Considering the richness of the Philadelphia restaurant scene right now, it’s no surprise that our inaugural crop of food-world up-and-comers is an impressive one. From the manager of an Iron Chef’s farm to a food-truck entrepreneur to a contestant on Top Chef, this year’s honorees hail from all corners of our culinary landscape. Read on to find out more about these young go-getters, including some of the city’s hottest chefs, coffee pioneers, cocktail wizards, beer experts, bread wranglers and cheese gurus. The future looks bright.
Photos and story by Danya Henninger
Nich Bazik, 28Sous-Chef at Bistrot La Minette
It took just three and a half years for this former theology major to make his way from garde manger to chef de cuisine, but it was certainly no cakewalk. After joining the opening staff at James as a food runner to help put himself through college, Bazik felt the allure of the kitchen and jumped to the other side. Over the next several years, he rarely worked less than two jobs and usually put in seven days a week, clocking time and learning techniques in the kitchens of Mémé, Snackbar, Fork, Russet and The Diving Horse. At Peter Woolsey’s Bella Vista bistro, he was quickly promoted from line cook to sous-chef, and is now preparing to help lead the kitchen at forthcoming brasserie la peg, on Columbus Boulevard.
Amanda Bernhardt, 28Cheesemonger and Store Manager at Di Bruno Bros. at the Franklin
With a grandfather and father in the cheese business, it was only natural that this budding actress support herself with a job in fromage. Though she started working at Di Bruno Bros. as a way to pay the bills during college, she fell easily into the family business, and her knack for it turned into a career. She was named head monger at the busy Rittenhouse location of the iconic Philly grocery, where she learned more about cheese than she ever thought possible, but also had a chance to prove her leadership skills. When the Wash West store opened, she was named assistant manager, but within months had moved up to the top spot, overseeing everything that goes on at the 4,500-sq.-ft. market.
Alex Bois, 27Head Baker at Fork and High Street on Market
Baking is as much a science as an art, so it’s no real surprise this former biochem major rose quickly and easily through the ranks to become a bread-wrangler of renown. With experience at Manhattan’s Sullivan Street Bakery under his belt, Bois followed chef Eli Kulp from New York to Philadelphia and has played a large role in the success of the new, boundary-pushing incarnation of High Street on Market. Bois makes more than a dozen kinds of loaves daily, from levain marbled with roasted-vegetable ash to cracked-corn anadama, sold whole at the Old City Cafe as well as used on the menus at Fork, a.kitchen and Rival Bros Coffee Bar.
Abigail Dahan, 26Pastry Chef at Parc
Though she once considered a career on the savory side of the line, and was even sous at Joel Robuchon Las Vegas, this French-born chef shines brightest when it comes to sweets. After beginning her training at Parisian patisserie Gerard Mulot, she transferred to the U.S. to work for the Park Hyatt Chicago and that year went on to win first place in the national “L’art du Chocolatier” competition. Earlier this year, she competed on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius, but it’s at Stephen Starr’s Rittenhouse cafe where she’s the biggest star — her desserts convey the allure of her native city, helping make the brasserie feel like a true slice of Paris in the middle of Philadelphia.
Aric Danz, 28Chef at Honest Tom’s Taco Shop
At age 20, this Lancaster native decided to follow his sister to the big city, and found work in the kitchen at the White Dog Cafe, where she was a server. It was a perfect fit, and instead of aimlessly whiling away his early twenties, Danz threw himself into the cooking craft. He picked up tricks of the trade at Bar Ferdinand and was tapped by chef Dave Gilberg to help open Koo Zee Doo. After spending two years traveling through Asia, he returned to Philly and met Tom McCusker, who mentioned he needed help with his fledgling taco truck. “He turned it into a real-deal food business,” McCusker says, crediting Danz with the success that eventually led to the opening of the brick-and-mortar taqueria, which he now guides through a near-nonstop rush from open through close, seven days a week.
Aila DeVowe, 29Executive Sous-Chef at Bar Ferdinand
Originally from Michigan, it was the search for culinary adventure that brought this smoldering dynamo to Philadelphia. After graduating from the Art Institute with honors in culinary arts, she cooked her way across the city, landing jobs with Stephen Starr, Peter McAndrews, and just about any other notable Philly restaurateur she wanted to learn from. At her current position at this Spanish tapas house, DeVowe plays straight man to chef David Ansill’s mad genius, but continues to soak up knowledge from him while running day-to-day operations at the busy Northern Liberties kitchen.
April Nett and Elysa DiMauro, 26 and 29Owners at Menagerie Coffee
When they met and became a couple at the University of Wisconsin, this coffee-loving pair knew they wanted to start a business together, a goal that brought them east to Philadelphia. After three years gaining experience at other top coffee shops — Nett as barista and manager at Elixr and DiMauro as barista at Bodhi — they realized their dream with the September 2013 launch of their own Old City cafe. The reclaimed-wood-filled space has become a busy neighborhood cornerstone, and serves as a showcase for multiple brands of single-origin coffee. April is also a certified sommelier, while Elysa plays the French horn and teaches music to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.
Ryan Fenton, 27General Manager and Beverage Director at Pennsylvania 6
Fenton’s self-made food career started with jobs as a teenager, slinging pizzas and scooping ice cream. He wasn’t yet legal drinking age when he joined Public House as a food runner in 2005, but when he was, he took advantage of its proximity to the Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons, where he immersed himself in cocktail knowledge. By 2010, he was training service staff around the region for the growing Public House restaurant group. When they opened a luxe retro lounge in Wash West last year, he finally got a chance to showcase his knack for creating drinks, which he continues to do as he oversees the restaurant floor.
Sande Friedman, 26Director of Education and Cheese Director at Tria
Think librarians are boring? Don’t tell this food and beverage enthusiast, who happens to hold a master's degree in library and information science from Drexel University. Friedman earned the degree while also working her way up at this wine, cheese and beer-focused restaurant group, but she has no plans to leave the industry anytime soon. Her academic prowess no doubt helps her maintain a handle on her innumerable duties, which include (but aren’t limited to): running the cheese program at three locations, writing menu descriptions for Tria’s many unique offerings, creating marketing materials, managing social media and company events, and acting as administrator at the Tria Fermentation School. Book smarts, put into practice.
Don Galvano, 24Beverage Manager at Pub & Kitchen
It was working in his father’s Princeton restaurant as a boy that jumpstarted this N.J. native’s love of the hospitality biz — "He taught me the joy of providing amazing service and maintaining dedication to customers,” Galvano remembers. He worked his way from busboy to server to bartender at another family-owned spot, the Pineville Tavern, which gave him enough cred to land a position at Pub & Kitchen. Since first joining the company, he’s also spent time at sister restaurants Fitler Dining Room and The Diving Horse, picking up more food and drink knowledge and proving his aptitude well enough to be named beverage manager of the Rittenhouse tavern before he even reached his quarter-century mark.
Jillian Herschlag, 26Farm Manager at Luna Farm, Garces Group
Out in the field isn’t where you’d expect to find a Phi Beta Kappa graduate — unless that’s exactly where she wants to be. After catching the farming bug during college, where she was an intern at Dickinson College Farm, this environmental studies major has been putting her degree to practical use. She spent a year as assistant manager at Blooming Glen Farm in Perkasie, organizing and training a staff of a dozen farm workers and operating large Kubota tractors, and then left to take the head position at Jose Garces’ Bucks County estate, which supplies local Garces Group restaurants with fresh produce year-round.
Christopher Kearse, 29Chef and Proprietor at Will
Despite having no sense of smell — the result of being a passenger in a brutal drunk-driving accident when he was 16 — Kearse has become one of Philadelphia’s most talked-about chefs. After graduating from the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, he soaked up knowledge from acclaimed kitchens around the world (including Tru, Alinea, French Laundry and Lacroix) before becoming chef de cuisine at Pumpkin. In August 2012, he launched his own spot, a French BYO on East Passyunk Avenue that fills its small dining room nightly with guests in search of his artistic creations. Often referred to as “a chef’s chef,” Kearse has a love of learning and teamwork, and often hosts or attends collaboration dinners where he can work side by side with his colleagues.
Marti Lieberman, 24Owner and Cook at Mac Mart Truck
It took less than two months for this Drexel grad to realize that the glitzy “dream job” she’d scored in the NYC fashion world was leaving her unfulfilled. Brainstorming ways she could become her own boss, she hit upon the idea of starting Philly’s first mac ‘n’ cheese food truck. She secured the necessary loans, and her quirky dream became reality with Mac Mart’s January 2013 launch. Since then, the truck's popularity has exploded, with local and national accolades pouring in. It’s gotten her enough attention that this autumn she’s expanding, opening two stands in the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sixers.
Nick Macri, 29Chef at Border Springs Farm
Growing up in Canada, this young impresario helped his mother run the catering division of Toronto's Pasta Goodness while also getting hands-on meat-handling experience butchering and curing for fun with his family. Macri moved to Philadelphia to play soccer, attending Drexel on a soccer scholarship. While here, he was enthralled by the possibility of a career in food, and worked in the kitchens of Osteria, Farmicia and Beneluxx Tasting Room and enrolled in the Drexel School of Hospitality. After getting his culinary degree in 2010, Macri became chef at Southwark, where he established a house charcuterie program and picked up the title “Meat Man Macri.” Last year he made the move to Border Springs, becoming lead butcher at the country’s only all-lamb shop, where he works with chefs as well as consumers on getting the most out of their meat.
Stefanilee Mahoney, 29General Manager at Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop
It’s not easy to make changes to a Philly establishment, but that’s what Mahoney convinced owner Joe Groh to do at his Northeast cheesesteakery. A longtime employee, she came on full time as manager in 2008 after earning a business degree from Temple, and helped turn the former Chink’s into a living icon instead of an old throwback, instigating a switch to scratch-made ingredients, upgrading service and making major hygiene overhauls (not to mention leading Groh through the controversial switch from the original name). She’s now poised to lead the launch of the sandwich shop’s new, bigger Fishtown locale, slated for a fall opening.
Palmer Marinelli, 29Executive Chef at The Diving Horse
This chef’s boyish good looks and soft demeanor belie quite a bit of worldly experience, including a degree in international relations from Franklin College Switzerland that incorporated study in Italy. His cooking experience also boasts similar sophistication. Though he’s been working for the group that owns this upscale Jersey Shore BYO for over four years (he’s also been behind the line at both Pub & Kitchen and Fitler Dining Room), Marinelli also took time off to stage in renowned kitchens from Australia to San Francisco. He hides his global know-how behind a humble personality and lets his food speak for itself.
Travis Masar, 28Executive Chef at Sampan Restaurant and Independence Beer Garden
Immersion in food started early for this Top Chef: New Orleans alum — growing up, he and his family hunted wild game and butchered whole animals in their rural hometown of La Junta, CO. After traveling around the world with stops to learn the cuisine of Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, Masar decided an urban setting was the best place to continue to explore his love of Asian flavors, so he landed in Denver, where he oversaw kitchens at Aria and Uncle. In search of an even bigger city market, he moved to Philadelphia last spring, and was named chef at Michael Schulson’s Midtown Village restaurant. This summer, he turned his focus back to American food to create the ultrapopular food menu for the new beer garden right next to Independence Mall.
Resa Mueller, 29Bartender at Twenty Manning Grill and Emmanuelle
Mixing drinks is the easy part for this cocktail expert. Over the past several years, Mueller has made an exceptional effort to use her skills behind the bar as a way to help others in need. In conjunction with her partner, Twenty Manning Grill GM Jillian Encarnacion, Muller took the initiative to organize several booze-fueled fundraisers, donating to causes like the Philippines’ rebuilding efforts after Typhoon Yolanda and "Be the Match" bone-marrow drives. She’s also the main brain behind Feastival, the immensely popular and huge gala fundraiser for the FringeArts festival, which is about to take place for the fifth year running.
Brett Naylor, 29Chef at Oyster House
After holding a couple of other chef positions in Philadelphia, this Bucks County native spent two years as executive chef for Urban Outfitters, cooking and running all food operations for the Fortune 500 company. He went on to become culinary director for the Tria restaurant group, where he stayed for two years before joining Sam Mink’s third-generation Sansom Street seafooder. As it happens, Naylor’s own great-grandfather sold oyster stew for a living, and this fate-driven match has clicked with admirable results.
Jon Nodler, 28Chef de Cuisine at a.kitchen + bar
A University of Wisconsin art history graduate, Nodler dove into the food business as a line cook at a cafe near the college, and eventually was named executive chef at Merchant, also in Madison. Together with pastry chef Samantha Kincaid, he traveled to Philadelphia in search of experience in a larger city. After helping Christopher Kearse open Will, he moved to Fork to work under Eli Kulp, gaining the chef’s respect to the point that when Kulp took over the food program at a.kitchen + bar, Nodler was the immediate choice to execute the food — a decision that has proved wise, judging from recent reviews.
Jessica Nolen, 27Pastry Chef at Brauhaus Schmitz
Fascinated by baking since she was a young girl, Nolen eagerly sought out a career in sweets, working side jobs in restaurant kitchens throughout high school. Her drive was rewarded with a position at Continental Mid-town immediately after graduating from the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, where she quickly worked her way up to full-fledged pastry chef. While doing sweets at Coquette, she met and married chef Jeremy Nolen, and the two now collaborate at South Street beer hall Brauhaus Schmitz, just as they will at American restaurant Whetstone (in Coquette’s former location) when it launches later this year. They also co-authored a cookbook called New German Cooking, due out in 2014.
Courtney Rozsas, 29Restaurateur at Lotus Farm to Table and Farmer’s Road Drive Thru
Studying the benefits of tea during a tour through Southeast Asia led this onetime pre-med student to renounce plans of becoming a doctor and decide instead to open a restaurant that explored the medicinal values of eating well. Her BYO in Media launched in 2009, well before the term “farm to table” was ubiquitous, and in 2013, Rozsas got in early on another growing trend: healthy fast food. She converted a former KFC in Chadds Ford into an alternative drive-thru, serving a menu that uses organic, locally sourced ingredients to provide quick-service meals for adults and kids.
Chauncey Scates, 29Lead Bartender at Square 1682
This Tennessee native was headed to the bright lights of New York City when she stopped for what was supposed to be a brief visit in Philadelphia. She fell in love with the city, and used her experience learning the ropes at Nashville’s Patterson House to get a position at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. In late 2012, Scates was hired away by Kimpton and chosen to direct the entire cocktail program at the company’s Hotel Palomar. The Rittenhouse lounge now serves 30 of her signature drinks, which helped the bar become a regular member of travel magazine “country’s best” lists.
Yuki Schaper, 26General Manager at Bibou
The allure of the restaurant industry pulled this Western PA native away from her Ivy League education at Penn and into the top echelons of the Philadelphia food scene. After getting a taste for fine dining as she deftly managed the front desk and organized banquets for Georges Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin, Schaper found a home helping Pierre and Charlotte Calmels run their lauded French BYO. In 2013, as the couple prepared to launch French bistro Le Chéri, Schaper took over management duties at Bibou, and now oversees all front-of-the-house aspects of the Bella Vista dining room, including taking care of the devoted regulars who vie for spots in the always-overflowing reservation book.
Kristopher Serviss, 28Chef and Co-Owner at Blue Duck Sandwich Co.
When his 40-seat American BYO opens later this year in the Northeast, it will be a homecoming for the Philadelphia native, whose first job in food was as a fry cook at age 14. An internship during cooking school led to a position at an upscale Italian restaurant, where Serviss learned haute cuisine. For several years, he ran the kitchen at a sports bar, where he sneakily worked his high-end culinary skills into the menu by way of daily specials. Just a few months after he decided to move up to a chef position at Iron Hill Brewery, he secured funding to go out on his own, so he stepped down and is now spending all his time preparing for the launch.
Warren Sewell, 27General Manager at Iron Hill Brewery Maple Shade
A college football player who was intending to enlist in the Navy, this Norristown native fell instead for the combination of fun and challenge presented by his part-time “beer money” job. Recognizing the potential for an alternate career, he turned his one-day-a-week gig as a server at Iron Hill Lancaster into a full-time position, and was then promoted to bartender. After spending time behind the stick at several outposts of the local mini-chain, Sewell was promoted to shift manager, and within six months was named general manager of Iron Hill Maple Shade, where he oversees all aspects of the brewpub.
Max Sherman, 24Bartender at Percy Street Barbecue
Originally looking for work in the kitchen, Sherman found his calling instead in the front of the house. After starting as a busser at Erin O’Shea and Michael Solomonov’s South Street BBQ joint, his professional and friendly demeanor quickly led to a position as full-fledged server. After less than two years on the floor, a manager noted how much interest Sherman was taking in the hundred-plus craft can-beer selection and promoted him to bartender. The not-yet-25-year-old is now in charge of developing the whiskey-centric cocktail program at the restaurant, as well as overseeing all the brew.
Yehuda Sichel, 27Co-Chef at Abe Fisher Restaurant
With a degree from JSK Culinary Academy in Jerusalem, this Baltimore native was uniquely suited to a position with the Cook + Solo restaurant group, which he joined in 2010 as sous-chef at modern Israeli Zahav. In 2012, at age 25, he was tapped to open the unique, all-kosher Citron + Rose in Merion Station, where he shared the title of co-chef with Michael Solomonov and supervised the entire staff, both front and back of the house. It’s a position he’ll reprise at Abe Fisher, a 50-seat Center City restaurant focusing on the cuisine of the Jewish diaspora, set to launch under his command later this year.
Vincent Stipo, 28Beverage Manager at Vernick Food & Drink
As might be guessed from a glimpse at the early-edition Trader Vic and Old Mr. Boston guides behind his bar, this cocktail wizard pays as much attention to the classics as he does to creating new recipes. After honing his craft at Boston’s Eastern Standard, the BU hospitality grad moved to Philadelphia specifically to help Greg Vernick launch his Rittenhouse New American, and in the two years since opening has cultivated a devoted following of regulars both in and outside the industry. In addition to devising the changing menu of beers and sips (don’t miss the “New-groni”), Stipo handles booking of private parties and planning of full-restaurant buyouts.
Justin Swain, 26Chef at Rex 1516
When his girlfriend noticed this former bike messenger and CAPA art-school graduate pouring his energy into cooking every night, she urged him to enroll in the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. Her suggestion paid off. After starting as a line cook at 1601 and Bridget Foy’s, Swain joined Rex 1516 as opening sous under Regis Jansen. When his mentor fell ill in January 2013, he stepped up and has been running the Southern comfort kitchen on South Street West ever since. Though he was still in school when he took over the top spot, Swain has since graduated — as valedictorian.