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The Illinois Restaurant Association presents its 4th Annual Meet The Experts with Keynote Speaker Nick Kokonas, Co-Owner and Founder of the Alinea Group of Restaurants: Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and Roister, and Founder and CEO of Tock, Inc. At the event, registered restaurant/bar/hospitality operators will be able to reserve 15-minute speed coaching sessions with the experts of their choice (subject to availability). Thank you to our event sponsors: Old Crow Smokehouse, Reinhart Food Service, Taft Law, Stahl Cowen and CliftonLarsonAllen.
Keynote Speaker, Nick Kokonas
Co-Owner and Founder of the Alinea Group of Restaurants:
Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and Roister, and Founder and CEO of Tock, Inc.
2017 Meet The Experts is Sponsored By:
2017 Event Sponsors:
Meet our 2017 Experts:
Joe is a principal with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CLA) and has been with CLA since 2001. He has 15
years of assurance and consulting experience working with a wide range of closely held companies. He has developed
a significant focus on the issues and concerns of businesses operating in the food and beverage industry, including
dealing with the challenges of mergers and acquisitions. Through this experience Joe has gained a comprehensive
understanding of the concerns confronting owners and managers of middle market companies.
is responsible for managing operations; human resources, marketing campaigns, concept generation, and product
development for each venue. Called the modern day Bill Veeck for his innovative out-of-the-box marketing ideas,
Erik firmly believes that he has never had a bad day in his life, just lessons, and takes that attitude to shape
day-to-day operations. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, Erik understands the intricacies,
complexities and opportunities of hospitality like no other. Erik believes that the company culture and mission
statement are the key elements which differentiate BOTG from like companies. Hiring ‘good humans with great
character’ and teaching them the foundation of the company is always the goal, rather than hiring people with
‘great experience’. Erik holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Minor in Political Science
from the University of Arizona.
Chris’s main areas of responsibility include Site Acquisition, Private
Placement Offerings, Investor Relations and leading many of Bottleneck Management’s professional
relationships. Chris graduated Cum Laude with a double major in Economics and Business Administration from
Illinois Wesleyan University. Professionally, Chris spent 18 years with Van Kampen Merritt/Invesco where he was
employed as a Regional Vice President and most recently as a Divisional Sales Director, overseeing a region that
included portions of 19 states. Chris
grew up in Herscher, a small rural town south of Chicago, where he met Nathan Hilding in grade school. After
graduating from Herscher High School, he continued on to Illinois Wesleyan University, where he met Jason Akemann.
During his time at IWU he was a 4 year starter on the football team. Chris lives in Hinsdale with his two
children, and loves all Chicago-based sports teams, although admits he doesn’t know as much about the Chicago Fire
professional soccer team as he should.
Chief Operating Officer
Mark Braver is a partner at Heisler
Management and serves as Chief Operating Officer. After graduating from Penn State University in 1996 with
a degree in Communications, Mark moved to Chicago to pursue a career in broadcasting. Though his intended career
path did not pan out, he soon realized that his first job as a nightclub DJ was leading him to a career in
hospitality. Mark opened, operated, and sold his first restaurant in Chicago by age 28 and has held senior
management positions with BR Guest in New York City, Starr Restaurants in Philadelphia and the Boka Group in
Chicago. In 2013, Mark became Heisler Hospitality’s first corporate hire where he helped the emerging group expand
to 10 critically acclaimed bars and restaurants. Mark’s proudest moments have come from playing a part in the
success of those around him, which pale only in comparison to time with his son Hank. He resides in Wicker Park,
Director of Food Protection
Chicago Department of Public Health
Gerrin Cheek Butler
is currently the
Director of Food Protection for the Chicago Department of Public Health. She has been instrumental in facilitating
partnerships to develop innovative data and electronic tracking systems, including a system to detect foodborne
illness via social media. She has spent the last 15 years in senior management positions at several health
departments, which helped develop a passion for food safety, leadership, and public health. During that time,
she has made proven and sustained programmatic gains including: increased revenues, data driven decision making,
Sanitarian Standardization Program, and lean process development. Gerrin received her B.S. in Environmental Health
from Illinois State University and a Master of Public Administration from Southern Illinois University,
Bang Bang Pie
Born in St. Louis, Michael
Ciapciak always loved restaurants & hospitality. Michael honed his craft in New York’s restaurant world as Head
Maître D’ at Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill’s General Manager. Once making the move to Chicago, Michael managed
Chicago’s TRU. In addition to running the front of the house at some of this country’s finest dining institutions,
Michael traveled the globe as an incognito critic for Forbes Travel Guide, hunting for the world’s best
restaurants, luxury hotels & spas. This vast and varied experience helped to refine his vision for what type of
place he would some day open. Michael is owner/operator of the Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits with two Chicago
locations (Logan Square & Ravenswood). When not brightening his guests' days, Michael loves spending time with
his wife Susan and his four young children, Ned, Will, Nora & Charlie.
Beverly Kim Clark
After twenty years of working in kitchens, Beverly Kim
finally opened her own restaurant with her husband Johnny in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. Parachute,
which opened May 2014, has recently been named “Chicago’s Best New Restaurant 2015” by Chicago Tribune, and
“Restaurant of the Year 2014” by Eater Chicago, and listed in Bon Appetite’s Hot Ten. Parachute was a James Beard
Award finalist for Best New Restaurant this past year. In 2011, her
finalist standing on Top Chef Season 9 has further proven her abilities as a chef.
Growing up in Lowell MA, Abraham Conlon’s culinary
beginning was heavily impacted by his Portuguese heritage and a strong Southeast Asian presence in his community.
Beginning a professional cooking career at the age of 15, Conlon gained knowledge of classic sensibilities early
on. He continued his training at the Culinary Institute of America while also studying fusion techniques
under Chef Norman Van Aken. The next stage in Conlon’s career found him running Chez Asian Bistro in the Dominican
Republic followed by Augustine’s at Fredericksburg Square in Virginia where he at the time became the youngest chef
to be awarded a Four Diamond Award by AAA. As chef and owner of his increasingly popular restaurant Fat Rice
in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Conlon has quickly been recognized as one of the city’s top chefs.
Fat Rice is a return to his roots, harmonizing the rich influence of Conlon’s upbringing and heritage with a thirst
for culinary exploration and preservation by focusing on food from modest traditions prepared with an immense
respect for custom and technique. He has received many awards and recognition including Fat Rice being named
One of the Best 10 New Restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine in 2013, a Jean Banchet award in 2014 and 2015 and a
2016 finalist nomination from The James Beard Foundation to name a few.
Vice President of
A Chicago native, Kimberly Galban was introduced to hospitality at a very young
age. In 1998, Galban enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago to obtain her bachelor’s degree. Looking to
balance her studies and finances, and with her grandfather’s voice in her head, she took a job in the food
industry. Galban first joined the restaurant group in 1999 as a hostess for Blackbird. Her food expertise and
superior guest service was evident, and Galban was promoted to Blackbird’s manager in 2002. In 2004, after helping
open acclaimed avec restaurant, Galban recognized an opportunity for growth with the Park Hyatt Chicago, and became
the assistant manager at the esteemed NoMI Restaurant. Galban rejoined the restaurant group in 2008 as the
Publican’s General Manager, which opened in October of that year. Serving as the face of the Publican for its first
three years of operation, Galban continued to cultivate a level of service that surpassed guest expectations. In
June of 2011, with the creation of One Off Hospitality Group, Galban signed on as Director of Operations and
shortly after was promoted to Vice President of Operations. In addition to her duties as Vice President of
Operations, Galban is a managing partner for Nico Osteria, bringing her hospitality experience back into a hotel
setting. Galban lives in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood with her partner Erling and their son
In 2012, Gabe Garza left New Orleans seeking new opportunities with business
partner and Chicago real estate mogul, Fred Latsko. Together, the two established Ideology Entertainment. Since the
company’s founding, the duo has opened and operates five concepts together with four more concepts on the horizon.
A true southerner, Garza was born in New Orleans and spent much of his early life in Houston.
While pursuing a diverse education from both Louisiana State University and Vanderbilt University, Garza’s love for
hospitality administration and management flourished. As an undergraduate student, he cultivated his professional
development with four restaurant groups, pioneering skills in conceptual design and restaurant operations. After
completing his degrees, Garza quickly became an innovating force in the New Orleans and Birmingham culinary scenes,
conceptualizing three restaurants and advancing to the role of managing partner, a position he held for twelve
years. Today, Garza is President of Ideology Entertainment.
Michael Gebert is the editor and publisher of the online Chicago food magazine Fooditor
and a James Beard Award-winning food writer and video maker based in Chicago. He has been a contributor
to the Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, Where Chicago, Serious Eats, Thrillist, Air Canada’s in-flight magazine
and others, and was the editor of Grub Street Chicago.
Since joining Boka Restaurant
Group (BRG) in 2003, Ian Goldberg’s tenure with BRG can be characterized by the same traits that Ian mentors on a
daily basis: hard work, dedication to your craft, and enlightened service. Ian was born in Chicago, Illinois and
graduated from The University of Illinois with a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration with a focus in
Entrepreneurship. Ian was the first employee ever hired by Boka Restaurant Group, and has since become a shining
example of the potential growth you can experience within the company with hard work and dedication. Ian’s
career at BRG began as one of the opening bartenders at Boka in 2003. He eventually earned a promotion to AGM at
Landmark, followed by GM at Boka and then GM at Perennial Virant. He was named Director of Operations in
2009, and promoted again to VP in 2011. Ian’s evolution continued in 2012, when he was named a partner in
Boka Catering, and has also become a partner in Little Goat, Balena, Momotaro and Swift & Sons. Ian
oversees a staff of almost 1,200 employees and 36 managers at 12 different entities. During Ian’s time with BRG,
the group has received many accolades, most recently “Restaurant of the Year” for Momotaro in both
Chicago Magazine and Chicago Social in 2015.
The Kimpton Gray Hotel
Bobby is an award winning
Concierge formerly of the Hotel Palomar Chicago - a Kimpton Hotel, and now Chief Concierge of the Kimpton Gray
Hotel in Chicago’s Loop. Fun fact about Bobby, he got his start in hospitality back in 2007 re-stocking mini bars!
A key part your hotel room wouldn't you say? Notice his gold lapel pins? These symbolize Bobby is a member of Les
Clef d'Or USA, the largest international organization of Hotel Concierge. Les Clefs d’Or USA represents Concierge
that are at the pinnacle of the profession. Bobby is an active member of the Chicago Hotel Concierge Association,
and also an ordained minister, too! Bobby has won several awards including the IHLA Employee of the Year award for
the Chicagoland region, and the Concierge Preferred Jon Winke Rising Star award, voted in by his peers.
Janet has served as
a public relations consultant to dozens of the nation’s premier destinations for more than 17 years. Before
founding IMR in 2011, she held the position of VP at Wagstaff Worldwide, where she led the company’s Midwest office
for nearly a decade. Previously, she served as the Assistant Director of College Programming at the University
Chicago, where she oversaw large-scale events for students of The College. In her tenure, Janet has
represented internationally recognized entities such as Soho House Group, InterContinental Hotels, Trump Hotels,
the Illinois Restaurant Association, the James Beard Foundation and numerous others. The media relations campaign
for Chicago’s annual, premier epicurean event – Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet – falls under her agency’s
care, as well as those for countless, award-winning restaurants and chefs. A Chicago native since 1995, she
has contributed to many of the city’s leading non-profit organizations including Chicago Gateway Green,
Lookingglass Theater, CASA of Cook County and the Ferrer Foundation. She was named one of Crain’s Chicago
Business’ “40 Under 40” emerging business professionals in 2007 and one of Newcity magazine’s “Food
& Drink 50″ in 2011 and 2013. Chicago Woman magazine also named her one of the city’s most influential
women in food in 2015. Janet holds undergraduate degrees in Spanish Language and Literature and Law,
Letters and Society from the University of Chicago, where she remains active in the alumni community.
Heil and Kay
Originally from New York, Glenn
Keefer came to Chicago in 1980 with the Palm Restaurant. After working for The Palm for 12 years, Glenn
opened the Chicago Ruth's Chris Steak House in 1992 and was later promoted to VP of Operations for the largest
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse franchise group. In 2001, Glenn went out on his own with brother Richard and Jimmy de
Castro and opened Keefer's Restaurant in and served as Managing Partner of Keefer's Restaurant in Chicago from 2001
– 2014. Keefer's was Ranked “Best of Chicago for Steak” by The Food Network, one of the “Top Ten Steak
Houses in the US “by Playboy Magazine . Keefer started his 45 year restaurant career as a bus boy in
Amityville, New York in 1969. He worked as a commercial fisherman on an off shore lobster boat to pay for
college tuition, he survived the sinking of his ship 30 miles off the coast of Montauk Point, New York. At
that point, Glenn decided it was better to sell the fish in a restaurant than to catch the fish on the ocean
.Glenn is a partner in 2 restaurants in Chicago and a Producer and Risk Control Consultant at Heil and Kay
Insurance Agency. Glenn has a BA in
Religious Studies and Dead Languages from Saint Lawrence University (1977) in upstate New York and has been married
to his wife Christina for 30 years and has a daughter and a son. In 2012 Glenn received the “Restaurateur of the Year” award from the Illinois
Restaurant Association “For Outstanding Service and Dedication to the industry”. Glenn is a member of the Government Affairs Advisory Council at
the Illinois Restaurant Association.
CEO and Co-Founder
Alinea Group and Tock
|Nick is the co-owner and founder of the Alinea Group of restaurants: Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and Roister. Collectively they have won dozens of awards worldwide including Best Restaurant in the World, Outstanding Restaurant in the United States, Best Bar in America, and Best New Restaurant in the US and many more. He is also the founder and CEO of Tock, Inc, a booking system for restaurants and other businesses that upends traditional practices. Tock is already in use in 11 countries and 42 cities around the world and has processed over $130MM in pre-paid reservations, the only such system to do so. Prior to his hospitality businesses Nick spent a decade as a proprietary derivatives trader and angel investor and advisor to companies ranging from a children's educational website to an online legal practice. He lives in Old Town, Chicago.
1999, Kudan Group has successfully served buyers, owners and tenants in thousands of real estate and business
transactions across Chicagoland. There is no secret to our success – we simply put our clients’ interests first.
Our clients include some of Chicago’s best known restaurants, nightclubs and bars, as well as office users,
retailers, investors, and property owners. As well, Kudan Group has consulted on thousands of restaurant
transactions in Chicagoland and continues to lead the market in restaurant brokerage, sales and site
As a human resources professional
with more than 15 years’ experience, Carrie has dedicated her entire career to helping restaurant owners and
operators navigate the complexities of HR policy. Since founding Restaurant HR Group in 2010, her customized
approach has reached dozens of clients, spanning the gamut from start-ups to more seasoned concepts. Because of her
success with early-stage restaurants, she is often sought out to assist with the design and implementation of HR
policies as well as design customized internal leadership programs. For more than a decade, Carrie served as
the Director of Human Resources for Potbelly Sandwich Works. She was a key player in the ten-year expansion of
Potbelly, which included growing the chain from three restaurants in one market to more than 200 restaurants in ten
markets. Carrie’s ability to develop and structure the company’s recruiting and HR functions greatly contributed to
the company’s exponential growth. Carrie has been featured in Nation’s Restaurant News, Independent Restaurateur
Magazine, and Entrepreneur. She has also been a guest on Chicago’s AM 560 Remarkable Radio.
Among the city's most acclaimed
restaurateurs, Chicago-born Donald J. Madia has mastered the art of collaboration to execute his singular unerring
instincts for style, atmosphere and hospitality. His unique blend of visionary inspiration, attention to detail and
sense of unlimited possibility informs all he touches— as evidenced in Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The
VioletHour, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats, Nico Osteria and Dove’s Luncheonette. His gift for connecting
talented individuals and business acumen was recognized by the James Beard Foundation through consecutive
nominations for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2012 and 2013.
Now Open Project
Anshul Mangal is the co-founder
and managing partner of Idea Kitchen, a creative agency specializing in the hospitality and food service industry.
The agency is a unique mix of restauranteurs, strategists, creatives, designers and foodies with the experience to
deliver a full suite of marketing services to vibrant food service brands, companies, and restaurants in any
market. Clients include Turano Baking Co., Home Run Inn Pizza and several other notable Chicago restaurants. In
addition, he is a partner at Idea Booth, a creative think tank that has worked with big brands including Walgreens,
Kraft, 1871, Matter, University of Chicago and others. Anshul is the co-founder and managing partner of three
popular Chicago restaurants/bars – Furious Spoon, FireFin Poké Shop and Deadbolt Bar. He founded Takito Kitchen and
Bar Takito. Also an attorney, he specializes in corporate, intellectual, property and immigration law. Prior
to becoming a restaurateur, Anshul practiced law for three years at Jones Day, one of the largest law firms in the
world. Before attending law school in 2006, Anshul worked in finance and project management at Morgan Stanley. He
graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2002
McEnery earned his bachelor’s
degree in Restaurant and Hotel Management from Purdue University, and honed his skills at Aramark’s specialty
restaurant division and Lynfred Winery. McEnery was able to bring Cooper’s Hawk to life at the age of 29, opening
the first restaurant in Orland Park, IL in 2005. Tim McEnery is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants.
Through its national restaurant and winery portfolio, Cooper’s Hawk is expanding its wine-driven lifestyle brand
across the country. The company’s winery crafts over 50 varietals of award winning artisanal wines that are served
at its restaurants and distributed to its Wine Club Members. More than a decade later, Cooper’s Hawk has grown into a competitive retail operation
generating over $200 million in annual revenue with multiple restaurants and an award-winning winery.
Literally born into the industry, Mohr grew up in Rock Island, Illinois watching the
success of the liquor store his great
grandfather founded. Becoming one of the highest grossing liquor stores in Illinois, the Mohr family expanded the concept into three bars and a deli. Working in the deli since he
was eight, Mohr continued working in the “Quad Cities’” restaurant scene throughout high school and college. Kicking off his
professional career, he joined Gibsons Restaurant Group as a server at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, eventually becoming an Assistant General
Manager. Helping the restaurant accrue
nearly $20 million in yearly sales, he then moved to the iconic Gibsons in Chicago, working directly with Owners
Steve Lombardo and Hugo Ralli. In pursuit
of further experience, Mohr became the AGM of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone and eventually moving up to GM.
Joe’s became one of the best steakhouses in the country, expanding its annual sales from $16 million to $22
million. After working with the group for
years, Mohr saw an opportunity to launch his own restaurant group with Scott Weiner, whom he met during both of their work at Joe’s. Launching The Fifty/50, the group’s namesake
concept in 2008, the pair realized their
combined strengths and passions and began expanding their group. Now an owner and co-founder of The Fifty/50
Restaurant Group, this leading Chicago hospitality brand has nine successful concepts.
Alex is a member of the firm’s
Real Estate and Finance department. His practice is focused on real estate transactions, commercial leasing, asset
backed financing, joint ventures, and land development. He has been involved in notable mixed use, retail, hotel,
multi-family residential, office and hospitality projects throughout Chicago and the metropolitan area. Outside of
being an attorney, Alex is also an integral part of his community. He is a key member of the Chicago-Kent
School of Law’s incubator program, where his role includes advising start-up law firms on how to identify markets,
develop a company brand, and seize business opportunities. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor of Real
Estate at Kendall College’s School of Hospitality Management, and is regularly invited to speak at a variety of
seminars in the Chicago area, including continuing legal education courses for other attorneys. What makes
Alex an asset to any business is the hands-on approach he takes with each of his clients. Rather than trying to
maximize fees, he centers his practice on fostering company growth through creating unique opportunities for brand
expansion. Alex provides his clients with a much broader role than simply serving as a legal advisor; he is a
partner in their success. As such, he has been elected into the Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Stars Selection for
2015, 2016 and 2017.
From a dishwasher turned floor
manager in Yellowstone National Park, to a brewer and GM in Berea, Ohio, Erin’s range of experiences has led her to
pursue a unique and rewarding career in hospitality. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Erin graduated from Baldwin
Wallace University with a bachelor’s degree in education. Upon graduation, Erin found herself back in the
restaurant industry where she was able to apply her passions for teaching and developing others to find their true
potential. After working in both front of the house and managerial positions in Ohio, Erin moved to Chicago
where she served as Sommelier and Beverage Director under chef Jean Joho and Brasserie JO, a Lettuce Entertain You
restaurant. After Brasserie JO closed, Erin joined B. Hospitality Co. as a Manager at The Bristol alongside chef
Chris Pandel. She then moved to open Grant Achatz’s cocktail lounge, The Aviary, where she served as GM. When B.
Hospitality Co. and Boka Restaurant Group joined forces to open Balena in March 2012, Erin was thrilled to accept
the position as GM. She spent three years at Balena before transitioning into her current role of Director of
Operations for Boka Restaurant Group in October 2014. As the Director of Operations, Erin manages multiple
teams and is able to extend her hospitality in numerous dining rooms. When she’s not overseeing some of Chicago’s
hottest restaurants, Erin enjoys gardening, cooking, home brewing, reading and collecting records.
A Cleveland native, Rekhson graduated from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Political Science. During his time at Ohio State, he worked at upscale restaurants in both Columbus and Cleveland, mastering every level of operations from the front of the house to the back. After relocating to Chicago where he worked for SUSHISAMBA Rio and JP Chicago before partnering with Lucas Stoioff to open Stone Lotus - Lounge Restaurant Liquor Spa. In 2009, Rekhson and Stoioff opened Bull & Bear, under the hospitality group, DINE|AMIC. Bull & Bear received both local and national recognition. The expertise of Rekhson and his business partner brought the company continued success with the launch of Public House in 2011. In 2013, Rekhson and Stoioff partnered with Top Chef alum Fabio Viviani creating an Italian restaurant concept called, Siena Tavern located in River North. In 2015 it became a busy year for Rekhson and Stoioff as they had two restaurant openings within a span of three months. The duo opened their first steakhouse called Prime & Provisions which opened in May and Siena Tavern’s sister restaurant, Bar Siena made its debut in the West Loop in July. Upon ringing in 2017, Rekhson and Stoioff made the announcement of opening their seventh restaurant in Chicago and tenth concept for DINE|AMIC GROUP. Set to open in the summer of 2017, Barrio will be the hospitality group’s first Mexican concept located on the prominent corner of Kinzie and Clark Street. He and Stoioff will stick to the reputation the chefs provide by bringing on Top Chef alum, Katsuji Tanabe, to helm the kitchen and oversee the overall menu.
Beverage Director of Four Corners Tavern Group, Tim oversees liquor, wine and beer procurement at all eleven
locations as well as designing wine lists and creating cocktails. Tim has his BA in International Relations from
Colgate University. During his undergrad, Tim was a four-year letterman on the Division I lacrosse team and studied
abroad in Geneva, Switzerland with the Colgate Political Science Group. In May of 2000, Tim relocated to
Chicago where he managed several debt portfolios and monitored trading activity before worked as a doorman at
Gaslight Bar & Grille in 2003. Tim became a bartender at Gaslight in February 2004 and moved to
Brownstone upon its opening in June 2004 where he was the head bartender and assistant manager. In 2005, Tim was
promoted to GM of Brownstone and became part of Four Corners Tavern Group. When Four Corners reorganized in 2005,
Tim became Director of Beverages for the group. All 4C locations operate in various Chicago
John Ross emerged onto the Chicago dining scene in 1997,
taking a role as Director of Service in the opening of Michael Jordan’s fine dining restaurant One Sixty Blue.
In 2000, Ross experimented further with his passion for the restaurant industry and opened his own self-
financed concept, Sage, a farm-to-table restaurant in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, which became known as one
of the city’s best restaurants. In 2005, he sold Sage and returned to Chicago to rejoin One Sixty Blue, leading
them to the Chicago Sun-Times Restaurant of the Year Award. Following two great years, Ross then spent some
time managing and directing food and beverage at Chicago’s iconic Ambassador East Hotel, including The Pump Room
and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood. In 2008, John took his background as a restaurateur and partnered with
Chef Chris Pandel and longtime friend, Phillip Walters, to form B. Hospitality Co. and to open The Bristol. The
Bristol launched with great success with four-star reviews from Time Out Chicago and CS Magazine, a
Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, and top rankings from GQ and Esquire. In early 2015, B.
Hospitality Co. launched Formento’s, an Italian-American heritage restaurant, and Nonna’s, an Italian sandwich
shop, two projects near and dear to John’s heart – named after and inspired by his
Grandmother Formento. B. Hospitality Co. also partnered with Boka Restaurant Group to open Balena in 2012, and
Swift & Sons and Cold Storage in 2015.
Coffee & Tea Bar Holdings
Schultz is the Co-Founder/CEO of Coffee & Tea Bar Holdings, LLC. Michael brings over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and a proven track record of success and
profitability. From casual restaurants to fine dining establishments, his expertise and leadership combined with
his passion for top-notch hospitality have yielded a very loyal following. Throughout his tenure, Michael has
created and formed holding and operating companies, hired and built entire teams from scratch and trained countless
individuals. Michael has proven his ability to develop concepts, evaluate and negotiate real estate, acquire
funding, and complete projects that exceed the expected return on investment. In addition to his time
spent at a variety of high-profile restaurant companies including Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Wolfgang Puck,
Michael has served as a consultant and lectures throughout the country on leadership and hospitality to groups
ranging from law enforcement to medical professionals. A Chicago native
Michael is active and on a board for the Chicago Children’s Choir, CJE Senior Life, Keshet, and is on the
governmental affairs committee of the Illinois Restaurant Association. In 2015 Michael was honored to be included
in Chicago’s 36 under 36. Michael and his wife Sari, a Chicago Public School teacher, reside in Lincoln Park with
their three daughters.
House/ Terra and Vine/ Seven Lions
Born and raised in Monterey,
California, it was only natural that Alpana Singh would develop an interest in wine. Her family owned an
ethnic grocery store where she worked at an early age, a life experience that she credits for her present day work
ethic. At the age of 19, Alpana landed her first job in the wine business as a sales clerk at Nielsen Bros. Market
in Carmel, California. In 2000, at 23, she became the sommelier for Everest Restaurant in Chicago and just three
years later, passed the final level of the Master Sommelier exam – a feat achieved by few in the world. In
December 2012, Singh opened her first restaurant, The Boarding House, a wine-driven concept in Chicago’s River
North neighborhood. Its executive chef, Tanya Baker, was a James Beard Foundation Award nominee in the Rising Star
Chef category in 2015, and was also named a semi-finalist in 2016. Success followed Singh as she opened her second
restaurant, Seven Lions, in 2015. For ten seasons, Alpana served as the host of the Emmy Award-winning
Chicago restaurant review television show, “Check, Please!” Nationally, she was a star judge on the Food Network
show “Food Truck Face Off” and has appeared on “The Today Show” and “Iron Chef America.” In 2013, she received the
Sommelier of the Year Wine Star award from Wine Enthusiast and was named one of Food & Wine’s Sommeliers of the
Year. Singh’s third restaurant project, Terra & Vine, opened in Evanston in October 2016.
Jim Slama founded FamilyFarmed at
a time when few people recognized the term “Good Food movement,” and demand for locally, sustainably, humanely, and
fairly produced food was still a tiny sliver of the overall consumer market. In 2004, Slama created the Good
Food Trade Show, the oldest and most successful local, sustainable food trade show in America. Buyers such as Whole
Foods, McCormick Place, O'hare Aiport, Chicago Public Schools, US Foods, Compass Group, Aramark, and more attend
the show to develop new relationships. Held each March in Chicago, the event has evolved into the three-day Good
Food Festival and Conference. It includes tracks on financing, food policy, school food, producer issues, and food
trade issues. In the event’s 11-year history, more than 800 unique speakers have participated. More than 5,000
people participated in the 2015 Good Food Festival & Conference. The Financing and Innovation Conference
was launched in partnership with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. More than 50 businesses have
pitched investors at the conference and more than a dozen have successfully raised $25 million in debt and
equity financing. To build on this momentum, Slama created the Good Food Business Accelerator in 2014. It is based
at 1871, Chicago’s center for innovation and business incubation. The Accelerator program provides competitively
selected entrepreneurs with a six-month program that includes a curriculum, mentorship, technical assistance, and
networking opportunities with potential investors.
Director of Business
Land and Sea
Kristianna Smith is the Director
of Business Affairs at Land and Sea Dept., a Chicago-based project and concept development studio. After a decade
in the music industry, Kristianna began working for Land and Sea Dept. in 2013, where she currently oversees
sourcing, purchasing, payroll, insurance and the day to day financials of the company and its collection of
restaurants and bars (Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Lost Lake, Cherry Circle Room, Game Room, and Milk
A graduate of the culinary
program at Kendall College, Doug Sohn has held at least 4 or 5 jobs in the food industry. Most notably, he was a
vendor at both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in the 1980s. He cooked in restaurants, catering companies and
corporate dining facilities before becoming a cookbook editor in the latter part of the 20th century. One day a
friend of his ate a bad hot dog, resulting in the opening of Hot Doug’s, the Sausage Superstore, in Chicago in
2001. It closed in 2014. It was kinda famous in between. He now oversees the Hot Doug’s concession stand in
the bleachers at Wrigley Field and feels personally responsible for the Cubs’ recent success.
Chuck has extensive experience providing tax, accounting and business solutions to a wide variety of closely held businesses and their stakeholders ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to large multi-national corporations. He is highly skilled in tax consulting and planning for the unique situations encountered by business owners and executives operating in the restaurant and other food related industries. Chuck offers comprehensive tax strategy and overall planning programs for multiple-entity companies, including those in transition and/or new business ventures. In the past, Chuck has worked with a Big Four accounting firm and has served as the Chief Financial Officer of a national health care and software company.
|Ryan is a native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan and a graduate of The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. From humble beginnings as a pizza cook in Detroit, Ryan began his career in restaurants at a young age. Ryan has worked every position from dishwasher to General Manager and in a variety of cities and settings; New York, Detroit, Aspen, and Beijing China, before landing in Chicago. Beginning his experience with Hogsalt as a server at Bavette's, Ryan worked up to his current role as Director of Operations within 2 years. Having most recently opened Hogsalt's newest restaurant in New York City, 4 Charles Prime Rib, Ryan returns to Chicago to focus on the organization's existing family of hospitality venues. Ryan attributes his mobility within Hogsalt to being relentlessly positive and embracing change. If not already working in one of Hogsalt's restaurants, Ryan can often be found cycling the lakefront path, or eating enough food and drinking enough beer to necessitate another session on the bike
Inspired by his mother’s cooking, his father’s backyard barbecues, and chefs on
public television, Phil, a native of Iowa Falls, entered the world of hospitality at the age of thirteen, serving
as a line cook at a local restaurant. Ten years later, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant
Management from Iowa State University. After serving as Executive Sous Chef of Brix in Des Moines, he traveled throughout the U.S. gaining
valuable experience at a variety of restaurants. He eventually settled in Chicago where he served for four years as
Assistant General Manager and Beverage Director for N9NE. After N9NE, Phil served as General Manager for Food and Wine Best New Chef (1991) Gabriel Viti at
Miramar Bistro. Phil’s longtime friend and restaurateur, John Ross, introduced
him to Chef Chris Pandel and B. Hospitality Co. was born. Their first project was The Bristol in the Bucktown
neighborhood. In addition to helping to conceptualize the food menu, Walters built the comprehensive wine, beer and
cocktail program, garnering four-star reviews from Time Out Chicago and CS Magazine, a
Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, and top rankings from GQ and Esquire. In early 2015, B.
Hospitality Co. launched Formento’s, an Italian-American heritage restaurant, and Nonna’s, an Italian sandwich
shop, both located on Chicago’s West Loop. B. Hospitality Co. also partnered with Boka Restaurant Group to open
Balena in 2012, and Swift & Sons and Cold Storage in 2015. Phil played a
major role in developing the wine, beer and cocktail programs at both Balena – listed on Wine Enthusiast’s
Top 100 – and Swift & Sons.
Attorney / Chair of the Food and
Beverage Practice Group
Taft Stettinius &
Patrick is chair of Taft’s Food
and Beverage group. He has extensive experience counseling multi-unit restaurant/bar operators on matters relating
to financing arrangements, liquor licensing, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and general corporate governance
in jurisdictions from coast to coast. With a background in the foodservice industry, he works with his clients to
foster their growth by strategically overseeing all aspects of their operations to ensure that they are on a path
to success. Patrick is an adjunct professor at Kendall College and teaches a course on Hospitality Law. He serves
on the advisory council of the Illinois Restaurant Association. Patrick also serves as outside general counsel to
businesses of all sizes. He advises and represents a wide variety of businesses in a full range of legal matters,
including business formation, funding, acquisitions, business transactions, employment concerns, contract disputes,
commercial litigation and negotiations. Patrick is an adjunct professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and
teaches a legal writing course. Patrick was selected for inclusion in Illinois Rising Stars in 2016 and 2017.
He was elected to serve on the General Assembly of the Illinois State Bar Association and is a member of the
Chicago Bar Association, State Bar of California and American Bar Association.
Optum Distribution Services
Clinton is VP Optum Distribution Services for UnitedHealth Group. He is
responsible for developing and managing key alliance partnerships that create business value across the
organization and help advance UnitedHealth Group’s mission to help people live healthier lives. Clinton currently
works on the joint venture between UnitedHealth Group and the National Restaurant Association. Clinton
joined UnitedHealth Group in 2000. Prior to joining UnitedHealth Group, Clinton was a consultant with Deloitte
and served in strategic and capital planning for the Washington University School of Medicine. Clinton earned
a BA in Business and History from Drury University and an MBA from Washington University in St Louis. He
currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Restaurant Association and formerly served on the Board
of Director’s Executive Committee and as Treasurer for the Robert Crown Center for Healthcare Education. He
resides in Chicago with his wife and two children.