McDonald’s McGriddles sandwiches. McDonald’s fruit ’n yogurt parfait. McDonald’s dollar menu. Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza. Pizza Hut’s pizza lovers line. Smashburger.

All well-known, successful innovations, all created by Grand Rapids-native Tom Ryan.

On Thursday, June 8, at Thousand Oaks Country Club, Ryan will speak to ACG Western Michigan’s breakfast audience about his business successes and struggles, how growing up in Michigan shaped his career, and the innovations he sees that are keeping West Michigan prosperous.

Highlights will include his “secret sauce” to “double decker” growth.

“To grow a business into a national brand that makes an impact, you’ve got to have experience and a product that touches people in all walks of life—whether that’s furniture, retail or food,” says Ryan. “Working in familiar industries that we could make better, I assembled a team of very tenured partners, we were very well-capitalized, and very focused on making a difference.”

After attending West Catholic high school in Grand Rapids, Ryan earned a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He spent the majority of his career working in the fast-food industry, and was the creative mind behind a number of successful products at multiple companies.

In 2007, Ryan founded Smashburger in Denver with a vision to serve hamburgers “Smashed Fresh, Served Delicious.” The chain currently has more than 380 locations in 38 states and 9 countries. Of those, 220 are owned and operated by Smashburger, and the rest are franchised.

Ryan has found success, in part, by taking something common and traditional - like plain old pizza crust - and updating it in a way that makes it relevant, new, and exciting, ie. crust stuffed with cheese. He also purposefully built his career around products that connect with a large number of people.

The breakfast takes place on Thursday, June 8 at 7:30 a.m. at Thousand Oaks Country Club. Both ACG Western Michigan members and non-members are invited to attend. For more information, or to register, visit or

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