Ken and Dan Raskin
Owners, Manny’s Deli
Gino Gambarota is the main man behind the counter at Manny’s Deli, but the men behind him are owners Ken and Dan, representing the third and fourth generations of the Raskin family. Together, the Raskins and their staff have served presidents, aldermen, senators and other power brokers over the past seventy-five-plus years, as well as regular guys who just want to have lunch (or, now, dinner) with their families. “We’re a place for everybody,” says Ken. “I love the multigenerational families who come in here, and we’re a multigenerational business, offering something for everybody. Our customers know we’re not super-upscale, but we serve very high-quality food.” Their number one best-seller? No surprise: corned beef.
Founder-CEO, Purple Asparagus
“We’re creating educated consumers,” says Melissa Graham, whose organization Purple Asparagus educates children, families and the community about sourcing, preparing and eating food that’s good for both the body and the planet. “The better we create knowledge in future generations, the more we’re going to see change and development in the future. It’s a lifetime thing.” There has been increasing interest in sustainably sourced food over the last decade, something Graham thinks will become mainstream. “We’re at a very critical point for our planet, and our food systems are very much responsible for part of that,” she says, adding that restaurants, food businesses and nonprofits can work together to educate people on how their choices affect the earth.
Molly Each, Liz Grossman and Rachel Gillman Rischall
Founders, Between Bites
Molly Each, Liz Grossman and Rachel Rischall, the three Chicagoans who created Between Bites, are still expanding their moveable feast of language, a spoken-word platform for journalists, chefs and restaurateurs to read their works about food and life. Each tells us, “At our first event, we hosted sixty people at TWO restaurant. This past October, we held our five-year-anniversary party at Savage Smyth, where more than 130 guests helped us toast the milestone. Through ticket sales, we’ve raised more than $65,000 for local charities. This year, to raise additional funds, we’ve secured ticket donations from coveted events like the James Beard Awards and Chicago Gourmet, and we’ve offered those tickets through charity raffles.” Readings from Between Bites are also available as podcasts.
Operations Manager-Master of Barrels, Pipeworks Brewing Co.
Pipeworks Brewing Co. is always trying out new brews, which always sell out. “Creativity and experimentation are the heart of why we’ve made beer,” says Mike Schallau. “Exploring ideas, concepts and flavors is the fuel that burns in our engine. We are very conscious of the implicit agreement we have with our fans that when we do something ‘experimental,’ it arises out of curiosity and creativity rather than an attempt to get attention or shock value.” In spite of the flow of new beers coming from Pipeworks, Schallau says that “the accomplishment we are most proud of in the past year is producing a fantastic pilsner. In the brewing world, making a pilsner is one of the most difficult things to do. There is very little margin for error and nowhere to hide.” In 2019, Schallau and the Pipeworks team plan to open a taproom at California and Logan in Logan Square.
SACRED (Saving Agave for Community, Recreation, Education and Development) was founded by Lou Bank to introduce Americans and others—through tastings, guided travel and other experiences—to Mexico’s agave distillates. Also important is the work SACRED is doing in Mexico’s agave-producing regions: the group works with Mexican communities to build libraries, develop water preservation systems and cultivate and grow agave plants for future generations to make a living as well as enjoy agave spirits. Bank’s tastings of agave distillates are inspirational. “I know people who’ve left SACRED tastings,” he says, “and booked flights to Oaxaca. In a broader sense, I hope that my educational tastings for bar and restaurant workers have resulted in Chicago diners being encouraged to find mezcals and other agave spirits that appeal to their palates. It’s hard to get someone to go from cocktails to neat spirits, but agave shines brightest when consumed neat.”
Roosevelt University professor emeritus Bruce Kraig has written about a lot of things, including the all-American hot dog and the “Cuisines of Hidden Mexico.” He’s also edited a world encyclopedia of street food as well as “The Chicago Food Encyclopedia.” We asked him when he thought Chicago had its golden age of dining. “The golden age is today!” he says. “It started in the 1970s with Louis Szathmary, Jovan Trbojevic… all leading to Alinea. Chicago is the capital of innovative fine dining [with] a greater variety of good ethnic restaurants than any city outside of New York. It is a center for culinary mash-ups, a very American way to think about food. Chicago’s restaurants would be much more attractive if they were quieter. Old restaurants provided more pleasant dining experiences.”
Owner, North Shore Distillery
“During the polar vortex, we geeked out about how to freeze booze,” Sonja Kassebaum jokes, in a display of the nerdiness she says is integral to North Shore Distillery’s success. “We love to play with ingredients and techniques with the goal of making truly amazing spirits that are not possible on a mass scale.” As owner of the oldest craft distillery in Illinois, she and her co-owner husband want people to drink better. “We’re transparent about how it’s made, we use only real ingredients, and we run in an environmentally conscious way.” They compost or recycle almost everything, leaving behind a single square foot of trash each day. Education is also important, and while she loves experimenting, she wants bartenders to truly understand how ingredients work before using them. “We think through the ramifications and share what we’ve learned.”
Designer, Aria Group Architects
“You need to be able to create an experience,” says Megan Walsh, who has designed and renovated rooms in some of Chicago’s most beautiful restaurants, including Rick Bayless’ Bar Sótano and Topolobampo. “Patrons have evolved and expect more. It’s about telling a story of the concept and the restaurant.” She works with lighting and space, and ties her design into everything from the music to the menus. And it’s not only in fine dining: her firm works with Nando’s Peri-Peri and other fast-casual restaurants who want to prioritize design and experience to draw customers. “Bringing it down to all levels is important,” Walsh says. “Many people do take-out, so if they’re going to sit down in a restaurant, they want an experience.”
Author, Editor, Plate
With degrees in journalism and culinary arts, Chandra Ram is well-positioned to serve as editor of Plate, a magazine that introduces chefs to ways of preparing and serving ingredients old and new. “I love it when I hear about chefs connecting with each other because of a recipe or technique we feature,” ” says Ram. “That’s the best; when you feel like you made their lives more fun.” In 2018, Ram co-authored with chef Bill Kim the book “Korean Sauces: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces.” (Ram’s work also includes “The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook: 130 Traditional and Modern Recipes.”) “I’m excited about the rise in modern Indian cooking,” Ram says. “There’s been a boom of modern Indian restaurants over the last few years in New York and San Francisco, and now Chicago is getting in the game with Superkhana International and ROOH.”
Founder-CEO, Farmer’s Fridge
“Our goal,” says Farmer’s Fridge founder Luke Saunders, “is to make fresh, healthy food as accessible as a candy bar.” Saunders achieves that by stocking his branded vending machines with chef-curated, high-quality, reasonably priced meals and snacks. “I’m most proud of the fact that as we’ve grown to more than 200 Fridges, the quality, variety and value of our food has actually gotten better,” Saunders says. “We’ll double the number of Fridges locally in 2019 and continue to expand our menu offerings with more heatable options and new seasonal dishes.” In Chicago, you’ll find Farmer’s Fridge machines at Revival Food Hall, Block 37, Riverside Plaza and locations you can locate on the Farmer’s Fridge app.
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org