As one tumultuous year comes to a close and a new one begins, we’re celebrating those paving the way to a brighter future in our region’s restaurant industry. From the farm to the kitchen to the front of house, these individuals deserve the spotlight not only for their talent, grit and determination but also their ability to lead and inspire during one of the industry’s most trying times.
As they pursue their passions and find their niches, they’re spreading joy with everything from boiled bagels to Vietnamese coffee to edible flowers. They’re also using their newfound platforms to address topics such as sustainability, food heritage and equity within both the industry and our communities.
Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused – and continues to cause – these rising stars exhibit a level of creativity and optimism that makes us hopeful for better – and more delicious – days ahead.
Rising Stars 2021: Springfield
Ellie Schmidly Jones, owner, Cake
Ellie Schmidly Jones has many talents. Besides building a successful singing career – she’s released two EPs in the past three years – she’s also turned her baking hobby into a sustainable business in just a few months. Like most people, Jones found herself with extra time on her hands during the stay-at-home order that went into effect last March. Unable to book gigs, she spent her days baking. “I was just looking for a way to make something beautiful,” she says. “It was a really quick payoff because in a few hours, I could have this lovely baked good.” Prior to baking full-time, she worked as the front-of-house manager of Cherry Picker Package x Fare for a year. Now, she sells her delicious slices of cake at Cherry Picker on Fridays and Saturdays – if you want a taste, we suggest getting there early because her sweet selection usually sells out fast. From sweet potato cake with sweet and salty cream cheese icing, pecan crumble and torched meringue with orange zest to basil cake with black raspberry buttercream and edible flowers from Maypop Flower Farm, her flavors mirror the seasons, and she enjoys experimenting with unconventional baking methods such as drawing flavors into her cakes with steeped floral teas. This year, Jones plans to join Eleanor Taylor of Prairie Pie in her new retail space on South Jefferson Avenue, giving customers more access to her coveted treats.
instagram.com/cake.sgf (Photo by Tessa Cooper)
Molly McCleary, farmer and owner, Maypop Flower Farm
Maypop Flower Farm in Neosho, Missouri, has only been operating for one season, but owner Molly McCleary has already found her niche. In addition to selling ready-made bouquets at farmers’ markets throughout the state, she’s begun offering edible flowers to chefs and bakers in Springfield and Joplin to add to their delectable dishes. In spring and summer, you’ll find the farm’s perky marigolds, charming globe amaranths, delicate nasturtiums, vibrant purple hyacinth beans and more in baked goods and entrées at places around town, including Cake, The Flour Box, Lilac and Lord Baking, The Order and Prairie Pie. McCleary believes flowers can add more than just flavor and color to a dish though; she says a scented bouquet on the table can enhance the entire dining experience. “A bouquet creates a whole atmospheric presence. Fragrance is such an important part of memory and beauty, too. It adds so much to a bouquet because it’s not just visually beautiful; you can smell the flowers, and they generally remind you of something or someone.” Before starting her own business, McCleary took botany classes and studied herbalism at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism. This year, McCleary wants to expand her business with new infrastructure – currently, she’s working on farms in California to save money for a walk-in cooler, high tunnels and a delivery van.
maypopflowerfarm.com (Photo by Tessa Cooper)
Justyn Pippins, delivery manager, Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar, and events coordinator, Q Enoteca
Long before COVID-19 made food delivery services a necessity, Justyn Pippins worked as the delivery manager of Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar. In 2009, he moved to Springfield, Missouri, from Indianapolis to work for his uncle Lyle Foster, owner of the café. Since then, he’s explored every facet of the business – working in the kitchen, cleaning and even booking events at Big Momma’s, which is known as a safe space in the city where residents can come together to have difficult conversations about topics such as race, immigration and sexuality. Pippins says he feels an intrinsic loyalty to the business. “It’s a culture thing,” he says. “When you own something – when it’s family – you treat it a little differently than regular employees do.” Pippins continues to help behind the scenes at Big Momma’s along with planning events such as socially distanced open mics and private parties at Q Enoteca, another one of Foster’s businesses, in addition to working full-time as the human resources manager of Everything Kitchens. It’s hard to understand where he finds the time, but Pippins has also been involved in the revitalization of Minorities in Business, a local organization that promotes economic opportunities for minority groups. He’s established a social media presence for the organization and helps host monthly virtual meetings, in which members might discuss networking opportunities, spotlight a business or sponsor, have panel discussions or conduct small business workshops. Pre-pandemic, Pippins invited Stedman Graham, Oprah Winfrey’s longtime partner, to a speaking engagement in the city. “I want to continue to make Springfield a more dynamic town in Missouri,” he says. “I am going to keep fighting for this place.”
bigmommascoffee.com; qenoteca.com (Photo by Brad Zweerink)
Rachel Fair, owner, Whipped Cream & Other Delights
Rachel Fair has always loved baking, but when she became vegan four years ago, she stopped. “I didn’t think it would be possible to bake good-tasting things without eggs and butter, so I pretty much gave up,” she says. After receiving high praise from her family for her annual Thanksgiving meal, however, Fair felt more hopeful. In May 2019, she launched Whipped Cream & Other Delights, offering vegan holiday plates with all the sides you’d expect at Thanksgiving – from mashed potatoes to stuffing – along with Christmas cookies and cakes for pickup that she says taste even better than their dairy-laden counterparts. The catering-business-turned-vegan-bakery is now known for weekly breakfasts as well, which include cheesy breakfast sandwiches and fluffy biscuits and gravy. Fair conducts R&D and does all the cooking herself, but her assistant baker – plus, on occasion, her teenage daughters – help run the business. Her goal is for Whipped Cream & Other Delights to be the first 100-percent vegan, full-service brick-and-mortar restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, but down the line, she says she’d love to have some company in that field. “I wish I had more time and ability to be a louder, more involved activist for this movement,” she says, “but I really feel that in my own little way, I’m making a difference.”
whippeddelight.com (Photo by Brad Zweerink)
Rising Stars 2021: Kansas City
India Pernell and Arvelisha Woods, owners, Mattie’s Foods
Sisters India Pernell and Arvelisha Woods work, worship and win together. They even transitioned to a vegan diet together as part of a practice of sacrifice during a mission trip. As their health improved and they became more aware about food production, their short-term goal became a long-term reality. That was approximately four years ago; today, they own and operate Mattie’s Foods, one of the most popular vegan restaurants in Kansas City right now. Navigating a restaurant opening during a pandemic would have overwhelmed many people, but not this joyful pair. With creativity and faith guiding them, they’ve already begun to leave their mark on the local dining scene. They specialize in vegan versions of the comfort foods they grew up eating in their mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens (Mattie’s Foods is named after the latter). Fan favorites include the Mattie Bon (their take on a cinnamon roll); vegan Buffalo mac ‘n’ cheese; brisket sandwich made with tofu marinated in barbecue sauce; and spicy nachos with gluten-free chips, pinto beans, vegan protein, cashew queso, pico and cashew sour cream. The sisters love talking to customers about their experiences with vegan food, especially if it’s their first time eating it. Sometimes, Woods says, something as simple as a slice of vegan cornbread or apple pie cake is enough to make someone smile.
mattiesfoods.com (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Eli B. Neal, chef-owner, Minglewood
At Minglewood, which opened inside Strang Hall in Overland Park, Kansas, last September, chef-owner Eli B. Neal creates dishes inspired by his family’s Appalachian roots and his grandmother, who owned a restaurant from the 1940s to the 1970s – he describes her country cooking as “farm-to-table before that was a thing.” Now, with an eye for detail that he honed in fine-dining kitchens over the years, Neal crafts dishes such as the chicken fried steak sandwich and additions such as country ham that respect the ingredients and the heritage of those classic recipes. He hopes to bring that same sensibility to heritage foods from Kansas as well, utilizing Kansas State University’s cookbook collection – among the largest in the country with approximately 38,000 books – and foraging for native ingredients in his free time as part of his research. Neal also finds inspiration in innovators such as Deb Echo-Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, who has revived long-gone heirloom corn varieties through her work with the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project. “I think that is the coolest thing I can imagine cooking,” says Neal. “To see what corn tasted like in Kansas 800 years ago.” While Neal hopes to include Kansas heirloom crops on his menu in the future, for now he’s focused on weathering the pandemic and building up Minglewood as best he can given the circumstances. “The chicken fried steak sandwich and po’boy are my best-selling items – and they are probably going to stay that way,” he says, “but I think there’s a lot of room to do some really exploratory stuff down the road.”
stranghall.com/minglewood (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
James Chang, owner, J.Chang Kitchen, and general manager, Waldo Thai Place
James Chang, general manager of Waldo Thai Place, credits his work family, including chef Pam Liberda and bar manager Darrell Loo, for continually inspiring him and for pushing him to launch J.Chang Kitchen with a line of chile oil. Fed up with the amount of preservatives in imported oils, Chang set about creating his own as a personal challenge. “I thought to myself, surely I can make a better alternative to this,” he says. Although he’s sold out of a half-dozen runs of the fragrant and flavorful oil, Chang is still improving the recipe. For now, the oil is only available in limited runs that Chang announces on his social media accounts – and they sell out almost immediately, so if you’re interested in snagging a bottle (and you certainly should be), you need to act quickly. Recently, chef Tyler Harp commissioned a batch of Chang’s chile oil to use in a special project at Harp Barbecue in Raytown, Missouri. Norcini, located inside Strang Hall in Overland Park, Kansas, also uses the oil to flavor a pizza and a sandwich on its menu. Given the success of his first product, Chang developed an XO sauce and is working on a signature spice blend to add to his lineup; he envisions expanding his selection further still and incorporating it in other ready-to-use concepts. He has also considered selling rights to his chile oil in order to start a Taiwanese café and bar in Kansas City, where he could demonstrate that Chinese cuisine is far from monolithic – that it has more to offer than some might think. Wherever his passion and creativity take him, we’ll be following close behind.
facebook.com/Jchang.Kitchen; waldothaiplace.com (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Jackie Nguyen, owner, Cafe Cà Phê
After acting in New York for 10 years and then touring with the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon, Jackie Nguyen, a first-generation American born to Vietnamese refugees, decided to move to Kansas City to launch Missouri’s first mobile Vietnamese coffee cart, Cafe Cà Phê. “I found a thriving food scene and a Vietnamese community here,” she says, “and I wanted to add my creativity and cultural experiences to the mix by using something mainstream like coffee – in particular, my Vietnamese iced coffee, cà phê đá – to bring people together.” Blending her friendly personality with her professional barista skills, Nguyen is on a mission to make Cafe Cà Phê a safe place for people to try something new such as the aforementioned drink. Sweet but strong, Vietnamese iced coffee is made with highly caffeinated Vietnamese coffee beans, mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice. The Vietnamese hot chocolate – made with sesame milk, condensed milk and chocolate – is also delicious, and at Cafe Cà Phê, even traditional coffees get a shot of something special such as cardamom, sesame or ube syrup. Need something to munch on while you enjoy your coffee? Nguyen sells honey-glazed donuts from Mr. D’s Donut Shop, a cult favorite located in Shawnee, Kansas.
cafecaphe.com (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Max Kaniger, founder and executive director, Kanbe’s Markets
Kanbe’s Markets is eliminating food deserts one neighborhood at a time. Founder and executive director Max Kaniger launched the nonprofit in 2018, stocking a collection of convenience stores – all located in Kansas City food deserts – with kiosks of fresh produce. By the beginning of 2020, Kaniger and his three-person team had raised enough money to move into a larger, 15,500-square-foot warehouse space and install commercial refrigeration units, which would allow them to extend the life of the produce they receive. Plans to slowly grow into the space were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As food insecurity rates rose drastically in the city, Kanbe’s Markets was in the perfect position to help. Kaniger began purchasing and storing large amounts of produce from farmers who were unable to sell it due to a breakdown in their supply chains, and the new warehouse supported local chefs, who got paid to process the raw ingredients. The chefs created hot meals that were donated to local shelters, schools and other charitable organizations, using a food truck as their on-site commissary kitchen. Kaniger quadrupled the size of his staff and successfully shepherded Kanbe’s Markets through the rapid expansion. Next, he plans to add a commercial kitchen to the space – just another stepping stone on his path to feed more people fresh, healthy meals made with locally grown food. “In five years, I believe Kansas City will have cracked the code for creating a model on how to fix the food system, and from there, we can hopefully teach other cities how they can replicate our model,” says Kaniger.
kanbesmarkets.org (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Observation Pizza Team
Chef Nick Vella decided to turn his pandemic pop up, Observation Pizza, into a brick-and-mortar restaurant with a little help from his friends. Now, it’s those same friends who have banded together to see Vella’s dream come true after his unexpected death this past August. The Observation Pizza crew consists of chefs Melissa Dodd, Elijah Luck and Austin Suedmeyer, who continue to take orders and make the pies, alongside Vella’s former girlfriend, Liz Mehrmann, who handles social media and marketing for the business. Vella’s close friend Chris Harrington, owner of Kansas City-themed retail shop Westside Storey, has also invested in the pizza project and has been scouting possible locations for months. The team hopes to find a permanent spot in the Westside neighborhood, where Vella lived and first launched Observation Pizza. In the meantime, they are operating out of the commercial kitchen inside The Bauer and, occasionally, out of The Savoy at 21c, where Dodd and Suedmeyer used to work and Luck still works full-time. “We don’t want people to order pizza from us out of obligation; we want our pizza to be good enough to live up to what Nick would have wanted Observation Pizza to be,” says Dodd. “We work on our dough and use the same quality ingredients he did, and we are continuing to come up with new pizzas [for customers] to try. We want nothing more than to honor his memory by making great pizza.”
observationpizza.com (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Ashly Meek, co-founder, Talking Tree Urban Farm
Ashly Meek’s passions – nurturing her community and sustainable urban agriculture – go hand in hand. In order to ensure that the people around her have access to healthy, fresh food, she established Talking Tree Urban Farm on the acres of land around her Kansas City home in 2019, in collaboration with her boyfriend, co-founder Andrew Bertrand. Meek has gained intimate knowledge of farm management working on KC Healthy Kids’ Splitlog Farm since March 2018, which she uses to grow everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and herbs that attract pollinators, creating an entire ecosystem on the farm. Meek also works with organizations such as Kansas City Food Circle and The Kansas City Food Hub that support local growers and provide healthy food to low-income communities – something that she hopes to see more of in the city. In the same vein, Talking Tree Urban Farm offers nutritious food at an affordable price – items such as baked goods and preserves are available year-round as well as a seasonal monthly CSA.
talking-tree-urban-farm.square.site (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Jeff Lichtenberger, bar manager, Extra Virgin
Known for his energetic personality, spunk and deep appreciation of spirits, Jeff Lichtenberger has also brought seemingly limitless creativity to the bar program at Michael and Nancy Smith’s restaurant Extra Virgin since he was hired almost seven years ago. Prior to leading the team there, Lichtenberger jokes that he worked restaurant jobs that required only a tie-dye T-shirt and the ability to pour a vodka cranberry – when pressed, he also gives a humble nod to the amount of spirits knowledge he’s acquired over the years. Lichtenberger has spent hundreds of hours studying the history, foundation and science of good cocktails, learning what not to do the hard way: through trial and error. He’s put in the work, and his accomplishments show it, but Lichtenberger would rather give credit to the supportive community that’s helped him along the way. At Extra Virgin, Lichtenberger redesigns the cocktail menu every few months, developing a breadth of recipes that are loved by both regulars and first-time guests alike. In the past, he wasn’t opposed to “wacky” concoctions, but he says the COVID-19 pandemic has changed his perspective; now he’s focused on simpler yet well-rounded drinks. Even during this difficult time, Lichtenberger hopes the hospitality industry continues to move forward, embracing differences and giving equal opportunity to all.
extravirginkc.com (Photo by Pilsen Photo Co-op)
Rising Stars 2021: Columbia
Sarah Medcalf and Amanda Rainey, co-owners, Goldie’s Bagels
Sarah Medcalf and Amanda Rainey are no strangers to Columbia’s food-and-drink scene. They met when they were working at Lakota Coffee Co. and Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, respectively, but a lot has changed since then. Both have had kids and plenty of other jobs – Rainey, for instance, opened Pizza Tree with her husband, John Gilbreth, in 2014 – but they still wanted to start a business together. Being Jewish, Rainey has strong opinions about bagels, and when she started baking them amid the pandemic, it became clear that the path forward would be paved with boiled bagels. The ultimate goal is to open a family-friendly café, but for now, Goldie’s Bagels is operating out of Pizza Tree, serving fresh bagels made with Seymour (the Pizza Tree sourdough starter), boiled with malt syrup and baked in a pizza oven. Goldie’s comes to life Tuesday through Sunday mornings; you can grab plain, sesame and everything bagels paired with whipped cream cheese every day, but the blueberry bagel and the signature Goldie bagel made with turmeric and black sesame seeds (a tribute to the University of Missouri) are only available on weekends. For Medcalf and Rainey, Goldie’s is not just a business opportunity. “It’s a chance to rewrite what we want the future to look like,” says Rainey.
ordergoldies.com (Photo by Keith Borgmeyer)
D’Auntre Prince, chef-owner, Scooter’s Food Joint, and organizer, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia
Columbia chef D’Auntre Prince is slowly making a name for himself around town, and he’s spreading the love at one of the places that helped make him who he is. At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia – which he attended himself as a kid – he teaches local youth how to prepare and cook a range of meals, from homemade pizza to chicken alfredo to fried rice. But most local diners will recognize Prince as the face behind Scooter’s Food Joint & Catering, which he launched as a food truck in August 2019. Scooter’s doesn’t have a set menu, but Prince flexes his skills with specialties such as Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, wings and beef and chicken samosas. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince has paused his food truck operations while continuing to offer some of his favorite menu items for catering. His work at the Boys & Girls Clubs was also put on hold, but expect him to be back in the classroom when the new school semester ramps up this month. These unforeseen circumstances won’t slow Prince down: This year, he hopes to open a brick-and-mortar location of Scooter’s, focusing on takeout for all taste buds.
facebook.com/pages/category/Food---Beverage-Company/Scooters-Food-Joint-Catering-1717480645208107 (Photo by Keith Borgmeyer)
Jheron Nunnelly, owner, Mr. Murphy’s Stuffed Potatoes
It won’t be long before Jheron Nunnelly outgrows his food truck – both literally and figuratively. Mr. Murphy’s Stuffed Potatoes, his 6-by-9-foot trailer, just might be the smallest food truck in Columbia, Missouri, but Nunnelly’s menu of loaded spuds, nachos and salads is big on flavor. Nunnelly started cooking as a teenager and sharpened his skills in the kitchens at Como Smoke and Fire, Jazz A Louisiana Kitchen and Lucky’s Market before launching his own catering company, Food Party. He hit the streets with the Mr. Murphy’s truck in the summer of 2019, but things didn’t kick into full gear until restaurants were forced to close their doors in early 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nunnelly shifted his focus to Mr. Murphy’s full time, driving the truck to Fulton, Hallsville and other nearby towns. “The hardest transition was having the confidence to do it,” he says. “I’m used to working 60 to 70 hours a week, so putting in the work and the hours was easy, but the hard part was taking that risk, and I’m not going to lie – it was really scary.” But diners continue to line up for his comforting, scratch-made dishes such as the Smokey Pot Roast with smoked pot roast, shredded Cheddar, sour cream and chives and the Spicy Bacon & Bleu with smoked chicken and bacon, blue cheese crumbles, shredded Cheddar, housemade garlic-Buffalo sauce, sour cream and chives, which can be ordered atop a potato, nachos or salad. This spring, Nunnelly and his wife, Kendell, plan to expand Mr. Murphy’s with a larger truck, and down the line, he dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant and brewery.
facebook.com/pages/category/Food-Truck/Mr-Murphy-Stuffed-Potatoes-401557040683356 (Photo by Keith Borgmeyer)
Brenna Gunn, pastry chef, Flyover
Like leavened bread, Brenna Gunn’s role in Columbia’s pastry scene has been steadily rising since her 16th birthday when she landed her first job at The Upper Crust Bakery and Cafe. Later, she had a multiyear stint with 44 Stone Public House, and two years ago, she took the reins as pastry chef of Flyover, where her regionally inspired desserts made with a contemporary or international twist are a huge hit. With a soft spot for warm spices and autumnal flavors, Gunn says there’s always room for pie and cobbler on her menu. For other culinary inspiration, she draws on memories – merry moments in the kitchen with family, a favorite childhood treat, the smell of fresh flowers from the market. In the face of the pandemic, Gunn has relied on ingenuity to continue moving forward, working collaboratively with the Flyover team to redefine the restaurant’s dessert menu. She’s started crafting boxed desserts made exclusively for to-go orders, ensuring that they’re just as decadent and delicious as any dessert served in the dining room. For the foreseeable future, Gunn is dedicated to pursuing her passions at Flyover, where she’ll continue to create sweet menus – and memories – for herself and for diners.
flyovercomo.com (Photo by Keith Borgmeyer)
Rising Stars 2021: St. Louis
Juwan Rice, founder, JR’s Gourmet
Not many 12-year-olds have their own business cards, but that’s just one testament to Juwan Rice’s lifelong passion and drive. Now 19, he started cooking when he was 6 years old and officially began selling his cookies and other baked goods at age 12. When his mom started taking his packaged desserts with her to work, Rice realized he could actually make some money – and JR’s Gourmet Desserts and Catering was born. Rice, who has since gained experience in the kitchen at a few local country clubs, River City Casino and, most recently, Bait, soon broadened his concept to focus on gourmet meals and private catering. When COVID-19 hit the area last spring and many restaurants closed their doors, he began selling comforting, scratch-made dishes such as red wine short ribs, blackened salmon Cajun pasta and buttermilk-brined fried chicken drizzled with lemon-pepper honey butter for curbside pickup. In an effort to give back, he also founded Feeding the Frontline STL, which provided hundreds of meals to healthcare workers helping to battle the virus around the St. Louis area. In 2021, Rice plans to return to his true passion – pastry – when he launches a new branch of JR’s Gourmet to provide elevated desserts (think a honey-lavender cake layered with vanilla bean-espresso buttercream and honeycomb crunch served with lemon caviar pearls, vanilla bean sugar crumble and citrus curd) to restaurants across St. Louis.
facebook.com/chef.juwann (Photo by Jordan Bauer)
Sarah Schlafly, CEO, Mighty Cricket
Sarah Schlafly wants us all to live mightily. Her St. Louis-based company, Mighty Cricket, sells protein powder and high-protein instant oatmeal made with crickets – that’s right, crickets. For years, Schlafly taught nutrition and cooking classes, and her passion for food equity drove her to build a clean and equitable protein supply to help sustain our communities. “Not in food deserts, but elsewhere, at places like Walmart, you can find good produce at decent prices,” says Schlafly, “but the hardest part is finding a healthy, sustainable and delicious, yet affordable, protein source – something that can lead us into the future as the global population continues to grow exponentially.” Although entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) is commonplace in many cultures outside of the U.S., when Schlafly first considered consuming them herself, she thought, frankly, that sounded disgusting. Now she happily munches on whole crickets – which she compares to popcorn – and she’s working to change other Americans’ perceptions of insects as well. Schlafly lets her products, from flavorful vanilla protein powder to decadent dark chocolate oatmeal to classic apple-cinnamon oatmeal – which all feature mild, nutty crickets – speak for themselves. This year, she had big plans for the company involving restaurants and festivals, which the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted, but she was able to shift gears, moving retail to the forefront, and companies in Southeast Asia and Mexico are showing interest in her products, which has opened her eyes to new export opportunities. When the restaurant industry finds its feet again, Schlafly hopes to work with chefs to position cricket protein to appeal to the American palate. In October, she launched Aya’s Market, an online grocery store that aims to make nutritious food accessible to all – a project that naturally aligns with the ethos of Mighty Cricket. Now, she’s focused on growing those businesses together.
mightycricket.co; ayasmarket.com (Photo by Jordan Bauer)
Darren Young and Charlene Lopez-Young, chefs-owners, The Fattened Caf
Despite the challenges the pandemic has imposed, 2020 was a big year for Darren Young and Charlene Lopez-Young. Pre-pandemic, the couple planned to pop up at Earthbound Beer on Cherokee Street once a month to serve their signature version of Filipino barbecue; instead, their business, The Fattened Caf, has made at least three appearances per month and has been selling to-go meals of chicken inasal, pork belly sisig, ube (purple yam) brownies and assorted brunches every week. Now, their delicious prepared meals and longanisa (Filipino sausage) are also available at Schnucks stores across the St. Louis area. Although this kind of growth was unexpected, it’s exhilarating, and The Fattened Caf shows no signs of slowing down. Charlene left her full-time position to keep up with demand, and the couple hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar location on the same street where they first shared their food with customers. “It’s just this thing that’s taken off, and we’re riding the wave and we’re really excited,” says Charlene. “We’re so excited to see how big it can get, and as long as everyone’s willing to still eat Filipino barbecue, we’ll be here.”
instagram.com/TheFattenedCaf (Photo by Rolf Ringwald)
Kurt Bellon, owner, Izumi
Have you seen that person dishing out Japanese-style sandos from a bright-red 1995 Subaru Sambar? That’s Kurt Bellon. In October, Bellon launched Izumi, a Japanese pop-up concept inspired by konbini – Japanese convenience stores that sell premade sandos served on shokupan (Japanese milk bread), alongside green tea, milk drinks, shrimp chips and Pocky (chocolate-coated biscuit sticks). Named after his mother’s hometown in Japan, Izumi features snacks reminiscent of those that Bellon would pick up on trips to the country. The first month, Bellon was operating Izumi from different pick-up locations around The Grove, and his first four dates sold out within hours. For several months, he did all prep work at Chao Baan, a highly regarded Thai restaurant in The Grove where he served as general manager, but he’s not sure exactly what shape Izumi will take in the future. He hopes to maintain some kind of konbini-inspired business – whether that’s his own brick-and-mortar restaurant with a grab-and-go feel or a spot at other St. Louis food businesses where fans can easily snag his sandos – but Bellon is moving the business forward one step at a time. “I just think that there’s so much potential in St. Louis for a lot of Japanese food past sushi and ramen,” he says.
izumistlouis.com (Photo by Jordan Bauer)
Hannah Kerne, co-founder, Bakers for Black Lives
When protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement swelled throughout the country last summer, Hannah Kerne, who had been working as the assistant pastry chef at Vicia up until COVID-19 hit the area, found herself grappling with a sense of urgency and powerlessness at the same time. As she began talking with her roommate, fellow pastry chef Sharon Harter, the two realized the solution was more obvious than they’d thought. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we just bake?’” says Kerne. “This is our love language; there’s no other way we can express ourselves more radically than this form of love.” The duo enlisted other local pastry chefs, including Tyler Davis and Meghan Coltrain; before they knew it, their initiative, a bake sale dubbed Bakers for Black Lives, had blossomed into a community-wide effort with more than 40 establishments contributing baked goods. So far, the bake sales have raised $30,000 for local racial justice organizations such as Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders and STL Mutual Aid, and more events are planned for this winter. Kerne, who says she’s always wanted to combine her love for food and advocacy, hopes that Bakers for Black Lives can be a vehicle to help connect people with their community and better serve the needs of the city. “You have to meet people where they’re at,” she says. “Everyone’s form of activism is different in the way that they’re comfortable contributing, and I think a lot of people [saw] this as a way they could be part of the movement and gain understanding at their comfort level.”
(Photo by Jordan Bauer)
Patrick and Spencer Clapp, owners, Coffeestamp
Patrick and Spencer Clapp have a simple approach to roasting coffee: Start with the best beans possible. Born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the brothers grew up immersed in the coffee industry – as soon as their mother let them start drinking coffee as teenagers, they were enjoying carefully roasted handpicked beans that their neighbors would bring over from their farm. When they moved to the U.S. in 2012, they were struck by the difference in both quality and price of coffee, and they set about creating a local coffee brand focused on ethically grown and responsibly sourced beans. Now, they’re realizing that dream with their Fox Park micro-roastery and café, Coffeestamp, located inside a 100-year-old two-story building that the brothers renovated themselves after the city’s stay-at-home order halted their construction plans early last year. They’re proud to source beans from their childhood friends at Finca La Alondra as well as other single-origin coffees from farms in Brazil, Colombia, Rwanda and Zambia, which are roasted upstairs and served to guests downstairs. And with a full coffee bar (plus a few scratch-made dishes, including eight flavors of empanadas), Patrick and Spencer not only provide ethically sourced, expertly roasted coffee but also help guests taste why that matters.
coffeestamp.com (Photo by Jordan Bauer)
Pat Gioia, bartender, STLBarkeep
Pat Gioia creates cocktails like a musician writes music. “Every note has been played,” he says. “You have to figure out how to structure them for you, so they vibe with what you’re doing.” The same goes for cocktail ingredients. A self-proclaimed “lifer” in the restaurant industry, Gioia met Matt Longueville, owner of STLBarkeep, years into his career, and the pair hit it off immediately. When COVID-19 began wreaking havoc, Gioia left his job as bar manager at The Block in Webster Groves, Missouri, to join Longueville’s team full-time, helping to launch a virtual happy hour program, virtual cocktail classes and more. “What’s unique about Pat is that he’s able to relate to everyone and make people feel comfortable with the craft cocktail world, creating this hospitable feeling and explaining [any] ingredients that people might not be familiar with,” says Longueville. “I see him being a leader in our industry for years to come.” Gioia embraces the farm-to-cocktail model that drives STLBarkeep, working with Eat Here Saint Louis every week to choose seasonal, locally sourced ingredients that go into the featured cocktails at the company’s socially distanced events as well as its Silver Lining cocktail series, which delivers batch cocktails to imbibers throughout the area. He’s also been asked to appear in a TV series produced by Mid Coast Media, where he’ll be pairing cocktails with food. The series focuses on wellness in the time of COVID-19, and Gioia’s role is to explain why people shouldn’t be afraid to have a cocktail. Above all, Gioia says he loves his job because it’s always different. “The ever-changing landscape that we’ve been able to navigate fairly successfully is probably the coolest thing about doing this right now.” As he takes this time to contemplate carving his own path in the industry, Gioia is also thinking about launching his own line of bitters one day.
stlbarkeep.com (Photo courtesy of Pat Gioia)
Nico Shumpert, private chef
Private chef Nico Shumpert admits that he loves binge-watching shows on Food Network, but his cooking chops extend far beyond the reaches of his living room. Since graduating from culinary school, Shumpert has worked in kitchens across St. Louis, from St. Louis Bread Co. to Sidney Street Cafe to Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., but themed dinner series are where he really showcases his prowess. At these immersive dining events, he aims to engage all the senses and give guests a break from the norm. For his Halloween-themed dinner series this past October, he not only designed the menus – layering prosciutto on top of asparagus flatbread to look like skin as a tribute to Hannibal Lecter, for example – but he also fine-tuned the setting, having guests dine by candlelight and playing appropriately creepy music. “I’m just a fun, creative person, and Halloween is a great excuse for me to do something like that,” says Shumpert. “When you reduce that pot down, though, and get to the real function [of these events], it’s about me hosting; it’s about me being able to serve people and bring people from different walks of life to the table to break bread. I just like to show love in that way.” In the future, Shumpert plans to play with other themes for dining experiences throughout the year. Currently, he’s also collaborating with St. Louis nonprofit Ujima on its new eight-month culinary training program, Project Salsa, which will teach kids in marginalized communities how to produce, package, market and sell salsa. Working with Nick Speed, founder and president of Ujima, Shumpert will help teach the high school- and college-aged students basic kitchen skills, and he has developed the recipes for different salsas – think spicy tomato and pineapple – which will be sold to support the program starting this spring. “I’m big on education, especially equipping kids with knowledge and some kind of direction,” he says. “When they go into the workforce, [I want] them to have a leg up on the competition.” Additionally, Shumpert is excited to launch a YouTube series this month, which will be his way to continue entertaining as more of us stay at home.
nicoshumpert.com (Photo by Jordan Bauer)