Emily Williams Knight

President & CEO, Texas Restaurant Association & Foundation

In May 2019, Dr. Emily Williams Knight was appointed CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association & Foundation and officially assumed this leadership role on August 1, 2019. With more than 50,000 restaurants employing 1.3M Texans and posting sales of 70B in 2019, in her first year, Knight was at the forefront of leading one of the most important industries through the COVID 19 pandemic. Knight was recognized as a fierce and effective leader, quickly securing several waivers from Governor Abbott while also lobbying and securing federal support to help the restaurant and foodservice industry survive. Without a playbook for leading Texas’s second-largest private employer through a pandemic, Knight went to her roots, leading from the front, empowering those around her to act, and bringing honest, empathetic, and transparent communication into every interaction. Knight leveraged her passion and empathy for others to drive change at the state and national level and quickly rose to become a key thought leader with local and national media.
Dr. Knight took the pain of the pandemic and its devastating impact on the restaurant industry to Texas’ 87th legislative session where she and her team passed 6 priority bills that were signed into law including alcohol-to go, liability protection, third-party delivery protections, and securing the ability for restaurants to sell bulk food. The results of the session provided the Texas restaurant industry with a clear path to rebuild and is regarded as one of the most successful sessions ever delivered by the Association.
Knight is the daughter of military veterans and a former military spouse. She has held executive leadership positions across the globe in several multi-national companies and her success is driven by building high-performing teams, a passion for winning, and a tireless work ethic. Prior to leading the TRA, Knight served as Managing Director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a leading provider of international university education. Knight worked with top university leaders across the U.S. and Canada to build international student recruitment and education pathway programs. Her career includes senior leadership roles at Laureate and serving as President of Kendall College, a leader in hospitality and culinary arts education. During her time as Kendall’s president, Knight expanded access to culinary and hospitality education throughout the U.S., Latin America, and the Middle East. She worked closely with the Illinois legislature to advance the industry and partnered with the Mayor of Chicago, Choose Chicago, and the Illinois Restaurant Association to drive Chicago visitors to a record 50 million per year.
Knight led student recruitment for two of the top five hospitality schools in the world located in Switzerland. She has partnered with private equity firms, associations, and the U.S. government to build veteran and at-risk training and certification programs and is a fierce advocate for the importance of career and technical education. Knight has extensive experience working with industry, workforce investment boards, and community colleges to create skills training programs designed to fill the growing number of restaurant and hospitality job openings.