenberg is a lifelong veteran of the industry, having grown up in his family’s business, providing vending, OCS, cafeteria and catering services to southern Louisiana. In the early 1980s, Kronenberg wrote software to manage the company’s operation and founded CompuVend Systems. CompuVend was the first to develop a coin counter interface and handheld computer application for use on routes and warehouses, the first to provide line-item tracking of products in machines, and the only company to provide software to manage commissary operations. After selling CompuVend to Cantaloupe Systems in 2014, Kronenberg worked for Cantaloupe Systems and USA Technologies after their acquisition. He lent his experience to several areas of both companies and was responsible for introducing Cantaloupe’s Seed Cashless Plus to the industry. In 2019, he left USAT/Cantaloupe and started Automated Retail Associates, which performs projects, consulting services and training for vending and foodservice companies. He is an original member of the DEX standards committee, the VDI Task Force and the VDI Task Force subcommittee on Remote Price Change standards.

Steven Lambert

Steven Lambert started in 1996 at Southern Coffee/Vending Chattanooga, washing coffee bowls and testing and cleaning bottled water coolers and coffee makers. Then, he learned how to repair the equipment, including vending machines, and learned how to work with bean-to-cup coffee machines. In July 2011, Lambert became a certified technician on Franke Sinfonia coffee systems. In January 2017, Southern Coffee was acquired by Five Star Food Service, and for the first three years, he worked in the OCS division, adding vending and markets in summer 2020. Since joining Five Star, Lambert has also become certified in refrigeration. Lambert says he is grateful to have worked with experienced technicians and learned from them.

Bill Lockett

Bill Lockett joined VendSys/NAYAX and led VendSys to become a leading provider of VMS and OCS management systems in 2009 as the sales and marketing director. Lockett began his career at National Cash Register in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1974, migrating from programmer to sales and launched NCR’s first electronic cash register and barcode reader. From 1981 to 1985, Lockett was the sales and marketing director for route management systems for beer wholesalers at Tudor Systems. In 1986, he was the co-founder and VP of sales for vending, OCS and DSD management systems at Rutherford & Associates. In 1996, he became VP of sales at inOne Technology, which became the first provider of DEX retrofits and teamed with NAMA for VDI DEX standard. In 2001-2008, Lockett was top VMS and DSD sales rep for Streamware. In 2015, Lockett founded Copper Branch, LLC. He was also awarded Automatic Merchandiser’s Pros to Know in 2016. Lockett graduated from North Louisiana University with a management information systems degree and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, receiving the Presidential Unit Citation and Purple Heart.

Joe Loparco

Joe Loparco began his career in the industry in 1973 as a sales rep for Abbott Coin and later, Empire Distributing. After starting two businesses, including Just Good Games, he acquired the rights to Service America’s vending machine remanufacturing facility in Charlotte, N.C. in 1989. He founded Automated Services International Inc. in 1997, and he partnered with Global Payment Technologies and Mars Electronics to develop and support payment systems for Coke Moscow, Russia. In 2000, he partnered with Kraft Foods and its Russian distributor, Mercury Food & Beverage, to launch an office coffee service operation in Moscow. As co-founder of ZAO Automated Service, the company secured the exclusive contract to place vending machines in 1,600 Moscow secondary schools. In 2012, he co-founded micro market pioneer, Revive Self Service Café. Most recently, Loparco entered into a consultancy agreement with Swiss technology company Invenda to help Invenda penetrate the U.S. vending market.

Mike Knowlton

Mike Knowlton started in the food business in Chicago in 1987 with LeGout Foods, a maker of soups and soup bases, a division of Kellogg’s. He then moved over to the Kellogg Foodservice business and relocated to its corporate headquarters in Michigan in 1992. He started in the Kellogg vend business in 1996, managing the rapidly growing Rice Krispies Treats business and launching Pop-Tarts in the channel. After successfully integrating the acquired Keebler business into the Kellogg organization in 2003, Knowlton moved to Texas and returned to the foodservice business for six years. Once again, he returned to the vend business in 2009 and has been an integral part of growing the channel to over $100 million for Kellogg.

Carl Miceli

Carl Miceli began his career in the refreshment services industry in 1988 by joining the team at Interstate United Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. After getting experience under his belt, he and his father, Don Miceli, a seasoned industry veteran, decided to start their own company out of the family’s garage. Since then, Quality Vending & Coffee Co. has grown to become one of the largest independent operators in its region. For over 30 years, Miceli has led from the front, not just for his company but also for all independent operators. Throughout the company’s growth, Miceli has been a prominent voice in the industry, preaching the importance of a level playing field for independent operators as they compete against national powerhouses. Quality Vending & Coffee Co. wouldn’t be where it is today without the efforts of Miceli.

Bill Moxey

Bill Moxey began his 40-year career in foodservice at the University of Maryland, where he was a scholar athlete and earned degrees in economics and social science. After graduating, he moved into corporate restaurant operations roles at several national chains and eventually moved to the supplier side of the industry at PepsiCo Foodservice & Vending. Over the next 23 years, Moxey transitioned from sales leadership to roles in strategy, sales capabilities, organizational structure and innovation, delivering several industry-changing initiatives. Today, he continues leading the way at PepsiCo and in the industry by bringing to life the Quik portfolio of equipment solutions designed to drive growth for operators in the unattended retail space. He is an active member of the industry, closely working with NAMA leadership where he helps set the unattended retail agenda by hosting education seminars and white papers on the future of the industry. As a mentor and leader to many at PepsiCo and in the industry, his merits have landed him several of PepsiCo’s highest awards, including a two-time winner of PepsiCo’s Global Chairman’s Award.

Dave Nemeth

David Nemeth is the technical service manager for Coinco products sold by PayComplete. His career in the vending industry began in 1985 as a bench technician working for Midland Marketing repairing coin changers and MAKA dollar bill validators. In 1990, Nemeth joined Conlux as its national service supervisor, responsible for technical support and training for Conlux products to operators, distributors, bottlers and OEMs. Nemeth joined Coin Acceptors (Coinco) in 1995 as a field service representative. In a few years, he was promoted to customer service manager. He learned the Coinco products and traveled nationally conducting training classes for operators, distributors, OEMs and bottlers on the Coinco product line. Nemeth also answered technical support phone calls and emails from customers and worked closely with all the Coinco departments to improve product reliability. In 2018, Coinco was sold to Suzohapp, and Nemeth was among a select few employees that were acquired by Suzohapp. Here, he was responsible for educating the Suzohapp global organization for Coinco products.

Jim Padjen

Jim Padjen joined the Van Lock Company in 1984 as the company’s general manager. At that time, Van Lock had already been in existence for 25 years and had a growing presence in the vending and bottling industry. Padjen, a veteran of the security sales industry, continued to grow the business by serving the needs of vending companies worldwide. Along the way, he purchased the Van Lock Company and continues to actively work in the business. Padjen has always believed in offering a high-quality product that was made in the USA, a tradition Van Lock still firmly stands behind. For nearly 40 years, Padjen has travelled the world representing Van Lock and remains a fixture at industry events. He proudly considers many customers, colleagues and employees as some of his closest friends.

Paresh Patel

Paresh Patel is the visionary founder and CEO of PayRange, the mobile payment solution revolutionizing the consumer experience in vending, laundry, amusement and other industries. Patel’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for utilizing cutting-edge technologies to enhance established business models have driven his success. Starting out as a vending operator, his firsthand experiences led him to invent PayRange. Deloitte has ranked PayRange among the top 100 fastest growing technology companies in North America, and EY recognized Patel as the 2022 regional Entrepreneur of the Year. Patel’s unique ability to connect seemingly disparate ideas, simplify products and design exceptional customer experiences has garnered him widespread recognition and respect in the industry.

Les Perry

Les Perry, vice president of Riverside Refreshments, is a third-generation bottler and foodservice veteran. He followed in his granddad’s and father’s footsteps and now works with his dad, Ed, along with his brother Heath, who runs their local KDP bottling distribution company in Augusta, Georgia. Perry says the greatest pleasure in running a family-owned business is the close relationships he and his family have with their long-term employees; many have served for 30-40 years. Perry has seen the foodservice side of the company grow during his tenure, from a two-route operation to over 30 micro market, vending and OCS routes today. They have enjoyed being a part of the Canteen family since 2008. He credits Lightspeed and Gimme as the two best technological choices they ever made.

Warren Philips

Warren Philips is a developer of industry-leading software systems for route distribution. He founded Validata in 1978, which has pioneered software and interfaces to vending equipment and electronic advancement for over 37 years. He is also a co-founder of VendScape. Today, Philips and his team are involved in the development, sales, training and support of its route distribution systems. Philips manages the design, engineering, development, testing and processes, end user implementation and definition of best practices. He has spent his career helping people implement basic business principles and to manage technology transitions. He learned the fundamentals of inventory, cost control and route distributing at an early age. He is a founding member of the NAMA DEX committee, co-founder and chairman of NAMA VIDTS committee, contributor to VDI Standards Task Force, a guest professor for Michigan State University’s vending class, and a representative for Alabama Vending Association at the Alabama State House.

Marc Rosset

Marc Rosset is the founder of Professional Vending Consultants Inc. (PVC), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With this milestone, PVC has represented over 310 separate mergers and acquisition transactions. Through tireless research and diligence, Rosset has been instrumental in establishing popular guidelines and standards for transactions based on fairness, precedent and fair market value. As an industry-leading intermediary, Rosset works with both the buyer and seller in formulating fair deals that both parties can readily agree to. This business model saves his clients time, money and stress. His expert market appraisals used for court proceedings, new partnerships and corporate financing helps clients in growing their business and planning the right exit strategies. Rosset has published many articles and was also one of Automatic Merchandiser’s Pros to Know award winners.

Richard Scherer

Richard Scherer began his career in 1972 in Oakland, California, as an executive trainee for Canteen at Oakland Cigarette Service (OCS). In 1980, Oakland Vending Service (OVS) grew under Scherer’s leadership to operate over 1,000 cigarette machines, 1,000 video games, 500 jukeboxes and 150 pool tables. In 1993, Scherer started The Pelican Group (TPG), and today, TPG manages 77 national accounts and over 50,000 pieces of equipment. TPG employs 15 knowledgeable employees who possess the ability to contract with over 600 vending and amusement companies across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The company is set to celebrate its 30-year anniversary in April 2023. Scherer is extremely grateful to his staff; some have been with him for 28 years. He also considers himself extremely blessed and humbled to have his sons working in the business he started 30 years ago and continuing his legacy. Today, Scherer remains active in the company as its founder and CEO, leading strategic acquisitions and financial oversight.

Greg Sidwell

Greg Sidwell is the founder and president of G & J Marketing and Sales (established in 1984). His visionary example in general management, marketing and innovation has driven business performance across a diverse range of food and beverage categories in the vending, office coffee, technology and specialty retail channels. During the last 39 years, Sidwell has developed a high standard of excellence in the industry through sales performance and a focus on innovation and disciplined execution. He has been the chairman of the NAMA board of directors (2019-2020) and chair of the board of trustees of the NAMA Foundation (2020-2021). Sidwell was also named Industry Person of the Year (2021 and 2008), Vending Allies Member of the Year (2007) and Alumni Association Industry Leader of the Year (2007). Sidwell is dedicated to giving back to his community – as a donor of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and a participant of its annual charity events.

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor is a business executive, philanthropist and the chief executive officer of Burdette Beckmann Inc. (BBI), a national sales agency focused on the best-in-class representation of consumer products. Taylor joined BBI in 1983 and has since taken the Florida-based family-owned company to become a national agency in 50 states. He led the acquisition of 34 companies giving BBI a substantial edge and the scale needed to service Fortune 500 companies such as Kraft, Mondelēz, General Mills and Conagra, to name a few. Taylor is actively involved in corporate philanthropy by partnering with nonprofit organizations like Sheridan House Family Ministries to provide housing for single moms and with Habitat for Humanity to offer affordable housing to low-income families. Taylor also worked on underwriting Back on My Feet’s new chapter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to combat homelessness through the power of running and community support.

Paul Van Vleck

Paul Van Vleck joined Burdette Beckmann Inc. (BBI) in 1999 and had 11 prior years of unattended retail and management experience. He worked at Rogers American of Florida for 18 months and was the vice president and general manager of Gulf Stream Distributors in Tampa, Florida, for over nine years. At BBI, Van Vleck serves as the vice president for unattended retail overseeing the largest team in the segment. He manages and plans all the national manufacturers and BBI operations. His expertise is rooted in a small format: convenience services, vending, micro markets, office coffee, hospitality and corrections. Van Vleck is a NAMA NCE5 certified executive and has won several Manufacturer Broker of the Year Awards in addition to being a Pros to Know recipient. He has served on various industry boards and committees (SEVA, ACE, AMAF, GMAC, AVA and TNVA). 

Steve Vargas

Steve Vargas has been working in the vending and conveniences services industry since the early 1980s, first for Canteen as a route driver. He then spent decades working with corporate branches as well as franchises. He has enjoyed the last 15 years working for The Atnip Co. as a broker, supporting customers in the Northwest. Vargas actively supports local association NAVA as a past president and looks forward to attending NAMA every year. Vargas says his life has been enriched by many people he has met in the vending and convenience services industry through the years. He thanks his colleagues for whom he has the deepest respect and to his family and friends that have helped him grow along the way.

Joe Webster

Joe Webster is the founder and CEO of Newco Enterprises Inc., a design manufacturer of commercial coffee and tea brewing equipment located in Saint Charles, Missouri. Newco was founded in 1974 by the Webster and Vittoe families, beginning with the design and manufacture of a commercial coffee brewer and eventually establishing an OEM replacement parts business, all from Webster’s garage. Webster’s commitment and passion for the coffee industry has continued for nearly 50 years, marked by listening to customers and creating innovative brewing solutions to meet their needs in the OCS, foodservice and convenience store markets. While the pandemic changed the world, Webster and his team at Newco changed the dynamic of brewing coffee through the innovation of touchless solutions. Webster has instilled a family-oriented, customer-driven culture at Newco, which today employs 150 valued associates. Newco will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024. Webster is a member of NAMA, NAFEM and YPO.

Cliff Whitehead

Cliff Whitehead started his career with Flowers Foods after graduating from Valdosta State University in 1982 with a BBA in marketing and management. He was promoted to several marketing and leadership positions, and in 1989, he was tasked with launching the Convenience Services division for Flowers. Over the next 31 years, Whitehead oversaw the development of Mrs. Freshley’s brand of snack cakes into the top-selling pastry brand in the industry. After a successful 37-year career with Flowers, Whitehead took an early retirement package in 2020. He is now a partner and CSO with Emerging Brands Group, a national sales and marketing firm that specializes in bringing emerging brands into the convenience services space. Whitehead says the industry has taught him about the importance of character, integrity and relationships. Whitehead has served on the board of directors of NAMA for six years and was the trade show advisory chair. He also served on the Georgia Automatic Merchandising Council for 15 years and is currently the secretary/treasurer.

Jimmy Wilmore

Jimmy Wilmore began filling snack machines when he was nine years old in 1969 when his father purchased Tom’s distributorship – Shreveport Tom’s. In 1980, it began providing drink, food and coffee machines as a full-line vending company. Wilmore started full time in 1982, after college at LSU. In 1983, Wilmore’s wife, Kim, began working in the family business where she still works today. In 2000, Wilmore purchased the business from his father, and in 2003, he changed the name to Wilmore Snack Sales. After becoming a Canteen franchise and some key acquisitions, Wilmore grew the company to what it is today – covering all of north Louisiana and parts of east Texas. Wilmore Snack Sales proudly celebrated its 20th anniversary as a Canteen franchise. Wilmore has served as SEVA board member 2015-2021, SEVA chairman in 2019, and secretary/treasurer of Vending Machines of Louisiana 2014-2021.

Butch Winkler

Butch Winkler entered the OCS business in 1981 as a small operator in New York. Within eight short years, the company grew 10 times its original size. Today, Winkler is president of Holiday House Distributing (HHD). From the early beginning in his attic to its current 35,000-square-foot buildings in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, HHD has grown into a one-stop shop for over 6,000 items. Winkler’s entrepreneurialism, ideas, imagination and determination have allowed the company to grow through the years. Winkler has shared his knowledge with many over the years, and he has served on the NAMA board, been recognized as a NAMA Coffee Legend, NCE, a founding member of NAMA’s Coffee Tea & Water Show, and served on several NAMA committees. Holiday House Distributing was awarded the Supplier of the Year by ECSA, SCBA, ECSA and NAMA.

Francis “Chip” Wittern Jr.

For over 30 years, Chip Wittern has worked in the automated dispensing industry providing expertise and leadership around product innovation, business development and operations. He has held positions ranging from sales to production to operations and general management. As president and founder of Intelligent Dispensing Solutions, a member company of The Wittern Group, he is focused on all aspects of growth enablement including business development, market expansion, national account management and new product development. Wittern operates under a philosophy attributed to his father, F.A. Wittern: “If we take care of our customer, we take care of ourselves.” As a founding member of The Wittern Foundation, he is proud to support nonprofit organizations including the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the Mayo Clinic, Junior Achievement of Central Iowa, and United Way.


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The deadline is approaching for Automatic Merchandiser's 2024 Legends of the Year Awards

Dec. 20, 2023
Nominate yourself or a colleague for our second annual Legends of the Year Awards. The nominee must have 25 years in the vending or office coffee service industry. The deadline...
Automatic Merchandiser
Automatic Merchandiser Pros to Know Awards 2023
Automatic Merchandiser Pros to Know Awards 2023
Automatic Merchandiser Pros to Know Awards 2023
Automatic Merchandiser Pros to Know Awards 2023
Automatic Merchandiser Pros to Know Awards 2023

Automatic Merchandiser announces 2023 Pros to Know Award winners

Nov. 6, 2023
Congratulations to the 2023 award winners for their achievements in promoting industry innovation and future growth.
Automatic Merchandiser
Screen Shot 2023 09 07 At 11 40 16 Am
Screen Shot 2023 09 07 At 11 40 16 Am
Screen Shot 2023 09 07 At 11 40 16 Am
Screen Shot 2023 09 07 At 11 40 16 Am
Screen Shot 2023 09 07 At 11 40 16 Am

Automatic Merchandiser announces the 2023 40 Under 40 Award winners

Sept. 7, 2023
Automatic Merchandiser recognizes young leaders in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry.
Automatic Merchandiser
Pros To Know Am2023 Printad Proof
Pros To Know Am2023 Printad Proof
Pros To Know Am2023 Printad Proof
Pros To Know Am2023 Printad Proof
Pros To Know Am2023 Printad Proof

The deadline is extended! Nominate a colleague for Automatic Merchandiser's 2023 Pros to Know Awards

Aug. 24, 2023
Automatic Merchandiser's Pros to Know Awards highlights both individual and group achievements that promote industry innovation and future growth. The deadline has been extended...