Owner, Restaurant Intelligence Agency and Spoonfeed
She was one of the most, if not the most successful food PR folks in all of Chicago and then she reinvented herself. She realized that with media shrinking, it was better to be a content producer than a cajoler to content producers. It remains to be seen whether her social media and content production approach to promoting clients will take over the world, but when someone in food needs something, a job, a smart opinion or a hook-up of some sort, she’s usually the first phone call people make.
Owner, Hot Doug’s
In Chicago at least, this dude’s more iconic at this point than The Clash which play often over the sound system of his Northwest Side encased-meats emporium. Nationally, he often gets more column inches in the New York Times than most Third World dictators. But you would too if you were serving up chicken-foot-garnished hot dogs with a side of duck-fat-fried French fries.
Owner, Table Fifty-Two and Founder, Common Threads
Thanks to eating healthy and working out like a Navy Seal, there’s a whole lot less of this Southern Teddy bear these days. But, though he’s eating less, he’s voracious like a wolf, raising millions to help needy children through his Common Threads charity. Post-Oprah, his profile has probably never been higher or the biscuits at his Southern-skewing restaurant ever so tender.
Owner, Alinea, Aviary and Next
Often overlooked is the fact that Achatz doesn’t necessarily build Alinea or launch so quickly without his business partner, Kokonas. Like that old RFK quote, he’s really good at seeing things that never were and asking why not. The former derivatives trader is a modern-day culinary Medici of sorts, funding and raising the capital and building the empire that will likely redefine the modern restaurant (Next) and how we drink (Aviary).
Matt Maloney and Mike Evans
Wisdom says if you want a tech geek to help you out, you should buy them some Chinese takeout. So, of course two software engineers, Maloney and Evans, who no doubt spent many a late night coding until they were famished, would eventually lament that there was no good centralized place to find all of Chicago’s food delivery options and menus. Founded in 2004 when the two worked at Apartments.com, GrubHub is now in thirteen markets across the country, was slated to do seventy-million dollars in food-delivery orders in 2010 and was named to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing companies.
Owner, Gilt Bar, Maude’s, Doughnut Vault
One of the fastest-rising local restaurateurs we’ve ever seen. Fourteen months ago, no one had heard of him, and now he has four projects on the table. His second restaurant, Maude’s Liquor Bar, has three-hour-plus waits on weekends, and when it launched, the Doughnut Vault sold out of thousands of doughnuts every day for a month by 10am. What’s crazier is unlike flashy press-cajoling showmen like Rich Melman or Jerry Kleiner, Sodikoff’s achieved this by avoiding the spotlight and just creating excellent product and telling great stories through social media.
Co-owner, Longman & Eagle, Bite Café, Empty Bottle
He made his bones slinging sweaty bottles of PBR to young hipsters head-nodding to Andrew Bird et al. in a cave-like bar on Western. Now he slings premium bourbon, killer organ meats and upscale bar nosh to middle-aged hipsters in Logan Square and earned a Michelin star to boot.
Founder, Hum Spirits
Farm to bar movement, homemade bitters, making your own vermouth, making your own boutique spirits, there isn’t a single cocktail trend Adam Seger wasn’t out in front of. He was doing all this stuff at Nacional 27 even before the Violet Hour landed and Sable Kitchen & Bar launched. Nowadays, he’s traveling the country attempting to make his Chicago-invented cardamom-hibiscus-ginger-based rum liqueur a national phenomenon.
Chef/Owner, Meatyballs Mobile, El Ideas
Once, a high-end molecular gastronomist at Lockwood in the Palmer House hotel who got fired for tweeting about a “bong,” Foss is now determined to put his submarines stuffed with balls including “schweddy”—spicy Tunisian-style lamb and chicken meatballs—and “chocolate salty” in your face. In addition to his three Meatyballs trucks, Foss is about to launch a storefront operation called El Ideas which will be a supper club of sorts featuring an assortment of rotating themed meals.
A decade from now when we’ll hopefully have food trucks people can actually cook on, successful mobile chefs will likely look at Maroni as their George Washington. In February of 2010, he started a quest and wrote a business plan to get legislation off the ground allowing food trucks in the city. By July he was serving his Indian flatbread wrapped Naan-Wiches stuffed with wild boar belly and lobster all over the Loop from the belly of a truck. Many others followed. Many more will.