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Top Minds Making an Impact in Food & Beverage Industry

The term “pioneer” doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a sumptuous boutique hotel, complete with a quaint cafe or a bustling, yet elegant dinner ser...

The term “pioneer” doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a sumptuous boutique hotel, complete with a quaint cafe or a bustling, yet elegant dinner service. Neither does it call to mind curated charcuterie, responsibly sourced seafood, or a glass of this year’s Beaujolais nouveau. However, in a time when the once-stellar reputation of hotel-based food and beverage was being relegated to continental breakfasts and in-room packets of instant oats (sending many hotel guests next door to the chain restaurants and pizza places cropping up around the world), boutique eateries were setting the standard.

The boutique lifestyle is, in and of itself, a legitimate pioneer story. After all, it takes an inimitable amount of courage to break away from the cookie-cutter comfort and familiarity that seems to be modern hospitality and forge one’s own path. Now that the ongoing pandemic has introduced yet another new frontier for boutique owners to navigate – this time with an added paneer of physical risk on an already fraught course – the thought of boutique food and beverage innovators as true pioneers rings truer than ever before.

Boutique Thrives on Innovation

Boutique is, at heart, a movement focused on creating a space for the most innovative individuals among us to exert real change in a series of industries that cater to what is potentially the most enigmatic persona in all of the hospitality industry – the world traveler. As such, the discerning traveler and the boutique businesses they visit share an appreciation for curated pleasures interspersed with creative adventure, all on a path that takes the guest far away from the norms of the standard experience. The thought leaders behind some of the most unique dining concepts at boutique hotels and eateries worldwide continue to pioneer boutique sensibilities into what was once a category in dire need of resuscitation – F&B.

Now that the pandemic has once again shifted focus from expansion to day-to-day survival, innovation is more critical than ever. These food and beverage pioneers have not only blazed new trails to bring the boutique lifestyle to the far-reaching corners of the earth; they’ve had to rebuild, renew, revamp, and reinvigorate the approach to clear restriction and regulatory hurdles along the way.

12 Entrepreneurs Who Have Made an Unforgettable Mark on the Industry

Amy Atwood & Mary Bartlett
Founders, Future Gin

After working for several other wine and beverage wholesalers over the years, Amy Atwood has established Amy Atwood Selections – a wine wholesaler with a focus on curating small-production and natural wines. Together, Amy, Mary Bartlett, and two other women have created Future Gin – a forward-thinking, women-owned LA gin brand that focuses on the pioneering spirit of California and the flavors that make it so special. To Amy and Mary, innovation means finding the community’s voice in a male-dominated spirit.

Colby Barr
Co-Founder, Verve Coffee Roasters

After purchasing a struggling local coffee shop, Colby Barr knew he needed to innovate to compete with the dominant forces in the craft coffee industry at the time. After spending a year learning all he could about coffee, Colby began his own coffee roastery, focused on a holistic, farm-to-street approach. He continues to innovate within the eleven Verve cafe locations in California and Japan, elevating the food program while creating new retail products.

Diana Bianchini
President, Di Moda Public Relations

As the founder and president of DiModa Public Relations, one of the top-ranked PR firms in the country, Diana Bianchini is an integral component of the success of a countless number of boutique enterprises. She is herself the founder of a boutique firm, as DiModa PR unflinchingly embraces the specialized, thoughtful attention to detail so critical to boutique with all of its clients. In 2021, her focus remains on thoughtful collaboration to bring success to her clients.

Jay Coldren
Managing Director, Streetsense

Through his 25-plus managing, consulting, directing, and developing innovative boutique environments for clients throughout the boutique space, Jay Coldren has developed the sense of individuality of experience that is the hallmark of boutique pioneers. To Jay, innovation in the face of the pandemic means a new boldness, both in design and in F&B palettes. According to Jay, “We believe that the confinement, sorrow, and loss of the pandemic should be met with a visual and spiritual feast for guests coming back into the world.”

Scott Gerber
Principal and CEO, Gerber Group

With his opening of The Whiskey at the Paramount Hotel in 1991, Scott Gerber began an illustrious career reinventing what it meant to open a “hotel bar.” Now, Gerber Group owns and operates a wide variety of bars and restaurants, many of which have further redefined the hospitality industry with innovative dining concepts and curated beverage programs. His creative, unique take on dining and nightlife has truly helped to establish the definition of boutique when it comes to F&B.

Helene Henderson
Founder, Malibu Farm

From the humble coast of her native Sweden to the warm shores of California, NYC, and beyond, Helene Henderson’s journey through the F&B landscape has been just as eclectic. After creating the concept of Malibu Farm in her own California backyard and establishing a pop-up version of the same, Helene’s vision now exists in multiple California, Florida, Hawaii, and New York coastal locations. Through it all, her serene vision of creative, natural, curated, and free speaks just as much to the boutique sensibility as it does her undying commitment to maintaining an at-home experience in each of her dining rooms.

Kim Malek
Founder, Salt and Straw

If any carefully crafted individual experiences apply to a niche in the boutique F&B world, it should be ice cream. Kim Malek brings the marketing expertise she built at Starbucks Coffee, ADIDAS, and others to create a small-batch-focused group of Salt & Straw scoop shops in the PNW and California. Her vision of chef-driven flavor and locally-sourced sustainable practices make her an innovator in the otherwise big-name-dominated ice cream market.

Zak Normandin
Founder and CEO, Iris Nova

Zak Normandin prides himself in disrupting the way food and beverage businesses typically operate, as evidenced by the 2015 founding of DIRTY LEMON. As the world’s first consumer beverage brand that sells via text message only, Zak knows what it means to disrupt, inspire, and create conversation. In 2021 and beyond, he plans to continue reinventing the industry, improving consumer experiences and expanding his proprietary commerce platform.

Jody Pennette
Founder and CEO, cb5 Hospitality Consultants

As the established leader in hotel F&B, CB5 has just celebrated its 23rd anniversary – and 300th international concept. Founder and CEO Jody Pennette adds another 100, 200, or even 250 or so bespoke hotel restaurants to the company’s arsenal, spanning such diverse niches as casinos, cruise ships, and even royalty. Good food and good service in the boutique industry seek to meet needs on an individual level, and Jody has been a true pioneer in developing the concepts behind both.

Ashley Wells
Founder, All Time

Already an established writer and boutique wine club sommelier, Ashley Wells has also added hospitality pro to her list of accomplishments. As the owner-operator of All Time in LA and its sister takeout spot Part-Time, Ashley and her husband Tyler have renewed the way F&B owners view pivoting in this critical mid-pandemic time. From creative menu updates to revamping the takeout concept to donating food boxes to those in need, Ashley puts a new spin on what it means to pioneer with integrity during the pandemic.

These Daring Pioneers Set the Stage For Those to Come

When we founded BLLA in 2009, the hospitality industry seemed to be on a course towards sameness. Similar rooms could be found in cookie-cutter buildings, all with the same focus on providing good food and good service – but less often great, rarely personalized, and almost never unique. Our efforts to build a group of creators and innovators focused on elevating boutique – the opposite of this trend toward sameness.

Over the years, we’ve unified hoteliers, restaurant owners, beverage service professionals, wine experts, and a number of food and beverage innovators in almost every capacity in the industry. Without the efforts of many of the individuals above to make radical changes to the norms that were slowly dragging down hospitality, boutique food and beverage wouldn’t be what it is today. Now, as we look to enter the post-pandemic era, we’ll need these industry disruptors to continue to reform what it means to offer boutique dining amidst a sea of new challenges. What’s a better example of the daring, pioneering spirit than that?

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