Today we reveal a new class of winners. These Young Guns are breaking ground in the kitchen, behind the bar, in their communities, and for the industry at large. They're implementing no-tipping policies, expanding restaurant empires, turning around small town economies, redefining excellent customer service, and making their mark on the world.
This is the fifth year we've been doing this at Eater, and by studying these up and comers we've seen so much smart change. We're moving toward more restaurants that defy stereotypes, more bars experimenting and getting customers excited about new things, and more policies implemented to make things better for people inside the industry. We can't wait to see what great things these 19 winners do and how they continue to shape the restaurant world. Without further ado, meet the 2016 class of Eater Young Guns.
Chef/owner, Mei Mei
Family is a big part of what goes on at Mei Mei, a popular food truck and restaurant in Boston, MA, that serves Chinese-American cuisine. In the literal sense, chef and owner Irene Li works with her older brother and sister. In the figurative sense, Li is part of the larger family that staffs the restaurant, and she spends a good portion of her time looking out for people and making sure that things are running smoothly for all who sustain the business.
Katrina Jazayeri’s path to the restaurant world stems from a desire to impact community health. "You can know what’s good for you, but whether or not you can act on that knowledge comes down to money a lot of the time. So creating a stable economy, and creating good jobs and economic security, is step one to having an impact on health in any community." It’s that mindset that fuels the way Jazayeri runs Juliet: a no-tipping, profit-sharing model aimed at "creating a career pipeline rather than just jobs."
Chef, The Buffalo Jump
Cape Cod, MA
Higgins-Baltzley has never had a job outside of the restaurant industry. She grew up in Cape Cod and returned home after working in California, Chicago, and abroad, to bring new life the original cuisine of the area. First with The 41-70 and now with a new dinner series called The Buffalo Jump, she focuses on the Native American, Portuguese, and English influences. Alongside her co-chef and husband, Higgins-Baltzley showcases the wealth of ingredients the Cape has to offer in the form of elegant and inspiring dishes.
Cider director, Wassail
New York, NY
It’s not uncommon for Daniel Pucci to be on his feet all day, serving the many curious patrons of Wassail, New York’s first cider bar where he serves as the cider director. Having stumbled upon a passion for wines in high school, Pucci moved to New York to be a sommelier and found himself excelling in the wine arena at places like Eataly and Otto. But he’s found that cider, unlike wine, is unchartered territory for gastronomists — there’s a welcoming sense of less rigidity and more freedom for those who pursue cider, he says. He hopes he can portray that with a marketing campaign with the New York Cider Association and work with the Urban Cider Project, promoting harvesting and producing cider from fruit found within the five boroughs.
Heather LaVine and Vic Christopher
Co-owners and operators, Lucas Confectionery/Twenty-Two Second Street Wine Co./Peck's Arcade
Community is everything to Heather Lavine and Vic Christopher, who own and operate two restaurants and a wine shop in downtown Troy, NY. The small town on the Hudson River was in need of an economic revitalization when the two left their jobs in minor league baseball, and now they’re at the forefront of a new way of living in the city, one that’s focused on growth, opportunity, and development.
Executive chef, Momofuku CCDC
Momofuku CCDC opened in October with Patrick Curran at its helm. The 28-year-old executive chef started as a line cook for the New York-based restaurant group back in 2010, and with his positive outlook and approach to leadership, Curran is building a strong team inside the new DC restaurant and strengthening ties outside of it, in the community at large. He attributes a lot of his success to the people who have supported him along the way, and the people he works with today.
Chef/co-owner, Short Grain Food Truck
While some might say it’s a little ballsy to want to work for yourself in your mid 20s, Shuai Wang didn’t think so. Since he couldn’t find work in another restaurant after spending time at Chez Sardine in New York, Wang decided to be his own boss in Charleston via his food truck, Short Grain. "I'm never one to worry about anything. Strangely, things just seem to work out," he says. "Our food was a little strange — there was nothing like it around here, but we just had to find our people to love us for who we are."
Head bartender, Amer
After earning an engineering degree, cementing his place in the Atlanta bar scene, and participating in the city’s best kept industry secret — a pop-up churning out some of the best food around and the affiliated nearby speakeasy-style after dinner drinks — the 26-year-old can now be found at Amer, a bitters-centric cocktail lounge in the city’s once-bohemian, increasingly glitzy Inman Park neighborhood. In this age of mixologists and beverage directors, it would be easy for a cocktail novice to take one look at Welch — stylish frames, pomade, patterned dress shirt — and pigeonhole him into that all-too-common wave of pretentious barkeeps. Instead, he only wants to send you on your way in a better mood than when you arrived.
Principal bartender, Standby
After earning her stripes in the chemical engineering department at the University of Michigan, Dorothy Elizabeth thought she could kickstart a career in data and research at Blue Cross Blue Shield. That didn’t quite work out for her, however, and the now 28-year-old took her chemistry mindset with her on a leap of faith to Detroit’s Republic in Spring 2015. Not to say that her background earned her any recognition, nor her early accomplishments: "No one would take me seriously, or they would just brush things aside. It became very frustrating." Things have changed for Elizabeth, now the top bartender at Standby who is inching closer to acing her sommelier exam and continues to work hard to maintain recognition in a space of mixologists who aren’t afraid to try what’s next.
Head bartender, GreenRiver
There’s a sense of fight and spirit that stands out in Julia Momose, the head bartender at Chicago’s GreenRiver bar and restaurant partly founded by Danny Meyer's renowned Union Square Hospitality Group. The 27-year-old’s determination is hard to miss and has served her well in positions in her native Japan and as well as in Baltimore, where she’s broken any type of misconception that women are only interested in earning tips and being "cute" behind the bar. "Being a woman should not affect me ever being the best. I know for a fact that I can exceed expectations, and surprise you when you trust me to try."
Executive chef, Pastaria
St. Louis, MO
If there’s one thing that she will never forget about her childhood, Ashley Shelton says it’s the amazing home meals that her mother created every night — meals that Shelton would miss dearly when she lost her mom at 14. That influence led her to culinary schools in New York and Florence, where she stumbled upon the job of a lifetime that awaited her back in her hometown of St. Louis. While it may seem that Shelton has breezed into many of her achievements and to her role as executive chef at Pastaria at a mere 27 years old, this high achiever learned the hard way that challenges always pop up when you least expect them. "I have to beg sometimes for people to tell me things straight up and not hold back on me in the sake of hurting my feelings," she says. And even in her long-awaited leadership role in the kitchen, there’s one challenge in particular that contests her dream come true.
Executive pastry chef, Odd Duck/Barley Swine
Her nickname is Queen — and she certainly is, when it comes to executing the desert menus at two of Austin’s most celebrated eateries, Odd Duck and Barley Swine. While she wasn’t sure of what she wanted while in culinary school, Susana Querejazu found her niche in pastries and began cultivating a powerful sense of execution that is apparent in her quality work at two very different restaurants. "You know when you take on a project that it's going to be a challenge. You just have to start at one point...It's just trial and error until it's nauseating," she says.
Bartender, education chair, brand ambassador, Anvil Bar & Refuge/United States Bartender's Guild
It wasn’t his plan to end up behind a local coffee shop’s bar as a barista, but Alex Negranza turned a fated moment in his college career into a full life’s passion when he bought a one way ticket to Seattle to study coffee in 2007. And it also wasn’t his intention to find his way into bartending from there, but he couldn’t deny the similarities. "Baristas and bartenders are so similar, but almost polar opposites. One gets you ready for the day, the other helps you settle down," he says. "The jobs are similar, but the cultures are so different."
Despite years of work and moving up the command chain at Beast in Portland, Oregon, Maya Lovelace left in the quest for some personal insight. The North Carolina native had left a beloved world of Southern cuisine behind to excel in Portland, but six months after she moved there, Lovelace found herself staring down her roots. "I didn’t really know what my food was," she says. "And I started thinking back to the fact that six months after I moved to Portland, my grandmother Mae passed away. So when I was trying to figure out what to do, it was the first thing that really made sense, having an opportunity to pay her back for what she gave me."
Assistant wine director and AGM, State Bird and The Progress
San Francisco, CA
"You can’t sommelier in a bubble" according to Marie-Louise Friedland, the assistant wine director and general manager at The Progress and State Bird in San Francisco. She wants to move the wine industry forward by connecting professionals and learning together.
Head chef/pizzaiolo, Tony's Pizza Napoletana
San Francisco, CA
Laura Meyer landed her first job 10 years ago, at 17, the way most teenagers do — by wanting to work where her friends did. It was a serendipitous start to what has turned out to be a wildly successful career choice: Meyer has since won both the World Pizza Championship in pan pizza in 2013 in Parma, Italy, and the 2014 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas for non-traditional pizza."I couldn't have planned it better to start my career at 17 and develop it into what this has become," says Meyer. "This is the ideal for someone like me."
General manager/owner, Barcito
Los Angeles, CA
If you ask about no-tipping policies in the restaurant industry, one could point to the mass failures that have largely characterized the trend. Joe’s Crab Shack, despite its nearly 100 locations, had to abandon the concept. So did David Chang at his Nishi restaurant in New York. How, then, can a local restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles make the policy work? Will it continue to work when state policy makers raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022? These are all challenges that 27-year-old Andrea Borgen deals with on a daily basis as Barcito’s owner and operator, and successfully, no less.
General manager/wine director, Orsa & Winston
Los Angeles, CA
28-year-old Maxfield Schnee has been surrounded by fine dining since childhood, where he enjoyed meals alongside his father and colleagues at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. "I'm 10, 11, 12 years old, and I can feel this air of immeasurable hospitality," Schnee says. "From a very young age, I was exposed to that lifestyle and very much attracted to it. When I was old enough to work, I wanted to work at a restaurant."
Chef de cuisine, Galaxy Taco
La Jolla, CA
It’s undeniable — there’s a level of commitment to her craft that 25-year-old Christine Rivera holds above all else in her specialized tortilla-making space of this industry. The chef de cuisine is Galaxy Taco’s instructor extraordinaire who leads her staff in attempting to change the way tortillas are perceived nationwide. Rivera, who makes fresh masa dough everyday at Galaxy Taco, feels connected to the family who grows the restaurant's corn and gives her a sense of responsibility to "make it shine" — much of which ties into her desire to have professionals and diners alike see tortillas as a craft, just as much as artisanal breads have enjoyed prestige in the same category.