Chairman and CEO, Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc.
After Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s completed their seeming conquests of the Chicago upscale grocery market, who’d have thought there was room for another? But the rapidly expanding Mariano’s combines the fresh produce bounty and gourmet offerings (an in-store raw bar, anyone?) with the conventional offerings of a traditional grocery chain in a massive split-personality store that encourages one-stop shopping. (As do the soothing sounds of a live pianist.) Bob Mariano, a former Dominick’s CEO, led the acquisition of the Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets chain about a decade ago, but it’s been just the last year or so, with the opening of Mariano’s stores in the city, that he’s embarked upon his game-changing return to Chicago, with eleven area stores open, and more on the way.
Owner, Protein Bar
How many times in the course of human affairs has this phrase been uttered: “I’d eat healthy, if only healthy food didn’t suck”? Whether Matt Matros ever said it, we don’t know, but his Protein Bar has cracked the code. In spite of a name that sounds like a snack counter at a gym, Protein Bar has caught fire with the downtown workaday crowd, offering up delicious concoctions like its Buffalo Bowl—”All-natural chicken mixed with organic quinoa, house-made vegan buffalo sauce, celery, carrots, cucumbers, and blue cheese”—that redefine fast food. And boy is it working. Since its founding in 2009, Protein Bar has already opened a dozen locations and, according to Matros—who founded the business in response to his own struggles with weight—”will be opening another fifteen over the next year, including some exciting locations in Lincoln Park and Evanston.”
He may not be involved in restaurants or bars, but the twenty-eight-year-old has 300 employees at his $20 million company dedicated to providing kids with healthy, tasty food at school. OrganicLife is the leading provider of healthy school lunches in Illinois (you might recognize their executive chef, Roland Liccioni, from Les Nomades) and is looking to expand throughout the Midwest. Forbes recognized Falk as one of their 30 Under 30 nationwide in Food & Wine this year.
Chef/Owner, Graham Elliot, Graham Elliot Bistro; television personality and Lollapalooza Culinary Director
In an era of oversized chef personas, Graham Elliot stands apart, with a mix of superlative cooking credentials, a flair for going to combat with the media, and an unabashed willingness to share (overshare?) his personal journey. Did you know he recently lost fifty-six pounds? Who doesn’t? And while wags might describe his recent business downsizing with the demise of Grahamwich as a bit of schadenfreude or the beginning of a fall, we’re not buying it. We’d never bet against the kind of guy who sells lobster corn dogs at a music festival.
Curtis Duffy’s Grace is the most significant addition to Chicago’s fine dining scene since Alinea, which Duffy also helped open. Grace offers the most intricate tasting menu in town and easily the best option for vegetarian fine dining. Although he’s incredibly humble and focused, Duffy hasn’t been shy about his goal of surpassing his work at the Peninsula’s Avenues at his new restaurant. He’s aiming for three Michelin stars.
Michael Kornick, David Morton
Owners, DMK Restaurants
Michael Kornick is a chef and restaurateur who apparently never runs out of ideas. In the last two years he, along with partner David Morton, added Ada St. and County Barbeque to his eating empire. The former is a date-night destination with sophisticated contemporary takes on classic fare; the latter is Kornick’s take on BBQ, brightly painted on the outside and featuring a bacon bar inside. Yes: A bacon bar. Every time we’ve thought he was quieting down we’ve been wrong; in April we found out he’s leasing space in Andersonville, so we’ll just say we’re ready for what’s next and, as always, hungry.
Executive Director, Green City Market
The most influential farmers market in the city, Green City is a mecca for chefs and ordinary folks alike. Dana Benigno, appointed executive director in 2011, has worked hard to build the close relationship between the market and Chicago’s chef community, while promoting education and advocacy for sustainable farming practices, and local fresh foods. Deeply connected to Chicago’s food scene (she’s co-owner of chicagocooks.com and was a board member of Slow Food Chicago), her efforts help provide the best produce, meat and dairy while working on behalf of the farmers.
Co-owner, Longman & Eagle, Bite Café, Empty Bottle
Bruce Finkelman is the one guy in Chicago you love without even knowing it. As proprietor of some of the city’s most perpetually crowded restaurants and bars, Finkelman has a clear knack for dining and drinking trends, with the innate ability to execute casual concepts to a tee, all in neighborhoods that are on the verge of a trendy explosion. He established his Chicago cred with fiendishly popular bar/music venue The Empty Bottle and adjacent neo-diner Bite Cafe in Ukrainian Village. Things took off into the stratosphere when he helped open Longman & Eagle and put Logan Square on the map in a way that hasn’t been done since Lula Cafe. He’s not stopping there, with plans to open a Longman & Eagle offshoot in Hyde Park called The Promontory, and a sprawling restaurant/bar/music venue in Pilsen’s historic Thalia Hall, featuring a beer-heavy restaurant called Dusek’s and a basement bar called Punch House.
Chef/Owner, Belly Shack, bellyQ, UrbanBelly
Chicago bellies would not be the same without Bill Kim, a powerhouse restaurateur who has single-handedly shaped the way we look at chef-driven quick-service cuisine. When the fine-dining-reared Kim left his post at Le Lan, the last thing people expected was for him to take off to an Avondale strip mall to open a noodle shop. Crowds have been queueing up for counter-service noodles and dumplings non-stop, as Kim expanded his empire with Latino-Asian street food concept Belly Shack and his most sprawling endeavor to date, Asian barbecue juggernaut bellyQ. Kim effortlessly weaves his way through cuisines and service styles, showcasing his affinity for novel flavor combinations and modern interpretations of classic preparations. The man has since turned the Belly name into a whole brand, with a whole line of Belly sauces on the market.
John Ross, Chris Pandel and Phillip Walters
Co-Owners, The Bristol and Balena
These guys have mastered tasting-menu quality food and creativity in a more casual, affordable setting. Menus at both change daily, so you can dine weekly and never get tired of the cuisine. Bon Appetit named Balena one of the fifty best new restaurants of 2012, and Gayot named the modern Italian joint one of their top ten. The Bristol received equally high praise when it opened—one of Esquire’s top fifty best new restaurants in the country and GQ’s top ten.