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



  • Steve Smylie

    Area Manager

    Once the student now the master, Steve Smylie has been in the hospitality business since he was 15 years old (same age as the Karate Kid). The day he joined Upward Projects, Steve raised the standard for everyone. As an Area Manager, Steve uses his vast well of experience and mentorship qualities to train and motivate our store leaders. We consider him a Level 10 Master Motivator.  When Steve is not absolutely crushing it on the job, he is crushing it on driving range. He can probably drive the ball like 593 yards, probably.
  • Eric Ramirez

    Director of Culinary

    From King of the Prom to King of the Kitchen, Eric reigns excellence wherever he goes. After graduating from Arizona Culinary Institute (we’re sure that if they had a Prom, he would have won there too), Eric cut his teeth at a myriad of restaurants across The Valley before earning his stripes to become Executive Chef. His daily to-do’s include testing: the toastiness of bread, viscosity of salsa, and ratio of fig to cheese. So he’s the head honcho in charge of innovating, menu testing and paying close attention to all the glorious details.
  • AJ Jolley

    Area Manager

    An Upward Projects vet of seven years, AJ brings an electric energy to the room as soon as she walks in. During her time as a General Manager, AJ was a Mr. Miyagi (of sorts) for anyone that came in contact with her - offering encouragement, words of wisdom and technique on how to avoid a roundhouse kick. In her new role as an Area Manager, she’s able to offer her expertise and advice to our Postino leaders and employees. In a past life, AJ used to play collegiate soccer and brings that same fire and passion to Team Upward daily!  
  • Steve Chang

    Culinary Standard Manager

    Steve is responsible for ensuring that all food quality and recipes for our concepts are top notch. In the kitchen he’s a detail master, making sure that the smallest of tasks are executed with precision. No matter which Postino you’re eating your bruschetta at, it was Steve Chang who ensured the bread had the perfect level of toastiness. When he is not measuring the surface area of the tortillas at Joyride, you can find building an awesome LEGO creation with his son Jayden. He can also tell you how to dice a tomato in 4 languages.
  • Kristina Cashman

    Chief Financial Officer

    What’s in a name? Cashman was practically destined to become a financial managing powerhouse and has spent the better part of 20 years doing just that. As our CFO, she keeps a sharp eye on our expenses, cash flow, and budgets. Before we can make it rain dolla bills, Kristina has to construct a plan on how we get there. She has a history of rising to the top whether it’s in her professional career or sports, where she captained her volleyball team at The University of Texas to back-to-back NCAA Final Four appearances. Baller.
  • Brent Karlicek

    Director of Beverage

    Better known as BK, he is far too humble to tell you about the romantic life he leads, so we’ll give you the highlights: 1) He’s an Advanced Sommelier, which means he can tell what kind of soil a grape was grown in. Crazy, right?  2) BK has created relationships with a worldwide network of wineries and distilleries, which he uses to keep all our beverage programs fresh and innovative. 3) He dabbles in cycling, hiking, wine, cooking, wine, collecting killer vinyl, and wine. Most Interesting Man in the Company? Indeed.
  • Sarah Pak

    Director of Training

    Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Sarah made her way through the ranks of the industry and now oversees all of our employee training. They say: “Those who can’t do, teach” and to them we say, “You have not met Sarah Pak.” Sarah’s ability to coordinate the training and education of our chefs, managers, and servers is a key ingredient to our secret sauce. She’s a self-proclaimed foodaholic who specializes in bacon tasting and enjoys busting a move or two on the dance floor.
  • Lauren Bailey

    Co-Founder + CEO

    Lauren knew that one day she would rock the restaurant industry. With a degree in Business and Fine Arts and a pocket full of summer earnings, Lauren set out to do just that. A creative powerhouse and master strategist, Lauren balances the act of looking at the big picture without forgetting the important details. In her free time, she can be found wrangling her 4-year-old son (the “man-imal”) Blake, getting lost in vintage shops, making her costume ideas come to life, and traveling the world. Next stop: The Moon!
  • Amy Hwang

    Financial Controller

    Amy can balance a budget faster than you can ask “Where’s my calculator?”  Aside from keeping us all from spending money like drunken sailors, Amy oversees all things finance and numbers-related. With her skill with spreadsheets and calculations, we’ve all surmised that she's a mathematical wizard. If you think balancing a budget is impressive, you should see this former high school mathlete balance in a handstand. On a cliff.  And by cliff, we mean on the back of a Great White Shark. Let’s just say she digs yoga.
  • Craig Demarco


    Growing up on a healthy dose of skate culture and Beastie Boys, Craig Demarco combined these passions with his restaurant and travel experience to create a chill neighborhood wine bar. Who says wine and punk can’t mix? Today he continues to bring that same rebel spirit by asking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if..?” which almost always results in something badass. Craig aims to keep the company true to its roots and leads by example. In his free time, he’s with his wife, Kris, and their two boys - surfing the CA waves or hiking near their home.
  • Samuel Foos

    Director of Human Resources

    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. Sam oversees our Human Resources and is an ever-growing tree of knowledge, blossoming fruits of wisdom in the garden of company culture - basically, he knows his s*@#. In addition, he possesses a Mary Poppins bag full of hidden talents, such as moonwalking, speaking German, doing an impressive number of pull-ups, and probably dozens more he has yet to unveil.
  • Eric Henderson

    Director of Operations

    Nicknamed “The Honey Badger” for his tenacity, Eric came to us with smarts from industry mavericks such as The Four Seasons and Le Cordon Bleu. Wanting more in life, Eric took a chance when he joined us, leaving the luxurious life of corporate companies to work for the little guy and make an impact.  Eric didn’t climb the ladder here - he built it. He oversees the operations of the whole damn show.  In his free time, he’s rooting for the Dallas Cowboys (try not to judge) or jamming to gangsta rap with a fidget spinner in hand.
  • Brittany Baldwin

    Director of Marketing

    Brittany left the Bay Area to become a Wildcat at the University of Arizona.  After graduating, Brittany set down the Solo cup and put on a pantsuit to work for the Arizona Coyotes (the NHL hockey team - not a pack of wild animals). Once she realized that working in a giant freezer wasn’t her thing, Brittany joined Upward Projects to lead our marketing department. She’s a master content creator, event maker, and nacho eater. In her leisure time, Brittany is hiking with her son and husband or secretly catching up on The Bachelor.
  • Tory Demarce

    Director of Development

    Starting with us as a bartender back in ‘04, Tory has climbed (and mastered) the ranks, earning him the unofficial title of "Swiss Army Knife." Balancing the planning and building of new sites while managing the upkeep of our stores is no easy feat.  As a formidable multi-tasker, he can sign off on construction permits with his right hand while simultaneously pulling a prank with his left. With a steady fuel of Dr Pepper and terrible Dad jokes, Tory brings an energy to the lab that we are all the better for.


  • Elise Griffin

    Human Resources Administrator

    Deemed the “Silent Assassin” for her expert research skills, resourcefulness, and impeccable ability to solve problems, Elise assists the HR needs of our 600+ employees. Whether it be Payroll or system implementation, she’s here to help. In her free time, she’s cooking legumes, riding bikes, or watching baseball while cuddling with her pets. Fun fact: Our resident kiwi grew up in New Zealand, so she’s a Lord of the Rings expert, obvi. (Go ahead, ask her! She’ll respond with a huge smile and a cool accent.)
  • Jessica Kallinen

    Restaurants & System Accountant

    Jessica is a well-seasoned restaurant accountant and has been number steward for “forever and ever”, based on our best research. As a restaurant and systems accountant, her daily tasks include… numbers and accounting stuff. A proud foster-dog-mom; you would be hard pressed to find any less than 3 dogs in her home at any time. When Jessica is not doing all that detailed accounting stuff we mentioned earlier, she’s traveling to a wide range of destinations. Her all-time favorites include wine country. Or just wine, she’s not picky.
  • Jax DeVincenzi

    Training Manager

    Jax (A.K.A. Jaxoncé) started with us at Postino, worked her way up, and now supports and executes our employee training programs. Jax takes all our new hires on a magic carpet ride to show them the world that is Upward Projects. She’s what we like to call a “Culture Warrior,” as she promotes the Upward mission with her positive energy and encouraging attitude. In her down time, she’s grooving to Beyoncé - hair whipping and all.
  • Shawn Selewa

    Restaurant Accountant

    Shawn does a lot for us. Instead of getting bogged down in the details, just know when it comes to: bank reconciliations, daily sales revenue, or any other accounting mumbo-jumbo, Shawn has that sh*t locked down. Outside his world of spreadsheets & number crunching, Shawn has a foot in the fashion world. We already knew he had style, but this guy also has a degree in Fashion Merchandising. This self-proclaimed foodie is always down to try the newest spot in the valley & never misses the opportunity to travel to a new destination.
  • Jason Spencer

    Director of Recruiting

    Jason is a Nebraska native who decided tacos are far superior to corn; as a result, he found himself in Arizona, where there are tacos aplenty. His 15 years of industry knowledge help him hold down the fort for all things recruiting and hiring. As such, he can get details about candidates even the NSA can’t acquire. When Jason is done creeping through your LinkedIn profile, he can be found perfecting his personal grooming techniques. Or using his “perfected” algorithm to predict the next winning lottery numbers.
  • Breezie Mullavey

    Hospitality Coordinator

    This AZ Native has been with Upward Projects for over 4 years now and earned her stripes at Joyride and Postino, before bringing her hospitality swagger to the Lab. Her smiling face is the first you’ll encounter when you walk in. Consider Breezie the heart of the office as she keeps the consistent flow of the office phone calls, emails, and questions making their way to the right folks. At home, she and her husband are building a small zoo consisting of three cats, one dog, a ball python, a Russian tortoise and a bearded dragon.
  • Ted Samuels

    IT Manager

    To be honest, we really didn’t know how badly we needed an IT guy, until Ted showed up on the scene. Ted is a one-man show when it comes to Information Technology - fixing all of our tech problems, boosting the office WiFi (we like our cat videos in HD), and setting up systems that help us run at least 5,000 times as efficiently as before. In his free time, Ted is most likely creating a virtual reality so realistic none of us know if we are living in it or not…or at least we think that’s what he is up to.
  • Katy Staneart

    Staff Accountant

    A few things to know about the lovely Katy: 1) Has a serious side-hustle glamming up brides on their big day; 2) In another life, rocked out in a rockabilly band; 3) The complex financial reports that intimidate most are something Katy can conjure up, and make it look super cinchy; 4) Is Super-Mom to her two sons.  Those are just a few things about Katy, so if you don’t know, now you know.
  • Melanie Fanton

    Front Desk Receptionist

    This California Native traded beach shorelines for cacti when she moved to work with us. She brought some serious industry experience with her, 20 years to be exact (Pam Beasley has nothing on Melanie). Her smiling face is the first you’ll encounter when you walk into The Lab. Consider Melanie the heart of the office as she keeps the consistent flow of the office phone calls, emails, and questions making their way to the right folks. She lives by the daily mantra, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.
  • Shannon Wallace

    Catering Assistant

    A 6-year Postino veteran, Shannon knows the menu better than most! She’s often the first contact to assist our guests, helping to organize and execute events ranging from small baby showers to large off-site weddings. Aside from expert patience and multitasking, she has some special talents up her sleeve, including cooking, being able to write with her toes, and watermelon carving (she carved the Taj Majal once - not with her toes, though.) At home, she’s whipping up new recipes over a glass of wine.
  • Ashley Davis

    Project Manager

    As a serious taskmaster for new store builds and remodel projects, we would vote Ashley “most likely to host her own HGTV show." Armed with a Master's Degree in Historic Preservation, she combines her experience in various materials with her unmatched eye for detail to keep our stores looking and functioning in tip-top shape. (This includes keeping our office plants thriving, as she’s the only green thumb!) At home, she’s watching movies or camping up north with her husband and their dog-children Reptar and Indie.
  • Kate Bullington

    Development Assistant

    Kate comes to us from a faraway land called Tucson, where she got her Bachelor’s degree at U of A. Her day-to-day includes scheduling maintenance, making references to The Office & sourcing furniture (she’s always on the prowl for vintage lamps). The next time you’re hanging at Postino & notice the sweet brass candle holders  - think of Kate. What makes her such a unique asset to our team is her ability to handle Tory’s never-ending stream of dad-jokes. In her time away from the office you can find Kate running for “fun”.
  • 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 all our concepts looking fresh-to-death, Marisa uses her eye for design and knack for details to bring ideas to fruition. This heavy-metal-loving cat-mom has a passion for design that doesn’t quit. When she’s not hunting for the perfect typeface, she’s hunting for the next DIY project: thrifting for vintage items, sewing waxed canvas bags, or making house upgrades with her hubby.
  • Adam Sandoval

    Graphic Designer

    After earning his Graphic Design degree at NAU, Adam headed south to the scorching deserts of Phoenix to sweat it out on his daily bike commute. Adam brings some mad skillz to the table, and you’ll find him tightening up our branding, creating rad enamel pins, or teaching himself how to create slick motion graphics. Don’t let his sarcastic façade fool you. Much like the Grinch, his heart grows three times in size when he’s spending time with his wife (who he is convinced is way out of his league), or baking us cookies.
  • Bailey Underwood

    Social Media Coordinator

    Bailey worked at Postino while simultaneously getting her Business degree and rocking the Marketing Internship. Now at the Lab, her main jam is creating fresh content for our six social media accounts. She also helps to create experiences - from throwing the best company holiday parties we’ve ever seen, to fulfilling her role as Lab Disco Ball Queen for a quick #2pmDanceParty with her crew. In her downtime, she’s thrifting at Buffalo (they should really sponsor her wardrobe), or hangin’ with her pup side-kick, Tucker.
  • Jenny Delgado

    Beverage Educator

    Jenny is a national treasure and seasoned Upward team member. She has more than 10 years of blood, sweat, and beers dedicated to this company. In addition to being Yelp-famous for her unmatched hospitality career at Postino, Jenny drops mad beverage knowledge on Upwards’ next wave of wine and beer aficionados. When Jenny is not teaching about wine, you can bet she’s on the hunt to find the best new Pinot Noir this side of the Mississippi to add to her personal collection.
  • Tom Marin

    Beverage Assistant

    Making his glorious debut serving at Federal Pizza, Tom (a Level 2 Sommelier) supports our beverage team. He’s basically our personal Ryan Seacrest, not just because of his dashingly good looks, but because he’s responsible for introducing new drinks to our store’s beverage programs. Plucking drinks from obscurity and putting them in the limelight.  After Tom woos you with his wine knowledge and hospitality, he’ll blow your mind on the dance floor while he casually falls into the splits.
  • Phillip Bock

    Executive Assistant

    This Canadian dreamboat, better known as “PBock” will dazzle you with his wit, sass and unreal multitasking. Phillip’s uncanny ability to organize notes, coordinate meetings, and craft a perfectly worded email (all while in line at Starbucks) has been known to cause some envy. Since entering the office ecosystem, let’s just say things have been more sparkly. Beyond his love of travel, literature, and live theatre, he has a disturbing love for glitter-bombing those who least expect it.



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