Payman Khania

Vice President, Hospitality Strategy
STAPLES Center & LA LIVE for Levy

Payman Khania currently serves as the Vice President of Hospitality Strategy at STAPLES Center & LA LIVE for Levy, a division of Compass Group USA. Payman oversees food, beverage, and retail operations throughout Staples Center and Microsoft Theater, in addition to supporting emerging technology and consumer insight verticals. Prior to joining Levy, he served as the President & COO for C Concepts LLC., a multi-unit gluten-free (GF) hospitality and specialty food company with e-commerce arm based in Napa, CA.

A Chicago native who worked in restaurants from an early age, Payman attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was a NCAA Division 1A athlete.  After sustaining an injury that forced him to give up sports, Khania focused on his passion for hospitality and landed a coveted internship with industry veteran Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants.  After graduating in 2001 with a Bachelor in Economics, Payman joined Levy Restaurants full time as a manager at Bistro 110 in Chicago where he reenergized this 18 year old staple Chicago restaurant. In 2003, Payman was promoted to General Manager of Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap, the newest restaurant concept for the Levy portfolio. 

In 2004, long-time friends of his recruited him to their company, Rockit Ranch Productions, a national entertainment development company, as Southern Regional Director of their upcoming Southern Florida properties.  Payman oversaw the $10 million development and opening of two of Rockit Ranch Productions’ flagship properties at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Larry Levy recruited Payman back to Chicago in 2005 to work as a consultant for Levy Innovations and sit on various executive committees for Levy Restaurants, where he would meet and forge his working relationship with future mentor, Chris Harter.  Payman became Director of National Openings for Levy Restaurants and opened seven different restaurant concepts for them nationally.  He worked closely with Larry Levy on several projects as a consultant for Levy Family Partners, his hotel and real estate development company.  After Compass Group fully acquired Levy Restaurants and was transitioning the company more towards contract food services, Payman opted to stay in multi-unit restaurant management and focus on scalable restaurant growth and culinary driven concepts.

Rockit Ranch was developing a new Asian concept, Sunda and asked Payman to help them open it. For a year, Payman helped develop the concept, including spending time in Southeast Asia studying the culture, hospitality and culinary trends.  He opened the restaurant, and recruited, hired and trained the staff.   While they planned to grow the concept, lack of funding prohibited them from doing so and Payman wanted to continue to develop his leadership style as a multi unit operator. 

Chris Harter, the former President for Levy’s restaurant division, was now leading Legacy Restaurants and recruited him as Vice President of Operations, to help revive and grow two of Houston’s most iconic restaurant concepts; The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, and Antone’s.  Payman worked to update and revive these brands and make them profitable. He also worked with the executive team on new concepts.   Unfortunately, the economy affected the business and growth of the company, in an effort to conserve G&A, Chris Harter discussed with Payman his options, and helped to network and secure a role for him with former Levy Restaurant colleagues at Tavistock Restaurants in 2009.

Tavistock had recently purchased the fast casual concept FREEB!RDS World Burrito and hired Payman as Regional Manager.  FREEB!RDS is a concept that focused on strong culinary execution with an edgy, hip vibe.  At the time, there were three restaurants in his region and eighteen in Texas, within two years, Payman led the opening of 21 units across South Texas with average unit volumes of $1.4 million in addition to serving on several executive committees.  In late 2011, Payman was tapped by Jim Mizes, President of FREEB!RDS to grow the brand outside of Texas, moving to California as Director of Operations.  Payman opened 20 restaurants in 18 months in California and helping with the openings of another five locations in Oklahoma and Kansas.  Under Payman’s leadership, the average unit volumes in California are $1.7 million, far exceeding the company average.  He led seven Regional Managers and was charged with building new revenue streams through catering and menu development, buoying brand awareness and supporting the growth of WorldWorks, FREEB!RDS’ philanthropic arm.  In the third quarter of 2012, a number of the senior leadership team members began leaving FREEB!RDS to explore other opportunities.  This changed the culture and reporting structure, and Payman began reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer of Tavistock Restaurants.  After a few months, Payman decided it was time for him to leave as well and began to consider other alternatives resigning from his position from Tavistock in May of 2013.

Following his exit, he joined Hook Burger as Vice President of Operations and Partner in August of 2013.  The opportunity to join the founders of the Habit Burger in the roll-out of their new concept was an amazing opportunity.  Payman established processes, systems and accountability standards to help the company continue to thrive and grow profitably.  Under Payman’s leadership, they grew the business to six restaurants with additional units under development. With the recent IPO and success of Habit Burger, the founders have slowed down growth to focus on family and external investments, which positioned Payman to branch out and further develop his career path.   

In June of 2015 while Payman was transitioning his responsibilities to the new team and cautiously entertaining other opportunities, he was contacted by the former President of FREEB!RDS, Jim Mizes regarding an opportunity with multi-unit restaurant and specialty food company, C Concepts located in Napa. Intrigued by the culinary emphasis on responsibly prepared gluten free cuisine and the unit economics of the company, Payman began consulting for them in August of 2015 and joined as President and COO in November 2015. Tasked with the challenge of building a team and organization for scalable growth, expanding his culinary knowledge on gluten free cuisine, and developing an e-commerce specialty food business, Payman took the challenge head on. Early in 2016, Payman resigned from his role with C Concepts and returned to the Levy family in July 2016 after being contacted by them initially to oversee the restaurant division of Levy, based out of Chicago. While the opportunity was immense, Payman made a conscious decision to remain in California. 

After months of conversations with Levy, they created the Vice President of Hospitality Strategy role for Payman to focus on one of their strongest markets and largest partners AEG at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. The STAPLES Center is one of the business arenas in North America with four major sports teams, concerts, award shows and some of the most recognized events in the world. Over the past two years Payman has successfully improved margins, generated sales growth through utilizing analytics, consumer insight, and team development to raise the bar. He brings over 15 years of multi-unit restaurant, e-commerce, retail, development, and marketing experience to both regional and national concepts.  Payman has worked with groups such as Compass, Tavistock Restaurants, Legacy Restaurants, Rockit Ranch Productions, and Hook/Habit Burger. During his tenure with these organizations he has opened over 100+ restaurants nationally ranging from fast casual to full service operations. Additionally, Payman holds a degree in Economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago.


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