Board of Directors

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Jeff Brands

President

Jeff Brands is a franchisee partner in Taco John’s of Iowa (TJIA). TJIA operates 23 restaurants in the Des Moines metro area and surrounding central Iowa communities. He has been involved with the Taco John’s system for over 23 years. Jeff currently serves on the Taco John’s Supply Chain Committee. He began his career as a CPA with Deloitte and was a partner in a local CPA firm prior to joining TJIA. Jeff and his wife, Leanne, have four married daughters and one granddaughter. He enjoys golfing, researching and learning new things and spending time with his wife, family and friends.

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Walt Cressman

1st Vice President

Walt began his Taco John’s career in 1971 and is franchise owner of ten restaurants in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Over the years, Walt has served multiple terms on the Ad Production Committee and ATJF Board where he served as president for two years. He served a chairman of the Franchise Agreement Task Force. Walt’s business experience includes current franchise ownership in four dual-branded Steak Escape franchises. He is actively involved in various leadership roles for his church, having chaired the building committee, search committee and pastoral relations committee.

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Brian Fuder

Vice President

Brian began with Taco John’s in 1989 and is an owner-partner of 3 restaurants (2 in MN and 1 in ND). Brian has served as a member of the Ad Production Committee (APC) (2011-present). He served as Vice-Chairman in 2017 and is currently the Chairman of the APC. He also led the Digital Sub-Committee (2014-2017). He’s also been a member of the Technology committee for the past 5 years. He has been active in local communities serving on the Fergus Falls Youth Baseball Association, Fergus Falls CVB board, and various church-related committees.

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Mike Sartwell

Vice President

Mike began as a crew member with Taco John’s in 1976. He now owns 18 restaurants located in North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Missouri and Illinois. Mike has served on the ATJF Ad Production Committee and Board. His diverse experience includes ownership with Subway, Schlotzsky’s Deli and Godfather’s Pizza. Mike is founder of Preferred Feedback, a direct mail/digital marketing company that markets a guest experience management system. Mike has held various civic leadership positions in his community which he actively supports through membership in a number of charitable organizations.

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Jim Atkinson

Vice President, Treasurer

Jim began his Taco John’s career in 1987. He and his wife, Denise owned up to 4 restaurants in MN. In 2018, they sold three of those restaurants to an existing Taco John’s franchisee and now operate one restaurant in Owatonna, MN. Jim has previously served on the Operations and Technology Committees and was elected to the Ad Production Committee in 2018. Jim is active and visible in his community, supporting local activities. He is a board member of the Owatonna Curling Club.

Aaron Holthaus

Aaron Holthaus

Vice President, Secretary

Aaron’s group joined Taco John's in 2004 by purchasing an existing restaurant in Buffalo, Minnesota, and agreeing to a multi-unit deal for the construction of four more restaurants in the next five years. He is joined in his company by his brother Josh and father Tom. Today, they have nine locations in central Minnesota, from just outside the Twin Cities into the St. Cloud market area. As a SuperAmerica® Franchisee, they also have three convenience store locations.

Aaron has a degree in economics from the University of Minnesota, and enjoys working with our people and building new restaurants. Aaron and his wife Jess have five children who keep them busy traveling to different sporting events. Family fishing trips are a favorite pastime. Their oldest daughter works in the restaurants and would someday like to own a store of her own!

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Gary Wofford

Conference Director

Gary’s affiliation with the Taco John’s chain began in 1988 with the franchise company as VP of Operations & Franchise Services. After leaving this corporate positon in 1996, Gary and his wife Cindy established their own franchise consulting business—Wofford Management Services, Inc. In 1999, Gary was retained as Executive Director of the Association. In addition to supporting the business needs of the Association, Gary and Cindy are also responsible for the planning and management of the annual franchisee convention.

Gary’s background and experience includes senior leadership roles with national and international franchise organizations, successful multiple-location franchise ownerships with two restaurant brands, new business development, and franchise coaching.

Jody Schindler

Jody Schindler

Executive Director

Jody’s career with Taco Johns began in the late 1980’s as the Marketing Director for the Twin Cities Taco John’s franchise group. After leaving that position, Jody worked with Taylor Made Golf in the sales office, Verizon Wireless with the Network Engineering Team and ran a successful healthcare consulting company for 20 plus years. Jody and her husband, Pat have six children and one grandson. Jody still loves being involved in the local community serving on several church-related committees, sporting event associations, coaching volleyball and participating in local running events.

Interested in board service?

Here's how the process works:

  • There are six board members elected to serve 3-year terms.
  • Two seats are open for election each calendar year.
  • Annual nomination process – October 15ththrough November 15th each year
  • Franchisees in good-standing with the ATJF and TJI are eligible for nomination.
  • Candidates can be self-nominated.
  • Election process – November 15ththrough December 15th each year
  • Election confirmed during December board meeting.
  • Newly elected directors begin their 3-year term in January of the new year.
  • During the January board meeting, the board of directors nominates and elects a president for the current calendar year.
  • Directors can serve two consecutive 3-year terms, but must be re-elected to the second term.
  • Directors are not eligible for re-election after serving two 3-year terms due to term-limit policy.
  • Directors must lay out one full year to be eligible to run for re-election.

ATJF directors are asked to participate in regularly scheduled monthly teleconference meetings and typically attend one or two personal meetings (requiring travel) with representatives of Taco John’s International, Inc. (TJI) each year. Additionally, each director will be assigned a certain liaison responsibility for a TJI department and/or a franchisee committee for communications purposes along with responsibilities in connection to the annual National Franchisee Convention.