We are a restaurant group that thrives on creating authentic and inspiring experiences for the communities we serve. Through the contributions of countless incredible people, past and present, we’re headed to the moon with a simple mission — to make people feel good.



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Core Values


Our eclectic team is comprised of some of the most talented, grounded, and innovative people you’ll ever meet.  While no one is quite like the other, it’s our common values that bring us all together!

Our Team


The Lab (aka our HQ)

  • Brent Renner

    Chief Development Officer

    A Washington, DC native, Brent learned his passion for real estate from his father (and a Masters in Real Estate Development from Johns Hopkins University), then earned his stripes working at The Peterson Companies and Simon Property Group and helping to grow brands like Chipotle and Cava into national powerhouses. Brent is responsible for the full lifecycle of our portfolio from the development of the national growth strategy , site acquisition and development, through asset management. Brent is bringing our mission statement of Making People Feel Good to the world, one perfectly-picked and awesomely restored location at a time.
  • Anoop Matthew

    Chief Financial Officer

    Born in India and raised in Nigeria, with a degree in Hotel Administration from Switzerland and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, Anoop is not your usual bean counter. Which makes him the perfect CFO for Upward Projects, bringing that holistic, human touch to the back-of-house, and always ensuring that we’re as focused on our people as our bottom line. When he’s not crunching numbers, Anoop can be found (if you try hard enough) biking and hiking his way the Arizona desert, connecting with nature and clearing his thoughts.
  • Brittany Baldwin

    Sr. Director of Marketing

    Brittany left the Bay Area in California to become a Wildcat at the University of Arizona. After graduating, Brittany traded her red and blue Wildcat gear for a professional pantsuit, and went to work for the Arizona Coyotes NHL team. After gaining experience there, Brittany joined the Upward Projects team to lead our marketing department where she is the master at content creating, event management, and everything in between. In her leisure time, Brittany is hiking with her son and husband, or catching up on all her favorite TV shows.
  • Lauren Bailey

    Co-Founder + CEO

    The CEO and Co-Founder of Upward Projects, Lauren Bailey always knew that one day she would rock the restaurant industry. With a degree in Business and Fine Arts from Arizona State University in one hand, and lifelong passion for hospitality in the other, Lauren set out to do just that. A creative powerhouse and master strategist, Lauren focuses on strategy, conceptualization and development for 18 restaurants and five brands spanning three states. In her free time, she can be found hunting for treasures in vintage shops, chasing her son, Blake, around, cooking meals with friends, or traveling the world.
  • Steve Smylie

    Area Director

    With experience in the hospitality industry since he was 15, Steve is a master motivator and Area Director who raised the standard for everyone at Upward Projects. As Area Director, Steve uses his vast well of experience, enthusiasm and mentorship qualities to train and motivate our store leaders. When he’s not crushing it on the job, you can find Steve crushing it on the driving range.
  • AJ Jolley

    Area Director

    An Upward Projects vet of seven years, and a former collegiate soccer player, AJ brings an electric energy and passion to the room as soon as she walks in. A natural mentor and leader, AJ is always offering encouragement and words of wisdom to the Upward team. In her new role as an Area Manager, she’s able to offer her expertise and advice to our Postino leaders, employees, and beyond. In a past life, AJ used to play college soccer and brings that same fire and passion to Team Upward daily.
  • Alex Taylor

    Chief Operating Officer

    Busy overseeing all the operational functions of Upward Projects, Alex is our Chief Operating Officer who is responsible for making sure all the operations on a day-to-day basis run as smooth as clockwork. And like any good COO, he’s always finding ways to improve what we do and how we do it. Professional yet playful, Alex will be killing it on the job one minute, then starting up a ping pong match with you the next. Out of the office, he can be spotted shredding the slopes or hanging with his family.
  • Brent Karlicek

    Director of Beverage

    Brent is our Beverage Director at Upward and lucky for us, he’s an Advanced Sommelier who knows all kinds of fun facts about wine. He honed his passion for wines while working summers in California’s wine country before moving to Phoenix in the last 1990s.  After making his mark overseeing the beverage program at a number of restaurants around the Valley, Brent now uses his worldwide network of wineries and distilleries to keep Upward’s beverage programs fresh and on the cutting edge. Outside of the beverage world, Brent is a biker, hiker, vinyl collector and at-home chef.
  • Craig Demarco


    Craig is our Co-Founder who brings the funky spirit to Upward Projects everyday. Growing up he was surrounded by punk skate culture and the Beastie Boys was the soundtrack of his life. After combining these passions with his restaurant and travel experience to create a chill neighborhood wine bar, today Craig continues to bring that same rebel spirit by asking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if..?” which keeps the company true to its roots.  In his free time, Craig and his wife, Kris, and their two boys love surfing the CA waves or hiking the mountains closer home.
  • Samuel Foos

    VP of People and Culture

    As a native Texan, Sam was practically born with hospitality in his blood. With 15+ years of industry experience and a stack of certifications, he is a cornerstone to our operation. Overseeing our Human Resources department, Sam is our fountain of wisdom when it comes to all things company culture related. A man of many skills, Sam also has hidden talents that keep us on our toes, such as speaking German or moonwalking.

  • Eric Henderson

    SR. Director of Operations

    Eric came to us with smarts from industry mavericks such as The Four Seasons and Le Cordon Bleu. Craving more in life, Eric took a leap when he joined us, leaving the luxurious corporate companies to work for the little guy and make an impact. Eric didn’t climb the ladder here - he built it. In his free time, he’s watching football, rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, or jamming out to the latest rap hits.
  • Brad Killion

    Director of Construction

  • Marissa Travis

    Catering Sales Manager

  • Sam Hendricks

    Graphic Designer

    After earning her Graphic Design degree at ASU, Sam nestled into Phoenix and left her Minnesota roots behind. Sam brings some mad skillz to the table, and you’ll find her adding color to our branding! When she's not nose deep in her Pantone color books, you can find her hiking the trails of Sedona with her partner Luis and pup Vinny!  
  • Lindsey Norwood


  • Jared Sowinski

    SR. Manager of Beverage

  • Oscar Cota

    Facility Services Technician

  • Heather Card

    Director of Learning & Development

  • Christian Tingler

    Director of Financial Planning & Analysis

  • Alex Gonzalez

    People & Culture Administrator

  • Aaron Kimberlin

    Director of Design & Development

  • Sandra Molimard

    Sr. Restaurant Accountant

    Sandra is a Senior Restaurant Accountant whose role is much larger than just crunching numbers. When she’s not analyzing data or carving out cost-savings, she’s busy planning parties and organizing group outings to new lunch spots for the team. Once the spreadsheets are tabulated, Sandra is out having fun with her three kiddos, enjoying happy hour, or out on the soccer field.
  • Jason Spencer

    Director of Recruiting

    Jason is a Nebraskan native who traded corn for cacti when he moved to Phoenix. With 15 years of industry knowledge, as Director of Recruiting here at Upward, he handles all things staffing and hiring, a huge role in keeping our company culture alive and well. After he’s done surfing through applications, interviews, and LinkedIn profiles, he can be found using his “perfected” algorithm to predict the next winning lottery number.
  • Elise Griffin

    Payroll Manager

    A New Zealand native, Elise is our Payroll Manager who tackles the HR needs of our 1000+ employees. Her research skills, resourcefulness, and impeccable ability to problem solve are just a few of her talents. In her free time, she loves cooking, riding bikes, and watching baseball while cuddling with her pets.
  • Katy Staneart

    Staff Accountant

    Born and raised in Gilbert, Arizona, Katy is our Staff Accountant who has been with the company for four years. A former rockabilly musician, Katy now makes beautiful music with even the most complex, confounding financial reports. Outside of work, she is a super-mom to her two sons and you can find her tearing it up on the dance floor, or glamming up brides on their big day with her side-hustle.
  • Sarah Pak

    Project Director

    Hailing from Dallas, Sarah climbed her way through the ranks of the industry to now oversee all our employee training at Upward Projects. Her daily duties revolve around training our entire 1000+ team members, from serves and chefs to managers. Sarah’s educating skills are a key ingredient in the Upward Projects operations. A self-proclaimed foodaholic, Sarah didn’t need any additional training to make this job the perfect fit.
  • Bailey Underwood

    Marketing Project Manager

    While getting her Business degree, Bailey was busy rocking the Upward Projects Marketing Internship and also working at Postino. Now at the Lab, she creates fresh content for our six social media accounts. She also helps to create amazing experiences, from the best company holiday parties we’ve ever seen, to the casual 2pm dance parties with her work crew to break up the day. In her downtime, she’s out thrifting, or making handmade pasta.
  • Amy Hwang

    Financial Controller

    Amy is our Financial Controller who is a math wiz by day, and yogi by night. She oversees all the accounting activities happening at Upward Projects and is as adept at balancing a budget and she is balancing an Eagle Pose. With a background in finance for the past 8 years, Amy’s knowledge and skills have proven invaluable to this fast-growing team. Once the work day is done, she loves spending time with her 4 tiny dogs, going for a run, participating in book club and of course, trying out new yoga techniques.
  • Cesar Jovel

    Culinary Standards Manager

  • Melanie Fanton

    Front Desk Receptionist

    Melanie is a California native who traded sandy beaches for sandy deserts when she moved to Arizona to work with us. As the Front Desk Receptionist, her smiling face is the first thing you’ll encounter when you walk into The Lab. With her 20 years of experience in the industry and warm personality, we consider Melanie the conductor of the office, coordinating the consistent flow of the phone, calls, emails, and questions. She lives by the daily mantra, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
  • Jason Thomson

    R&M Technician

    Ever notice that your favorite Postino patio is lit to perfection? Or how sparkly clean our parking lots look? Thank our go-to Handyman, Jason! Jason started working at Upward Projects seven years ago as a dishwasher and today, he uses his mechanical skills and handiwork as our R&M Technician. His job is to ensure that every restaurant looks fresh and squeaky clean. In addition to being responsible for maintaining all the little details that make our spaces look fab on a daily basis, he’s also responsible for so many of the laughs we have at Upward Projects.
  • Shannon Wallace

    Catering Assistant

    With 6 years at Postino, Shannan Wallace is our Catering Assistant who knows the menu like the back of her hand. She is often the first contact to assist our guests, as she helps organize and execute events ranging from small baby showers to large off-site weddings. In addition to her expert event and multitasking talents, she’s also a natural in the kitchen, where she’s busy whipping up new recipes over a glass of wine.
  • Marisa Bigler

    Senior Graphic Designer

    A year after leading the design for the Federal Pizza brand, Marisa was asked to join the UP crew at the Lab. Along with keeping the visual identity of our concepts looking fresh, Marisa uses her eye for design and knack for details to bring ideas to fruition. When she’s not hunting for the perfect typeface, she’s jamming to heavy metal or hunting for her next DIY project: thrifting vintage items, sewing waxed canvas bags, or making house upgrades with her hubby and her cat.
  • Jenny Delgado

    Beverage Educator

    Jenny is our seasoned and beloved Beverage Educator. With more than 10 years of experience with Upward Projects, she’s our go-to gal for all things vino and ale. In addition to her charm and hospitality, Jenny is an exceptional teacher and shares her beverage knowledge with Upward’s next wave of wine and beer aficionados. When Jenny is not teaching about wine, she’s on the hunt to find the best Pinot Noir this side of the Mississippi to add to her personal collection.
  • Phillip Bock

    Executive Assistant

    Phillip Bock, better known as “PBock,” is our Executive Assistant who dazzles everyone he meets with his wit, sass, and unreal multitasking. You can always count on him for organized notes, coordinating meetings, crafting a perfectly worded email, or providing much needed coffee runs. Ever since he came to Upward Projects there has been more sparkle and magic in our world. Aside from his love of glitter, Phillip also has a love for travel, literature, and live theatre.



We’re always on the lookout for awesome, authentic people to add to our family!