With three Michelin stars, it would seem Noah Sandoval has already made it. But there’s more on the horizon for the young chef who just opened a new spot in Chicago. Read more.
Brett Sawyer has been in the restaurant business since he was 19. After working in Chicago, he moved back to Cleveland to bring the small, shareable plates type of service to his hometown. Sawyer works closely with farmers to change the menu at The Plum all the time. And he is quick to pivot, too, with a new, more casual concept called Good Company set to open in early 2019. As a restaurateur, he most enjoys taking what he loved about the people and establishments he worked for and piecing them into his own business model.
After three-and-a-half years of pop-up life, Maya Lovelace was finally poised to open her brick and mortar, Yonder, with room for her pop-up series Mae. From sorting tomatoes at Husk, to executing long-form dinners at Beast, slinging drinks at Tanuki, and making massive batches of paneer at Bollywood Theater, Lovelace feels all her experiences in the industry have led her to her current projects. “My main focus is finding a way to connect emotionally with the folks I’m lucky enough to serve, through storytelling and the awakening of their own family food memories,” she says. Her fantasy is to take a Southern road trip to meet every grandma she can find to talk about food.
Culinary Director and Partner
Fat Baby Restaurant Group
For years, Johanna Hellrigl traveled the world building women’s political participation and leadership in more than 60 countries, but what she enjoyed most about her visits was seeing these women’s communities, going to their homes, and trying their food. Her father was a chef, so she had been exposed to the workings of a kitchen from a young age. In the midst of negotiations for her own restaurant in D.C., she met Jason Kuller, the CEO of Fat Baby Restaurant Group, and they found a way to work together instead—a move she has been nothing but grateful for as the restaurant group foundation has allowed her to take care of employees in a way she would not have been able to as an independent. “Fat Baby is definitely something I want to grow with,” Hellrigl says.
Chef de Cuisine
Franco Ruiz grew up in the industry, with his dad working for Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Los Angeles in the 1980s and early ’90s. “It’s just something that runs in my blood,” he says. “My grandma is probably the best chef I’ve ever met.” Fruition has its own farm, and Ruiz—who found his passion in sustainable cooking—aspires to be at the helm of his own restaurant and garden one day. “It’s important for me to create a restaurant that is creating a change in the future of this world,” he says.
“I’m just a happy working industry girl,” Renae Connolly says of herself. But she’s been working hard, and her star is certainly rising. Connolly got to know her boss, Michael Pagliarini, from becoming a regular at his restaurant Giulia. When it was time to open Benedetto, he tapped Connolly to run the pastry program, where she enjoys the versatility of her role, from running the in-house bread program to building dessert confections from a range of diverse elements. Right now, she’s focused on making good food at the 200-seat establishment seven nights a week, she says, but her determination keeps her star shining bright.
The high-pressured yet structured heat of the kitchen is Moses Anthony Ponce’s happy place. In such heightened situations, he has grown from a back-of-the-house newbie to a skilled chef at establishments like The Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles, Destroyer in Culver City, and, most recently, Chateau Marmont. “The best part about jumping off the deep end is you either make it or you don’t,” Ponce says of the pivotal moments in his career. His next deep dive will be running his own kitchen, he says, hoping to open up a neighborhood diner like the one he frequented as a child.
A culmination of things led Mari Katsumura to her position heading the kitchen of the new Yūgen restaurant in Chicago. She grew up in the restaurant industry. Her father, Yoshi Katsumura, was a chef and owned the restaurant Yoshi’s Café that her mother still runs today. Her work as a chef, too, pivoting between pastry and savory, has primed her for this role executing from the top. In culinary school, her dad had suggested she pursue pastry because of her training in art. In the workplace, however, she found herself in positions where she was both a pastry chef and sous chef, standing firm in both worlds. She helped open Entente, which received a Michelin star in 2018, in that duel savory and pastry role. “I think just having that under my belt really did prepare me for this position of stepping forward and being primarily savory,” she says.
Maple & Pine Restaurant
Creativity is what fuels David Dunlap’s joy for his job. “I am very fortunate to have the support and trust of the owners at Maple & Pine to guide the restaurant in the direction I want,” he says. “That is a pretty rare thing.” But his passion for food and hospitality is also a weakness for Dunlap, as he feels an overwhelming need to always be at work. To overcome this, he’s learned to trust his staff, sous chefs, and cooks. With a second restaurant on the horizon in Charlottesville, Virginia, in late 2019 or early 2020, he knows he’ll have to trust his abilities to hire and train even more to move ahead.
Plates Neighborhood Kitchen
Raleigh, North Carolina
Jake Wood thrives on a good challenge. Every opportunity is a chance to learn, grow, and create memories for people eating his food. One of the challenges he’s most proud to have faced recently is his role in hosting a culinary fundraiser after Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in September 2018. What started as a simple conversation between Wood and other industry professionals led to the raising of nearly half a million dollars to help support the food and beverage, farming, and fishing industries of eastern North Carolina, where the hurricane hit the hardest.
Executive Chef and Owners
17 Summer Restaurant
Lodi, New Jersey
From street fairs, to catering, to a brick and mortar, brother-sister duo Jenna and Joseph Cuccia have been together through it all. And while their father always told them, “It isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” the Cuccia siblings have hit the scene fast. They opened their first restaurant in three months—”Who opens their first restaurant in three months?” Jenna says. Within the first year, Joseph was booked for a James Beard House dinner and nominated for recognition from the foundation. While the duo started out with Joseph in the kitchen and Jenna managing all aspects of the business, they decided to be successful they’d need to learn how to do it all. “My brother took me under his wing and we have been cooking together and running every aspect of our business in tandem. We are incredibly lucky to share this journey, together,” Jenna says.
Co-Owner and Beverage Director, Co-Owner and Executive Chef
Alums of Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien came together to birth Himitsu after working together at Oyamel about six years ago. The 24-seat Japanese and Southern American fusion restaurant has an intimate ambiance and clever menu that has wowed guests and critics alike. Tien has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation for his cuisine while Steiner has made a splash with the sherry-inspired bar program. “We are here because we take risks and we want to try and make a difference in this world,” Steiner says. “The intimacy of Himitsu and dedicated staff allow for very personal experiences that are curated to each and every guest.” To hospitality insiders, the duo are known for their commitment to their staff. “We also take so much pride in owning a restaurant that puts safety first for our employees above all else,” Steiner says. “We both are proactively figuring out ways to normalize this industry and create healthier solutions to the most common problems.”
Restaurateur and Chef
OAK Wood Fire Kitchen
Michael McHenry and Brandon Price make up a duo that is truly living the dream. The restaurateur-chef pair announced the opening of OAK Wood Fire Kitchen in September of 2018 after transitioning out of their positions with burgeoning fast-casual sandwich chain Even Stevens. Now they serve a neighborhood clientele in the live-fire casual restaurant and work for the type of guest satisfaction that McHenry says you just can’t get anywhere else. Their years in fast casual taught McHenry and Price both lessons that helped land them where they are today. For Price, who started as a dishwasher and worked his way up through kitchens as an award-winning chef, his lessons at Even Stevens came at a desk and not on the line. “Going back to fast casual as a culinary director was completely different than being a chef,” he says. “Designing menu items at a desk instead of a kitchen was hard to wrap my head around, and only when I fully embraced the journey was I able to truly be successful at duplicating myself through others. Though that process built many new skills, I realized I was a fish out of water and had to get back in the kitchen, creating, playing and furthering my art of menu creation.”
Art & Media Director
The tight-knit D.C. restaurant community has Vina Sananikone’s heart second to one thing—the food. Her artistry supports restaurants under the Foreign National umbrella—like Maketto, Brothers and Sisters, Spoken English, and Yangs Hot Pot, to name a few. “I’m surrounded every day with talented, innovative, and incredibly dedicated professionals, and I’m proud to show that dedication to the world. I learn something new every day. I also love that I’m surrounded by snacks all-day every day,” Sananikone says. But managing so many social media accounts isn’t easy. How does she keep up? “I make a point to put the phone down. Sometimes.” While she dreams of her own creative studio someday, she’s fairly new at Foreign National and has a lot of creative projects on her plate that she’s excited about. “Maybe 2019 is the year I start making cooking videos at the restaurants,” she says.
Digital Partner & Restaurateur
Always Noon Digital
Salt Lake City, Utah, and New York City
Jered Miller is another Even Stevens alum. While he spent the first 10 years of his career strictly on the marketing and advertising side of the fence, his work with Even Stevens led him to launch his own digital agency, Always Noon Digital. He, too, was inspired by the nexus of food and connection. “Food has connected people since the beginning of time. The idea that through utilizing modern technology, we can help people connect with new culinary experiences right in their own neighborhood is a pretty incredible feeling.” With more than 70 percent of U.S. adults active on social media, Miller can’t stress enough the importance of these platforms for restaurateurs. “I had a choice that I believe has defined my level of success to date, stay with the old way of advertising or evolve with technology and become even more effective. Luckily, I chose the latter.”
Director of Marketing
Eureka! Restaurant Group
Alexia Penna is a true testament to the way women are changing the world. Whom does she credit her success to? A bunch of “brilliant women,” she says, one of whom recommended her for her current position with three words, “Just hire her.” That recommendation was backed by years of hard work that paid off. At 26, Penna was tasked with starting the marketing department at Eureka! where she invented the playbook. Now she’s tackling big projects like Coachella for a growing brand. “As we grow, getting to develop marketing plans that are personalized to each individual local community thrills me. Representing a lifestyle and innovative brand that wants to try something new, I am always being challenged to make each year at Coachella more unique.”
Partner & CMO
14 Grand Hospitality
Natasha Phan is a spiritual leader—in the sense that she leads with her spirit. When she met Roy Choi in 2009, she knew on a spiritual level that working with him was the right next step for her career. She’s been with him ever since. Ten years later, she’s his business partner and co-wrote his cookbook with him. Phan and Choi are trailblazing with their newest concept, Best Friend in Los Vegas. Phan calls the restaurant a dream—one born out of Choi’s mind but made reality through a partnership with MGM and a lot of team work. The restaurant brings the Roy Choi experience to an audience that’s hungry for it, and that’s something Phan is hoping to share on a global level.
Brooklyn, New York
Jelani Johnson started at the Clover Club as a food runner and busboy six years ago. “I fell in love with the craft and worked my way up,” he says of his path to bartender. What he loves most about his position is the people he works with and the creative atmosphere they foster. When he’s not putting out high-quality cocktails, Johnson is assisting in distillation at Owney’s Rum in Brooklyn or working on a book of cocktails from the back-of-the-house perspective, but his ultimate goal is to run his own space one day in the city where he grew up, New York.
Bywater American Bistro
Crystal Pavlas has done it all, from working in dive bars, to clubs and hotels. What led her to the position she has today, though, is landing a bartending gig at Compère Lapin, Nina Compton’s first restaurant. Bywater American Bistro, or BABs for short, is Compton’s newest establishment and where Pavlas is now heading the bar. Pavlas’ biggest challenge in her leadership role was learning how to manage different personalities. “Truly understanding everyone’s weaknesses and strengths has helped me to overcome these obstacles and manage my team effectively,” she says. Her next step is to obtain her sommelier certification.
Beer, Service, and Beverage Director
New York City
On a whim, Anne Becerra managed to design her dream job. After a cross-country road trip where she made sure to try local brews at each town she visited, she took a job at a beer bar. “I remember about six months in, it hit me: I’m choosing the music, working around a ton of amazing beer, visiting breweries, meeting new people every day, and talking about everything from art to restaurant recommendations. … I had actually created the job I wanted,” she says. Now, she writes, teaches classes, hosts events, and runs multiple bar programs. With about 65 notebooks full of tasting notes, pairing ideas, and technical essays, she aspires to build out a website to host her content, develop projects with production companies, and enter the travel industry, too. “I love being able to relay a sense of place and context to beer,” she says.
Named after the playground Brent Kroll used to frequent as a child, Maxwell Park mimics the playful spirit of that space for the proprietor/sommelier. His fellow somms and partners, Niki Lang and Daniel Runnerstrom, were brought on early as Kroll’s goal was to find a way to get key people in his business equity. Thus, both Runnerstrom and Lang are just as dedicated to the project as Kroll. Kroll’s first professional exposure to wine was working under a sommelier as a business student in college waiting tables. “The way I saw her make tables feel special through wine really sunk in with me,” he says. And today at Maxwell Park the results of his hard work directly impacting the happiness of his guests is what brings him the most joy. For Runnerstrom, he was swept into wine through his love of eating and drinking. Lang has worked in restaurants through high school and college. After graduating with a degree in business and entrepreneurship, she knew she wanted to stay in the industry.
Behind the bar, Cali Gold sees her job as fostering community. “What I enjoy most about what I do is making human connections, whether it’s turning someone on to a new drink that’s now their favorite, or introducing two regulars who have something in common. That’s why we’re here,” she says. “Otherwise, why not just drink at home alone?” Her dream is to open up her own establishment with her husband, who is also a bartender, or become a food writer with an emphasis in cocktails. But, honestly, she says, she’d be happy if her path led to being a sassy old lady bartender, too.
National Beverage Director
To get to manage a beverage program that stretches from City Winery’s locations in New York City, to Chicago, Nashville, D.C., Atlanta, and more, it takes a good bit of gusto. Or a drive to learn beyond one’s job description, Ganna Fedorova says. Starting as a host with the responsibility to update the restaurant’s wine list, Fedorova decided to educate herself, reading about wine, attending wine class, and tasting wine like she never had before. Today, she’s studying toward the advanced level in The Court of Master Sommeliers, and City Winery continues to grow to Philadelphia in 2019.
Assistant General Manager
Union Square Cafe
New York City
While Hannah Kent was working in London for leading U.K. restaurateurs Corbin & King, Jeremy King recommended that she read Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table.” Six months later, she moved to New York to be part of the opening team for Union Square Cafe 2.0. “I loved his book and made up my mind that I was going to move to New York and work for Danny,” she says. Union Square Cafe 2.0 was a re-opening, one which Kent calls a huge challenge, especially as a newbie from across the pond. “Everyone had their opinions and expectations of what it should be,” she says. “Cultivating old regulars and ensuring we kept the soul of the old restaurant was hugely important.” Kent spent months before the reopening emailing with past regulars to keep them up to date. “It was hugely beneficial for me, as when we did finally open, when these guests came in to dine we had a connection already and it helped make them feel right at home.”
Tavistock Restaurant Collection
When you do what you love, work-life balance is easy to come by, says Chris Sutton. He loves helping Tavistock teams. “Interacting and supporting our teams in operations—seeing our operations teams and helping them reach the next level is fulfilling.” He’s got his eyes on the prize at Tavistock; he’s planning his next big move as a transition to director of training within the company, but he’s not stopping there with his #goals. “It is also to expand my experience into venues other then just restaurants. We will soon be opening Boxi Park, an outside entertainment venue made from recycled shipping crates.” Sutton can also see himself working with breweries in the future after Tavistock recently opened Park Pizza & Brewing Co. “It’s amazing to work with the head brewer in the team on furthering their knowledge,” he says.
General Manager & Beverage Director
High Street Wine Co.
San Antonio, Texas
When Scott Ota was chosen to start and operate High Street Wine Co. in 2016, his work started with the idea of “hospitality first,” he says. “Much of our industry is focused on the perfection of food or the accolades of a wine list, but we wanted to start a program that delivers wine and food in an approachable way, while still offering some of the best selections available in our market.” The environment he created is one in which he enjoys the staff, regular guests, and challenges of making wine approachable. He also appreciates serving wine in jeans and a T-shirt. “It’s these friendly, casual touches that allow us to be conversational about wine, and our staff can really shine when our appearance doesn’t intimidate the guest.” Ota spent 11 years working his way through the hospitality industry before he landed this gig, and teamwork has been the guiding light. “Putting trust in others and empowering our staff has pushed High Street into a path of success,” he says.
Director of Training
TooJay’s Deli, Bakery, Restaurant
West Palm Beach, Florida
Rachel Richal grew up in a family that worked in the wine business, which made hospitality an integral part of her life. “I was the little girl running around my father’s wine store, making cheese samples in his deli and asking what type of wine paired well.” She started at TooJay’s as a server. A year in, she realized she’d fallen in love—she changed her major from journalism to hospitality. Her focus at TooJay’s has since then been training. “We have the ability to create positive and memorable experiences for our guests with every interaction. As a trainer, I am able to create tools and programs that support our teams in creating these experiences and in turn helping others be successful in their own jobs and achieve their goals.” And that is incredibly rewarding, she says.