Reader Choices

Olive garden

We turned to the readers to nominate rising stars and voice opinions on outdoor dining.

It was at least the hundredth nomination for a rising star that I’d read. I recognized neither the person offering the nomination, nor his company, nor the chef/owner being nominated. But the story of an entrepreneurial chef who turned a $250,000 business into one approaching $2 million at the end of its second year in a new location—and turned the economic tides in a small town at the same time—caught my attention.

Then I realized the restaurant was one I eat in frequently, right here in the town I call home, and I had watched it evolve from a mediocre deli into an upscale casual-dining hotspot. One that not only was pulling in impressive revenue gains, but also was pulling traffic into an economically distressed area and rebuilding a community in the process. I knew the food and dining experience had improved greatly at Over the Falls. I knew nothing of the story behind the improvements, or the work that chef/owner Greg Pearce continues doing to bring new businesses and prosperity to Wake Forest, North Carolina.

That, my friends, was an epiphany moment for deciding who should be included among FSR’s 40 under 40. Nominations had poured in—making this one of the most exciting moments in our short history as we witnessed how enthusiastically readers are engaging with FSR.

First pass: We took out people who are already stars, albeit still rising. (Chef Stephanie Izard, 37, is absolutely amazing—but when you’ve already been on the cover of the magazine, it would be redundant to be listed in a class of rising stars.)

We honed the plethora of nominees to a list of roughly 200 and then the real challenge began—to name just 40. Among our stars are names you’ve probably never heard, as well as high-profile individuals leading dramatic innovations in our industry—like Cheryl Dolven, director of health and wellness at Darden Restaurants, who works to bring healthier menu options to 425 million guests each year.

What you won’t find is a who’s who of all the industry leaders you’ve been reading about and watching for years. We’re running on the premise that our readers are looking to the future—and the content we serve is going to be fresh. To that point, we partnered with a research firm to learn what consumers want in outdoor dining experiences, conducting a survey in mid-January and bringing you the results on page 52.

The only thing better than meeting these rising stars is knowing they aren’t just FSR’s picks, they’re yours as well. Each of the 40 stars came from a nomination in the industry, so it all started with you.

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