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The restaurant industry has a bright future thanks to a new wave of talent.

32 Restaurant Stars on the Rise

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This group of 30-something 30-somethings and 20-somethings are forging the blueprint for full-service dining 2.0.
By Laura D’Alessandro, Laura Zolman Kirk March 2019 Chef Profiles

Talent hides in every corner of the restaurant, from an unassuming dishwasher to the anonymous social media wizards behind Instagrams that drive traffic. Someday these folks will be the next big chain’s CEOs, senior level VPs in today’s emerging brands, or leaders of restaurants of their own, but right now we think they deserve the spotlight for the work they’ve already put in.

MORE: Check out last year's Rising Stars

A three-Michelin-star restaurateur may lead FSR’s Rising Stars this year, but the list is filled out with industry comrades from the front of the house to the corporate office. Their journeys, dedication, and love for the restaurant business is inspiring, and they all seem to have one thing in common—their collective get-up-and-go motivation comes from the joy they derive from giving guests the best experience possible.

Noah Sandoval

Bob Stefko

Noah Sandoval, 37

Chef/Owner, Oriole

Partner, Kumiko

Oriole, Kumiko

Chicago

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

Bryan Schaaf

Brett Sawyer, 37

Chef/Owner

The Plum

Cleveland, Ohio

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.

Maya Lovelace

Mae

Maya Lovelace, 31

Chef/Owner

Mae, Yonder

Portland, Oregon

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.

Johanna Hellrigl

Raisa Aziz

Johanna Hellrigl, 29

Culinary Director and Partner

Fat Baby Restaurant Group

Washington, D.C.

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.

Franco Ruiz

Renae Connolly

Franco Ruiz, 31

Chef de Cuisine

Fruition

Denver

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.

Renae Connolly

Boston.com

Renae Connolly, 33

Pastry Chef

Benedetto

Cambridge, Massachusetts

"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.

Moses Anthony Ponce

Olives from Spain

Moses Anthony Ponce, 31

Sous Chef

Chateau Marmont

Los Angeles

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.

Mari Katsumura

Yugen

Mari Katsumura, 33

Executive Chef

Yūgen

Chicago

A culmination of things led Mari Katsumura to her position heading the kitchen of the new Yūgen restaurant in Chicago. When she spoke with FSR in December 2018, the restaurant was just a month old, but it felt as if her life had been leading up to this position.

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.

But 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.

Katsumura has received much autonomy in this venture at Yūgen from the current owner and investor, but, in the future, she sees herself as a business owner. Today, however, she is happy executing this vision. "It's something true to my personal experience growing up in a second-generation Japanese family," she says. She enjoys being able to present the food that she grew up eating. "I think that I've gained a lot of inspiration from dishes that my dad created, things that I used to really like eating on his menu."

David Dunlap

Maple & Pine Restaurant

David Dunlap, 37

Executive Chef

Maple & Pine Restaurant

Richmond, Virginia

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.

Jake Wood

Stacey Sprenz, Tabletop Media Group

Jake Wood, 31

Executive Chef

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.

Joseph Cuccia & Jenna Cuccia

17 Summer Restaurant

Joseph Cuccia, 31

Executive Chef and Owner

Jenna Cuccia, 33

Owner

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.

Carlie Steiner & Kevin Tien

Farrah Skeiky

Carlie Steiner, 27

Co-Owner and Beverage Director

Kevin Tien, 31

Co-Owner and Executive Chef

Himitsu

Washington, D.C.

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."

Michael McHenry & Brandon Price

Jered Miller

Michael McHenry, 36

Restaurateur

Brandon Price, 33

Chef

OAK Wood Fire Kitchen

Draper, Utah

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.

"After a hard earned and successful 10-year journey spent in fast casual, incubating new concepts, challenging industry status quo through our progressive craft fare, building life style cultures and scaling across the western states, we saw an opportunity to reintroduce what it means to be a true neighborhood restaurant," McHenry says.

But those 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."

At OAK Wood Fire Kitchen, Price is using locally sourced ingredients to turn out fresh meats, hand-made pastas, breads, and pizza. Everything comes alive in the wood fire oven where the smoke and embers infuse texture and flavor into a signature smoky aroma that speaks to Price's rustic craft.

When guests take their first bite, that is where McHenry's joy begins, he says. And his years at Even Stevens had him feeling too cut off from the community he was serving.

"We're creating a more intimate experience by knowing our community of restaurant owners, chefs and local artisans," he says. "As president of one of the country's most progressive restaurant brands, I found myself getting further and further away from my reward center—creating new concepts and building lasting experiences in my dining rooms. I spent my early career striving for and earning C-suite positions, wanting hundreds of restaurants and chasing the global restaurant dream, but I needed different and the only person standing in the way was me."

McHenry left Even Stevens to create The McHenry Group, a restaurant company of which OAK Wood Fire Kitchen is the first project. On deck next is an all-day Southern craft brunch restaurant that will reinterpret Utah's local produce as Dixie favorites.

"It will become the community's next connecting place," McHenry says.

Vina Sananikone

Garrett Hoppin

Vina Sananikone, 35

Art & Media Director

Foreign National

Washington, D.C.

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.

Jered Miller

Kemp Collective

Jered Miller, 32

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."

Alexia Penna

Eureka

Alexia Penna, 31

Director of Marketing

Eureka! Restaurant Group

Hawthorne, California

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."

Natasha Phan

Davis Factor

Natasha Phan, 34

Partner & CMO

14 Grand Hospitality

Los Angeles

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. When they first met in 2009, Phan was feeling disconnected from her work at Martha Stewart and she asked Choi for any kind of work at what was then a small but intensely popular food truck company, Kogi. Choi started her out washing dishes at his brick-and-mortar cocktail bar, Alibi Room.

"I would work my 9-5 at Martha, I would change into my uniform in my car, and I started washing dishes and graduated to cutting fries, working the line and doing expo and all that," Phan says. "When you work with chefs, there's definitely a process you go through where you have to prove yourself. You have to prove you're focused."

Choi's connection to the Los Angeles food scene's fabric, one made up of immigrant families and cuisines, really spoke to Phan. As a kid, she knew she was destined to the world of food. Her parents owned a supermarket in the Echo Park neighborhood of LA.

"They are Vietnamese refugees, so when they came here they struggled to find all the things that reminded them of their homeland and where they came from," she says. "A huge part of assimilating to a new place and adapting to new cultural norms is to surround yourself with things that make you feel at home. For my family, they found 'home' through food."

Phan tried to work with food as much as she could throughout high school and college, but it wasn't until after she graduated and started working on Taco Bell's national ad campaign that it felt like a reality. Still, even after moving on to Martha Stewart's digital advertising team, she wasn't as hands-on with food as she wanted to be.

"At the time, Kogi just hit the streets of LA and the food world had caught wind. And that's how the stars aligned for me, in meeting Roy and being able to enrich people's lives on a more revolutionary scale through Kogi," she says.

Once Phan "graduated" from proving herself in Choi's kitchen, she chose her title as chief marketing officer. It wasn't a title many independent restaurants had on staff 10 years ago. "We were the first fast-casual, mom-and-pop restaurant to really create this department, the vertical of communications, social media, marketing, photographing our food," she says. "We did it our own way, and with our own swagger. It showed other restaurants that they could do it, too, and they didn't need crazy budgets."

In the same way, Phan and Choi are trailblazing today 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.

Jelani Johnson

Clover

Jelani Johnson, 28

Bartender

Clover Club

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.

Crystal Pavlas

Golden Rayes Photography

Crystal Pavlas, 35

Head Bartender

Bywater American Bistro

New Orleans

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.

Anne Becerra

Treadwell Park

Anne Becerra, 36

Beer, Service, and Beverage Director

Treadwell Park

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.

Daniel Runnerstrom, Brent Kroll, & Niki Lang

Marissa Bialecki

Daniel Runnerstrom, 30

Partner/Sommelier

Brent Kroll, 33

Proprietor/Sommelier

Niki Lang, 31

Partner/Sommelier

Maxwell Park

Washington, D.C.

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.

Having spent five years on Maxwell Park's business plan, hospitality is Kroll's goal. His 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. I started reading wine and hospitality books, stopped going to school, and never looked back," 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. "The tastings, the reading, the small talk, all add up to greater hospitality," he says.

For Runnerstrom, he was swept into wine through his love of eating and drinking. He fell for beer at his first restaurant job past college, but ended up at a higher-end Japanese restaurant where it paid to learn more about wine. He met Kroll later at Iron Gate, where he was taking a deep dive into cocktail creation. What he enjoys most about his job today is the people he's had the chance to meet behind and in front of the bar. "As far as wine jobs are concerned, I feel like I already have my dream job," he says.

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. She picked up a part-time job at a butcher's shop, and the sommelier from the fine dining sister restaurant next door started giving the staff blind tasting classes. "He introduced us to The Court of Master Sommeliers program, and after taking the introductory exam, I knew this was what I wanted to do," she says.

All three of Maxwell Park's head somms are excited to build out the brand with a second location of Maxwell in the Navy Yard neighborhood of D.C. coming summer 2019. "The next big move is just to try and outdo ourselves month after month and year after year," Runnerstrom 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.

Having spent five years on Maxwell Park's business plan, hospitality is Kroll's goal. His 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. I started reading wine and hospitality books, stopped going to school, and never looked back," 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. "The tastings, the reading, the small talk, all add up to greater hospitality," he says.

For Runnerstrom, he was swept into wine through his love of eating and drinking. He fell for beer at his first restaurant job past college, but ended up at a higher-end Japanese restaurant where it paid to learn more about wine. He met Kroll later at Iron Gate, where he was taking a deep dive into cocktail creation. What he enjoys most about his job today is the people he's had the chance to meet behind and in front of the bar. "As far as wine jobs are concerned, I feel like I already have my dream job," he says.

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. She picked up a part-time job at a butcher's shop, and the sommelier from the fine dining sister restaurant next door started giving the staff blind tasting classes. "He introduced us to The Court of Master Sommeliers program, and after taking the introductory exam, I knew this was what I wanted to do," she says.

All three of Maxwell Park's head somms are excited to build out the brand with a second location of Maxwell in the Navy Yard neighborhood of D.C. coming summer 2019. "The next big move is just to try and outdo ourselves month after month and year after year," Runnerstrom says.

Cali Gold

Beretta

Cali Gold, 31

Bar Manager

Beretta

San Francisco

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.

Ganna Fedorova

City Winery

Ganna Fedorova, 30

National Beverage Director

City Winery

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.

Hannah Kent

Rosie Nelson

Hannah Kent, 30

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."

Chris Sutton

Angela Deems

Chris Sutton, 38

Training Manager

Tavistock Restaurant Collection

Orlando, Florida

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.

Scott Ota

Matt McGinnis

Scott Ota, 36

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.

Rachel Richal

Andrew Meade Photography

Rachel Richal, 33

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.