Founder, Lagunitas Brewing Company
Lagunitas Brewery is officially based in Petaluma, California. Since opening a huge brewing facility and taproom in Chicago in 2013, however, they’ve become a part of our city and all those of us who love a good beer. The whole operation started when Magee, whose previous job was selling printers, got a homebrew kit for Christmas. “I brewed my first beer in January, and the brewery was open by the following December,” Magee remembers. “Something about brewing just clicked with me.” Magee is from Chicago, and he insists that there was never a question about where the second outpost of the company would be located. Now, Lagunitas is one of the largest craft breweries in America—and it’s getting even bigger: the Chicago brewery is set to double in size (and outpace the Petaluma operation). It’s projected that Chicago’s Lagunitas brewery will produce 1.2 million barrels annually.
CEO, Lou Malnati’s
At twenty-two, Marc Malnati took over his father’s pizza empire. Since then, the younger Malnati has extended the family name to more than forty locations. His secret: team meetings where employees vent and expose their emotions about the way their jobs—and their lives—are going. “I take care of my team,” Malnati says. “It seems counter-cultural to be talking about your feelings in a business meeting, but I can’t imagine working any other way. Once they’re good, then and only then will customers get the treatment they deserve.” It may seem New Age-y, but it’s tough to argue with Malnati’s success.
President, FamilyFarmed and Founder, Good Food Festival
“We launched the first sustainable, local food trade show in America in 2004,” says Jim Slama. Now it’s a three-day event with more than 5,000 attendees. As a result of these annual events, Whole Foods, Chipotle, Lettuce Entertain You, and others have developed new relationships with producers and consumers. “Our Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference,” says Slama, “has helped farm and food businesses receive over $11 million in debt and equity financing in the past three years. As a result, we launched the Good Food Business Accelerator, the first program of its type in America to support food and farm entrepreneurs by building a supply chain for sustainable local food.” Slama is helping all of us eat better, and he’s making it possible for farmers to make a better living.
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas
Chef and Restaurateur and Restaurateur, Alinea, Next, The Aviary
Reading through “Life, on the Line,” a kind of culinary autobiography co-written by chef Grant Achatz and his BFF/fellow restaurateur Nick Kokonas, you see a chef who’s uncomfortable with authority. During his first trip to Europe, he meets with disappointment at temples of gastronomy; he’s too cool for cooking school; he walks out on Charlie Trotter. That rebellious impulse feeds this creative artist who has done as much as Trotter to make Chicago a culinary capital. Kokonas must be given much credit for recognizing Achatz’s early work at Trio and providing the capital and business savvy that lead to their shared success. Kokonas also developed a game-changing online ticketing system that enables diners to put their money down and reserve a seat, just like at a theater… which Achatz’s places usually are.
Editor, Plate Magazine
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chandra Ram oversees the pages of Plate magazine, one of the smarter industry publications (more than two-thirds of subscribers are chefs), and growing in popularity (subscriptions are up more than sixty percent in the past six years). The reason for that growth is due, at least in part, to Ram’s guidance. She tells us her goals are “to connect with the chefs and food people who revere food and drink; restaurants put their stories in Plate and on our website. I absolutely love the restaurant industry, and never get tired of telling the stories behind it.” Awards are important, but to Ram, what means the most “is when a chef tells me that he or she loved a particular article or issue, and appreciates what we’re doing.”
Greg O’Neill and Ken Miller
Owners, Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
Greg O’Neill and Ken Miller are business and life partners who opened Pastoral in 2004, at a time when there were few neighborhood specialty cheese retailers. “We had a world class restaurant scene but under-developed gourmet retail,” O’Neill says. The guys chose cheese because, as former corporate marketing professional O’Neill explains, “artisan cheese was experiencing a renaissance with consumers; there were more producers in America making amazing cheeses, and consumers told us that cheese was the most appealing and differentiating of our categories. That’s why it’s Pastoral Artisan CHEESE, Bread & Wine!” So where do they go from here? According to Miller, “we’re preparing to open our largest project yet in the thriving Andersonville market late this summer…a hybrid retail and wine bistro space that’s a bit larger but still intimate. We’re taking the best of what we’ve learned over time.”
Founder and President, Rare Tea Cellar Inc.
Rodrick Markus traffics in hard-to-source teas and ingredients. A master tea blender, Markus specializes in rare teas—particularly pu-erh—but he also carries a vast range of spices, herbs and exotica like white truffles. His inventory and influence go far beyond the teacup. At many of Chicago’s most respected restos, you’re likely to see an offering from Rare Tea Cellar, his import and wholesale business. Markus has helped chefs develop menus and one-of-a-kind menu items, acting as go-to guy for their every whim (“I need Sicilian blood orange rinds… now!”). Many drinks and dishes wouldn’t exist without his help. His passion lies in the difficult-to-obtain, and his efforts have enriched the options in Chicago’s rich dining scene.
Co-founder, Balsam Spirit
Adam Seger isn’t just trending—he’s heading up some major trends. Years before Chicago’s cocktail craze, the “Charlie Trotter of Cocktails” pioneered a chef-driven approach to drinks at Nacional 27. He grew herbs and created aromatic bitters and infusions before anyone knew it was a trend. Now, Seger is shaking up a whole new industry: reinventing a 200-year-old vermouth recipe. His Balsam American Amaro, a botanical-infused spirit that helps create vermouth on-demand (just add wine!), sold out two hours after hitting the shelves. These days Seger is busy filling orders for Singapore, Calgary and Panama. Expect even greater things from this mixologist-turned entrepreneur.
Founder and President, West Loop Salumi
Ten years ago, salumi was salami, shrink-wrapped on your grocery shelves. Now, excellent charcuterie plates are standard at practically every good restaurant, and Greg Laketek is one of the driving forces behind that trend. The owner of West Loop Salumi, the first USDA-certified salumeria in Illinois, Laketek was inspired by his journeys through Italy, where he realized he “missed having real salumi.” Open since 2013, West Loop Salumi is now in over 150 locations, with distribution expanding nationwide. They’re quadrupling in size with the upcoming opening of a large drying facility—but don’t worry, the West Loop store will remain open for business.
Senior Director, National Restaurant Association
The National Restaurant Association Show brings to Chicago more than 65,000 people from around the world who know the industry better than anyone. “The ones I talk to,” explains Leana Salamah, “will try three-to-four restaurants every day they’re in town, even if it’s just for a quick drink or an appetizer. And they bring their Chicago experiences back home with them to the restaurants that they create and operate around the world. In that way, the Chicago restaurant scene influences the rest of the world’s restaurant scenes in a very unique and hands-on way.” Says Salamah, “having the NRA Show in their backyard gives local restaurants unparalleled access to all of the resources we provide without having to make significant travel plans or leave their operations.” And the benefits, according to Salamah, go way beyond the bottom line: “Our exhibitors over the years have donated more than one-million pounds of food—or 650,000 meals—to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.”