Austin’s restaurant scene is booming, and you can bet these young industry innovators have something to do with it. Our inaugural Austin 30 Under 30 list features visionaries who have done things like bring sustainable goat meat to the city’s culinary scene, turn a food truck into a thriving, multifaceted business and open Austin’s first ramen shop - all before the age of 30. Our honorees have a commitment to local culture and a passion for food and beverages of the highest quality, and they couldn’t excite us more. It's time to meet Austin’s next big things.
Story by Megan Giller; Photos by Jenny Sathngam
Shion Aikawa, 28Director of Operations at Ramen Tatsu-ya
High-powered Aikawa was working at a Fortune 500 company in Japan, and then as a vice president of an LA manufacturing company before he moved back to Austin to help his brother open Ramen Tatsu-ya, the city’s first ramen shop. When they were kids, the brothers moved to the River City from their native Tokyo, and Aikawa was excited to return to diversify Austin’s food scene. In addition to the successful ramen shop, Aikawa is launching a series of pop-up dinners in collaboration with acclaimed local restaurants and artists like Keith Kreeger.
Karina Akhavan, 28Cake Decorator at Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
Having a five-year-old son hasn’t kept Akhavan from scrambling up the industry ladder. At 18 she started at the Four Seasons Hotel, where she worked her way up from spa attendant to pastry chef. Since then, she’s worked through the dessert departments at Walton’s Fancy & Staple and Bess Bistro, to Sugar Mama’s, where she specializes in cake and cupcake decoration. “You learn new things with each cake,” she told us. “You never make the same cake twice.” Her newest project, a second bun in the oven, is due to hit March 5.
Erica Beneke, 26Executive Chef at MAX’s Wine Dive Austin
After an upstate New York childhood, this braided-pigtail chef hightailed it down to Austin. Since then, she’s worked her way up at MAX’s Wine Dive, from the bottom of the line all the way to the top. In addition to her executive chef role, she launched the first Eat.Drink.Empower dinner, which featured local female chefs and benefitted nonprofit SafePlace. Community outreach is important to Beneke, who plans to make the dinner a yearly event. "My high school culinary program had local chefs come in and work with the students. It made a huge difference."
Matthew Arthur Bolick, 29Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Wright Bros. Brew and Brew and Flat Track Coffee
Growing up, Bolick’s mom owned a restaurant, which taught him that the transaction between cafe and patron was about community. “The act of crafting something in exchange for money and experience is really rad,” he says. Eventually, he got “super-nerdy” about beans, and out of that came his roasting company and the coffee shop/beer bar hybrid. They both focus on coffee that Bolick would personally want to drink. “Things are wacky. We’ve got a Kenya right now at Flat Track that is bright and delicate but also vegetal and tomato jammy.”
Dacia Branch, 29Co-General Manager at Bungalow
When she was 21, Branch moved to Austin from her hometown of Amarillo to take up a friend’s offer of a place to live and a job at Coyote Ugly. After a year and a half there, she worked her way through Austin’s bars, including Red Fez, Lavaca Street and even The Library. But after helping open Bungalow in August 2012, Branch moved from behind the bar to manager. She still has a hand in the hangout’s cocktail menu, though; her most recent concoction mixes Strongbow cider, tequila, Fireball and apple liqueur.
Aleisha Fitzgerald, 26Sushi Chef at Uchi
After a year of post-college travel, this Colorado native moved to Austin. Her first stop was Uchi, where she casually mentioned to her waiter that she had worked as a sushi chef in Florida. Before Fitzgerald knew it, she was staging in the kitchen, which led to a full-time gig. One of her most recent dishes was a pressed maki with cured and seared albacore, baked sweet potato, cured oranges, orange marmalade, potato shoestring crisps and chili oil. She plans to stay at Uchi for a while, though she says she still feels “a draw to travel.”
Hope Furst, 25Director of Business Development Catering and Events at The Peached Tortilla
This driven Dallas native always knew she wanted to work in the food industry, so she spent two summers in Italy at ages 20 and 21. There, she studied the language, took cooking classes and worked on organic farms. After she finished college at KU, with a degree in linguistics and psychology, she moved to Austin and worked as a sales rep for Labatt Food Service. A year later, she transferred to the popular trailer, where she single-handedly built the catering department (almost 15 events per week!) and organizes the group’s pop-up dinners.
Bob Galligan, 26Head Brewer at Hops & Grain Brewing
Walk into Hops & Grain, and you’ll likely be greeted by this outgoing Minnesota native. Galligan moved to Austin two years ago to pursue acting and theater. Instead, he ended up with “random jobs” like giving tours for the Austin Brew Bus. When he met H&G owner Josh Hare through that job, he dug the brewery’s philosophy and quickly propelled to head brewer. Now Galligan manages the taproom, brews beer (they just tapped his first recipe) and heads the “anti-seasonal specialty greenhouse series.”
Chase Gintner, 27Line Cook at Odd Duck
While working at Sway, this off-the-wall Wisconsin native won the semifinal round of Uchi’s 86’d competition (like Chopped, but with back-of-house staff from Austin restaurants). The victorious dish? A beer-infused brownie paired with Dippin’ Dots and an olive-and-beer pure. Gintner now works the line at newly opened Odd Duck, where he jumps from station to station. "[Bryce Gilmore, the chef-owner] allows us a lot of freedom,” he says. “He gives us a blueprint of the dish's components and lets us go from there."
Dennis Gobis, 29Bar Manager at drink.well
A certified cicerone and brewer, Gobis grew up in Germany until age 12, when he moved with his family to Cleveland. He stuck around to manage the bar and brew beer for Cleveland Restaurant Group before “chasing a girl” to Austin in 2011. So how did he end up at a cocktail bar? “Brewing beer and crafting a good cocktail are not that far off,” he told us. “It’s a matter of balancing flavors.” The switch has proved fruitful, as Gobis has placed in every major cocktail competition he’s entered, including taking the gold at Austin’s recent Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ.
John Hajash, 25Line Cook at Congress
Hajash is quickly collecting accolades; earlier this year he won the citywide finals of Uchiko’s 86’d competition. After art and culinary school, the Bryan-College Station native moved to Austin, where he worked for Truluck’s and with mentor and chef de cuisine Jason Stude at Second Bar + Kitchen. A year ago he moved to chef David Bull’s upscale restaurant, Congress, where he works on the fish station and uses his art-school background to develop new dishes.
Sam Hellman-Mass, 28Chef and Partner at Odd Duck
There’s another mastermind behind Barley Swine and the new Odd Duck besides chef Bryce Gilmore. Bearded, long-haired Hellman-Mass spends each day in the kitchen creating amazing small plates alongside Gilmore, and also holds a partner stake in the restaurants. Though he studied finance at Boston University, he always loved cooking; after college he cooked in Aspen at the Little Nell Hotel, where he worked with Gilmore. The rest is history. Hellman-Mass played a big role in the Odd Duck metamorphosis, and cooks on the line every day at the new brick and mortar.
Alex Holder, 23Bar Manager at Clark’s Oyster Bar
Talk about starting them young: Holder has worked for the McGuire-Moorman Hospitality Group since he was 17. The Austin native started as a busser at Lambert’s, then worked as a barback and bartender at Perla’s before moving to his current position at Perla’s little brother, Clark’s. Beyond helping him learn about spirits and cocktails, he says that bartending has helped him deal with shyness and “opened me up to hearing people’s views on life.”
Evan LeRoy, 27Executive Chef and Pitmaster at Freedmen’s
After graduating from Florida State with a degree in English, LeRoy moved back to his native Austin to attend Le Cordon Bleu and work at Hudson’s on the Bend. “I wanted real-life kitchen experience to use as a springboard for writing,” he says. But when he moved to Manhattan and couldn’t find an editorial job, he ended up smoking meat at Hill Country Barbecue. Back in Austin, he created the menu and built the kitchen at Freedmen’s Bar. His use of charcuterie and higher-end meats like smoked duck adds a signature touch to his traditional Texas barbecue.
Sarah McIntosh, 28Owner of Epicerie Cafe and Grocery
McIntosh has been perfecting her salted chocolate chip cookie recipe since she was 15. After a brief stint at LSU, she took her talents to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. From there, she’s worked at Bouchon in Napa as well as Olivia on South Lamar, where she helped develop some of chef and mentor James Holmes’ famous recipes. When it came time to open her own space, McIntosh was prepared with something she knew would be irresistible. “I eat at least three of my cookies a week still,” she admits.
Wes Mickel, 29Owner and Winemaker at Argus Cidery
A former Whole Foods senior chef and instructor, Mickel opened a new Austin cidery, Argus, last year in the midst of the Texas cider boom. For him, no beverage is off limits: he’s made beer, wine, kombucha and mead, just for fun. But when he moved to Austin and met its apple growers, he immediately knew a new niche for alcoholic cider needed to be filled. Today, Argus puts out about 1,100 cases of pure Texas cider per year and has big plans for expansion, including working with several new growers.
Abby O’Connell Montemayor, 28Pastry Sous-Chef at Vespaio and Enoteca
With a fashion/marketing degree from Parson’s School of Design and a cooking/baking certificate from Le Cordon Bleu, O’Connell Montemayor pours many talents into the nine breads she bakes daily for Vespaio and Enoteca. In fact, she loves bread so much that she plans to open a sandwich shop with her husband in the near future. Don’t expect anything run-of-the-mill: she pitched a “play on a hamburger” made with steak tartare and house-baked bacon bread for her recent showcase at the Dinner Lab.
Grae Nonas, 27Co-Executive Chef at Olamaie
The modern Southern restaurant from Nonas and his business partner, Michael Fojtasek, won’t open until the spring, but the pair have already established themselves in Austin with a series of pop-up dinners. Nonas worked at New York’s Eataly and Tarry Lodge before moving to LA, where he met Fojtasek in the kitchen at Son of a Gun. So why Southern, when Nonas isn’t from the South? “A lot of the things I grew up eating in New England are similar to old-world Southern food,” he says. Think refined takes on chicken and dumplings and slow-cooked stews.
Janina O’Leary, 29Executive Pastry Chef at LaV
O’Leary moved from Texas to NYC at age 14 to become a pastry chef. There, she worked for some of the biggest names in the business at Per Se, Bouchon Bakery and Del Posto before returning to Texas with her husband and son. It wasn’t long before O’Leary made a big splash at Trace with her famous drunken donuts. Now she’s poised to amaze diners with the pastry and bread program she’s developing for LaV, set to open in early March. Goodies will include classic French desserts with a twist, as well as her signature donuts and ice creams.
Maximillian Petty, 25Chef de Cuisine at Olivia
When Olivia chef-owner James Holmes handed his kitchen over to Petty last year, he chose carefully. “You can hire an experienced chef, or you can hire someone like Max, who is young but extremely talented,” he said. Petty started at “the bottom of the totem pole” as Olivia’s garde manger, but it didn’t take long for him to move up. Petty brings his experience "with everything from butchery to molecular gastronomy“ to the innovative kitchen. A 55-day dry-aged rib-eye stuffed into a trotter then poached in butter is his wildest creation yet.
Haden Riggs, 27Front of House Manager at Perla’s Oyster and Seafood Bar
Don’t let this extrovert’s thick Texas accent fool you. Riggs may have been born in the tiny town of Troupe, but he relocated to Fresno, California, as soon as he turned 18. He returned to Texas to work for Kiepersol Estates, then, after working as a sommelier in Dallas, he moved to Austin, where he’s been at Perla’s ever since. He hopes to open his own place someday, but right now, he and his wife are focusing on raising their first child, who is just four months old.
Quinton Roach, 23Bartender at Jeffrey’s
Yes, he dropped out of high school when he was 16, but the intellectual bartender spends much of his free time reading heavy hitters like David Foster Wallace, John Barthes, Donald Barthelme and Margaret Atwood. While working as a barback at Contigo, he learned the art of the cocktail from bartender Steven Robbins. When Jeffrey’s opened last May, he took that knowledge with him, moving up from barback to bartender in a few short months. “I’m curious about food but not as much as I am about cocktails,” he says.
Jessica Rupert, 29Line Cook at Qui
A loyal follower and employee of chef Paul Qui almost since the beginning, this Texas native switched to culinary pursuits at CIA after focusing on biomedical science in college. She started working with Qui at Uchiko as a garde manger, and when he left to open his own restaurant, she jumped at the opportunity. Rupert worked as kitchen supervisor for his trailer chain, East Side King, before switching to Qui when it launched. She mainly works as a saucier but has a few expo shifts too, noting that “Paul doesn’t want anyone to have titles.”
Thorne Russell, 20Host at Hillside Farmacy
Not every restaurant host has as much charm, style and wit as dapper 20-year-old Russell. You’ll often find our youngest honoree wearing suspenders or a bow tie (or both), styling up the 1920s-themed Hillside Farmacy. The son of quirky Austin chef Sonya Cote, Russell started working at her neighborhood eatery so that the pair could see each other more. Now, Russell is training to become a bartender at Hillside and will move into the new position next month. His long-term goal, though? Becoming a park ranger.
Charisse Sayers, 28Event Coordinator at Uchi and Uchiko
Sayers answered a Craigslist ad for an event coordinator job at a fine-dining restaurant and “was floored to find out the opening was at Uchiko.” The role is no small feat; five nights a week the restaurant hosts up to two parties in their private dining room, plus custom off-site dinners and weddings. Sayers is involved from the beginning to the end of each event, even helping the chefs plan menus. Director of culinary operations Philip Speer says that Sayers’ “genuine hospitality” has made her an integral part of the team.
Brad Sorenson, 29Executive Chef and General Manager at NO VA Kitchen & Bar
You may recognize this apple-cheeked chef from reality TV: Sorenson has starred in shows like Food Network Star and Chopped. However, the 29-year-old says that he can’t wait until people forget about those programs and focus on his cooking at NO VA on busy Rainey Street. The modern American restaurant serves dishes like bacon-and-eggs pasta as well as craft cocktails. So how did he get on reality TV if he’s not really interested? His mother read that the Food Network was holding auditions in Austin and made him try out. What a good son.
Ian Thurwachter, 26Sous-Chef at Jeffrey’s
Since his early days of watching Jacques Pépin, Thurwachter has worked as a sous-chef at Enoteca and Vespaio as well as Lambert’s, Josephine House and now Jeffrey’s. There he acts as head chef, creating dishes like a foie-gras-and-duck-confit terrine with grapefruit marmalade and mint marigold. Thurwachter is also hard at work on his own restaurant, a 40-seat Italian that will bring in a whole animal at a time and showcase different preparations of the protein. He is hoping to open by mid-2015.
David Voss, 27Operations Manager at Craft Pride
The Houston native started out drinking craft beer “on accident”: “A buddy brought over a case of something more ‘unique’ than I was used to,” he told us. “Being the poor college kid I was, obviously I drank what was offered. Who knew that would end up being a hobby, a lifestyle choice and ultimately a career?” After working his way through bars on Dirty Sixth Street, he helped open Craft Pride. There, he manages the bar, orders Texas beers and generally has a good time.
Holly Witherington, 28General Manager and Event Coordinator at Eden East
This Louisiana transplant has only recently found herself in the restaurant industry. Her roots are in activism, having worked as a community organizer in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. After bouncing around to Portland and San Francisco, Witherington moved to Austin four years ago. Her start in the restaurant industry came from Cote Catering; from there she helped open Eden East. “I was organizing political events and now I’m organizing weddings,” she says. “It’s bringing people together in different ways.”
Ty Wolosin, 29Owner of Windy Hill Farm and Assistant Brewer at Kamala Brewing at The Whip In
That tender goat you ate yesterday at one of Austin’s hottest restaurants? You have Windy Hill owner Wolosin to thank for that. He raises top-notch goats and provides the trendy, lean meat to restaurants around town like Congress, Lenoir and Barley Swine, as well as butcher shops like Salt and Time. Wolosin’s battle with thyroid cancer at age 19 changed his attitude on food and made him adopt a vegan diet. He’s since added dairy and meat back in, but only eats products whose origin he knows. In his free time, Wolosin brews beer at the Whip In.