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Meet the Experts 2017
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Meet the Experts 2017

When: Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Where: Old Crow Smokehouse
149 W Kinzie St.
Chicago, Illinois  60654
United States
Contact: Christine DeSousa

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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 Baez



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. 


Erik Baylis


Big Onion Tavern Group


Erik 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.


Bottleneck - Team - Chris

Chris Bisaillon


Bottleneck Management


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.


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Mark Braver

Chief Operating Officer

Heisler Hospitality


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, Chicago.


Gerrin Butler

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, Edwardsville.  





Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits

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. 



Abe Conlon


Fat Rice


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.



Kimberly Galban

Vice President of Operations

One Off Hospitality

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 Maxwell.

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 Gabe Garza


Ideology Entertainment



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



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.

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Ian Goldberg

Vice President

Boka Restaurant Group

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.

Bobby Gonzalez

Chef Concierge

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 Isabelli


IMR Chicago



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.



Glenn Keefer

Risk Management Consultant

Heil and Kay Insurance



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.


Nick Kokonas

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.


Jeremy Kudan


Kudan Group Real Estate


Since 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 selection.



Carrie Luxem


Restaurant HR Group


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.


Donnie Madia


One Off Hospitality


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.



Anshul Mangal


Idea Kitchen/ 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



Tim McEnery


Cooper's Hawk


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.


Greg Mohr 

Greg Mohr


The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group



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.

 Alexander  Pappas

Alex Pappas


Stahl Cowen

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.



Erin Phillips

Director of Operations

Boka Restaurant Group


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.



David Rekhson


DineAmic Group


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.



Tim Ryll

Bar Director

Four Corners Tavern Group

As 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 neighborhoods.


John Ross


B. Hospitality Company

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.


Michael Schultz

Michael Schultz

Co-Founder/ CEO

Coffee & Tea Bar Holdings

Michael 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.


Alpana Singh, MS


The Boarding 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


Family Farmed


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.



Kristianna Smith

Director of Business Affairs

Land and Sea Dept.


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 Room).



Doug Sohn

Hot Doug's

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 Taylor



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 Wagner

Director of Operations

Hogsalt Hospitality

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


Phillip Walters


B. Hospitality

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.


Patrick Wartan

Attorney / Chair of the Food and Beverage Practice Group

Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP 

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.



Clinton Wolf

VP of 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.


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