Young trailblazers. Dynamic innovators. Inspiring newcomers. Agents of progress. Whatever you call them, this year’s class of 20 under 40 Rising Stars all possess a unique vision on how to push this industry forward, from new ways of training and mentoring team members to revolutionizing the way kitchens are run. Among the mix are executive chefs, general managers, directors of supply chain, marketing leaders, and more—and all are eager to offer up creative ideas and solutions to their respective restaurant brands, fully embracing technology and new ways of thinking in this post-pandemic era. Without further ado, these 20- and 30-something visionaries are ones to watch.
The House of Marigold and Marigold Catering Co.
In the ever-evolving world of hospitality, few individuals possess the drive, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit of Adrienne Cole. From her early years as a front-of-house manager in bustling high-volume restaurants to opening a small café inside the Waystar office building in 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky, Cole perpetually strives to achieve bigger dreams.
In 2019, Cole and her husband and head chef, Kris Cole, opened Marigold Catering Company, which quickly developed a loyal following. But when the pandemic hit, Cole was forced to lay off her staff and close the café, though she retained the kitchen to operate her catering service. “Everybody became a caterer in 2020,” she says. “So I really wanted to think of something that was kind of fun and innovative, that was going to set us apart from what everybody else was doing.”
Director of Supply Chain
First Watch Restaurants
Over the course of her 20-plus-year career, Monica Johnson has earned a reputation for being an innovative leader by driving successful strategies for restaurants in operations, supply chain initiatives, development, and more. In her current role, she provides thoughtful solutions for vendor and distribution partners for the brand’s 2,500-product global portfolio, as well as supporting the brand’s talent strategy and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts for all supply partners. Johnson also facilitates First Watch’s ongoing partnership program with “Mujeres en Café” (Women in Coffee), a network of female coffee growers in South America. The beans grown through this partnership are exported to the U.S. and roasted exclusively for First Watch, with proceeds of the coffee—dubbed “Project Sunrise”—going back to the female farmers and their local communities.
Director, Business Analytics
Since April 2019, Alex Willis has continuously proven his ability to provide data-driven strategic insight to Dine Brands. He quickly rose to a Director role and now leads a team of four. His notable achievements include developing the sales forecast used for budgeting and inventory management, ensuring IHOP’s supply chain will have adequate inventory for marketing and LTO promotions, leading readouts that impact menu development and promotions, and providing key business updates for the executive team, Board of Directors, and franchisee committees.
Ashley Moncada transitioned from her role as Chef de Cuisine of Michelin-starred Ariete in Coconut Grove—led by Chef Michael Beltran and Ariete Hospitality Group—to overseeing the entire kitchen at Brasserie Laurel as Executive Chef. A veteran of kitchens in France, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and Africa, Moncada brings a global approach and an eclectic skill set to the table. A culinary force to be reckoned with, the chef also brings a deep dedication, and sharp focus on excellence that positions French Brasserie Laurel as one of the finest new restaurants in Miami. “You have to have the right attitude and not be scared,” she says. “You have to demand respect.”
Chef Gustavo Fuerte has made it clear that the stereotypical toxic kitchen environment that prevails in the industry is unacceptable, and he has become a pioneer in back-of-house leadership and mentorship. Since 2008, he has held various positions within the FB Society, working his way up to Executive Chef at Mexican Sugar in 2021. His passion for empowerment and positivity has earned him a loyal following as he continues to revolutionize the way kitchen teams operate.
White Marsh, Maryland
In many ways, 28-year-old Chanelle Noray is the perfect general manager. She has a fierce commitment to servitude that has not quit since she entered the restaurant industry in 2009. Noray joined Bar Louie in 2022 and has become a trusted boots-on-the-ground voice for the corporate team. Her guidance has led to successful campaigns and new training initiatives for GMs companywide. She continues to lead community events and was nominated for Bar Louie’s General Manager of the Year award.
Executive Pastry Chef
St. Augustine, Florida
Dubbed “The Flavor Queen” on the Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge, Rebecca Reed has received numerous accolades such as Best Dish Award at the 2023 St. Augustine Food Festival. At 36 years old, Reed has fought for a seat at the industry’s table, showing others that being a present mother and accomplished professional is possible. She recently accepted the role of Executive Pastry Chef with Viva Hospitality and will oversee various pastry programs throughout the North Florida area. She continues to use her notoriety to build up the local community and mentor other chefs.
Senior Brand Manager
Rachael Wilson is changing restaurant marketing, one unforgettable experience at a time. The 30-year-old is the mastermind behind Haywire events such as experiential happy hours and Women in Wine & Whiskey tastings. Her desire to redefine how brands connect with guests has made her a rising star in the industry. As Haywire begins to expand, Wilson is spearheading initiatives to empower her team and create lasting memories for guests.
Vice President and Head of Marketing
Another Broken Egg Café
Brandy Blackwell arrived at Another Broken Egg in May 2022 with 16 years of restaurant marketing at her arsenal. She quickly put that experience, which included stops at Jimmy John’s, Dunkin’, McAlister’s, and Tijuana Flats, to use. In six months, Blackwell was promoted from senior director of marketing to her current role, where she oversees all national and local store marketing strategies, as well as the NextGen Casual’s approach to F&B innovation. She helped reorganize Another Broken Egg’s marketing team and functionality and is known for her digital-forward touch and innate ability to understand guest behavior and embrace data-driven insights and emerging technologies. Some accomplishments include relocating national ad funds to quadruple the chain’s digital media spend, adding new digital media components, refining guest personas using transaction level data, and transitioning to an internal social media and creative team.
Chef de Cuisine
Karl Gorline earned his start in Ocean Springs and Jackson, Mississippi, before moving to New Orleans at 28 years old to serve as executive chef of acclaimed Restaurant August. At The Woodall, he’s creating standout new American-style dishes with flavors and specialties that lure guests out of their comfort zones. Gorline describes his personal cuisine style as “eclectic but familiar and comfortable.” Recent roles in Atlanta include chef de cuisine at Watershed before moving to a sous chef position at Atlas at The St. Regis. He also served as executive chef and culinary director for ETR Group and was recently seen competing on Food Network’s “Chopped” competition show. In 2023, he was selected as Georgia Grown Executive Chef.
Chief Operating Officer
Asheville, North Carolina
Caroline Skinner was part of Tupelo Honey’s initial senior leadership team in 2013. Since, she’s spearheaded the NextGen Casual brand’s workforce expansion efforts, leading HR, training, and new store opening teams responsible for growing Tupelo Honey from two locations and fewer than 100 employees to 25 stores and 1,700-plus team members. All in a decade. Throughout that time, Skinner’s approach to leadership has held steady—her focus has always centered on consistently investing in people from the time they train to internal promotions to helping them through challenging times. She led the way on many of Tupelo Honey’s people-focused initiatives, from a Fair Start Wage plan that begins all positions at $15 per hour to “Honeypot,” which is a diverse array of benefits from medical and dental insurance to PTO, wellness, and tuition reimbursement. Also, Biscuits for a Cause, a program that diverts profits of the popular menu item to an employee relief fund. Skinner assumed leadership of Tupelo Honey’s operations team in 2019.
Head of U.S. Restaurants
Ruth Isenstadt has worn multiple hats over her five years with the delivery giant, guiding and propelling innovations within restaurant technology. She began at DoorDash working directly with restaurants as the senior manager in partner strategy for the company’s Mountain Region. Soon, she jumped into IPO Readiness, New Restaurant Models, and then, to her present position. With New Restaurant Models, Isenstadt directed strategy and development of DoorDash Kitchens—the delivery-forward kitchen model that launched in 2019 and has since spread to three locations. She was also key to debuting a new partnership model called DoorDash Kitchens Full Service, which is an end-to-end merchant offering that allows restaurants to expand their business through the licensing of their brands to DoorDash Kitchens. In Isenstadt’s current standing, she oversees New Restaurant Models, Merchant Experience, Integrations, Merchant Services, and more in hopes of continuing to provide industry-leading services for domestic restaurant partners.
Zunzi’s and Zunzibar
Zunzi’s + Zunzibar owner Chris Smith has a strong drive for success and a passion for inspiring others, according to his nomination. He began as a Five Guys franchisee in college, opening seven stores in eight years. His restaurant experience led him to Zunzi’s in Savannah, Georgia, in 2008. Smith declared that he would one day own the restaurant, and he accomplished said goal in 2014. He focused on refining the menu to showcase South African influences and emphasized a positive company culture based on inspiration and community outreach. Expanding the brand, he opened Zunzibar, a beach-bar concept, and plans to franchise both companies across the Southeast.
Executive Director Brand Communications
Candice Jacobson was promoted to IHOP’s head of communications in February after serving two-and-a-half years as director of brand communications. Within the past year, she has led strong campaigns, including the return of the nostalgic menu item Root Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity and a movie partnership with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Jacobson also organized a premium tasting event for the launch of IHOP's largest menu evolution, generating positive results and attendee feedback. Additionally, she facilitated national CPG partnerships with Kraft Heinz, General Mills, and Pepsi.
Senior Director of Marketing
Under Lauren Lumbley’s leadership, Brix Holdings’ brands—such as Friendly’s, Red Mango, Orange Lead, and Smoothie Factory— have experienced double-digit sales growth and new store openings. She successfully implemented brand-specific marketing campaigns, such as "How Do You Orange Leaf" and "Treat Yourself Well" for Red Mango, and continues to drive innovation for the Friendly's brand, which has almost 88 years of history. Lumbley has worked to make the casual-dining chain a household name and has initiated improvements, like the reinvention of the kids’ menu.
Matt Smith leads marketing for various full-service, fast-casual, and nightlife concepts, including Harper’s, The Finch, STIRR, Vidorra, and others. The nomination said that his attention to detail has allowed him to give each brand an authentic identity within their hyper-local and national markets. He’s introduced tactical brand partnerships, top-level influencer and celebrity partnerships and content, and differentiated offerings that continue to help Milkshake Concepts excel.
Founder and President
Atlas Restaurant Group
Alexander Smith, founder of Atlas Restaurant Group, has established a thriving empire with over 30 diverse restaurants, bars, and eatertainment concepts nationwide. Through a "people-first" culture, he prioritizes employee well-being by providing robust benefits like mental health support and raising minimum wage standards, while also engaging in extensive community outreach programs.
Director of Brand
As the director of brand at Polly’s Inc., Jacklyn Mitosinka oversees all marketing and brand-related details for Polly’s Pies, a full-service restaurant with 13 units across California. She’s played a pivotal role in modernizing the legacy brand’s marketing program, introducing it to younger generations through digital strategies like TikTok videos and brand crossover events. Her other responsibilities involve KFC, including overseeing the marketing of 10 KFC franchise locations, and serving on the board of directors for the Southern California KFC Franchise Association. She also is the president of the Southern California KFC Ad Board, where she acts as a liaison between KFC corporate and the region’s franchisees.
Concept Beverage Manager
Front Burner Society
With a commitment to pushing the boundaries of mixology, Alan Dean is redefining the craft cocktail and spirit experience at several of Front Burner’s restaurant concepts, including Mexican Sugar, Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, and Sixty Vines. He’s forged partnerships with small-batch distillers and introduced innovative programs like garden-to-glass cocktails and cocktails on tap.
Director and Head of Human Resources
Another Broken Egg Cafe
Launching the company's first 401K program and implementing leadership development initiatives are just some of the ways Jessica Presnell has made an impact at Another Broken Egg Cafe. She helped transition the brand through franchise acquisitions and new cafe openings that resulted in substantial employee growth. She’s also been a driving force behind streamlined workflows and recruitment processes, as well as improved onboarding experiences and enhanced performance management systems.