This year’s batch of young hospitality innovators runs the gamut from a socially minded general manager intent on employing SF’s most marginalized citizens to a chef-and-sommelier team that apply color and music theory to wine pairings. In between, philanthropic entrepreneurs make nightlife mean something, while others help guide the nation’s food and drink trends with obsessive attention to ingredients and craft. There are a lot of reasons San Francisco (and its immediate neighbors) is considered the best food city in the country — and here are 30 of them, making up the next generation of food-and-drink greats.
-Story by Amy Copperman, Photos by Ashley Batz
Evan Allumbaugh, 26Chef de Cuisine, Flour + Water
It’s been a steady rise to culinary prestige for Allumbaugh, who started as a line cook at Flour + Water in 2012 after graduating from The San Diego Culinary Institute and working at Italy’s acclaimed Villa Crespi and Dana Point’s Stonehill Tavern. After three years of what he describes as “head-down studying of chef McNaughton’s style and food philosophy,” Allumbaugh has the opportunity to help shape the menu through daily trips to the farmer’s markets, which dictate each night’s offerings, and the charcuterie program, for which he constantly hunts for the most interesting products and recipes.
Sam Bogue and Geno Tomko, Both 26Wine Directors, Ne Timeas Restaurant Group
Charged with creating distinct wine lists at some of the best restaurants in the city, these best friends also helm an extensive wine education program for each staff. Bogue and Tomko, who started their journey at Colorado’s Frasca Food and Wine, impart their ever-expanding wine knowledge at daily trainings, seminars and blind tastings. We have them to thank for the excellent recommendations from anyone on the floor at Flour+Water, Central Kitchen, Salumeria, Aatxe and Café du Nord.
Hannah Buoye, 29Executive Pastry Chef, A16 Restaurants
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Buoye began cooking with her parents at a young age, even learning elementary math through recipes. After graduating from culinary school at City College in San Francisco, she landed her first line cook job at SPQR, transitioning to pastries at Quince. Today she manages the pastry and dessert program at A16 restaurants where she says she’s able to marry her fine-dining experience with her love of simple, finely executed classics like a decadent chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and traditional sourdough bread.
Justin Catalana, 29Co-Founder, Fort Point Beer Company and Mill Valley Beer Works
Just a year after brewing his first beer, Catalana and his brother opened Mill Valley Beer Works, where the pair is known for creating award-winning, food-friendly ales. In 2014, the brothers founded Fort Point Beer Company, recognized as the fastest-growing brewery in San Francisco and raking in the awards for the Manzanita style and Summer Porter as the brand made its way into 500 Bay Area bars and restaurants. The rapid success isn’t slowing down anytime soon as Catalana prepares to expand into the Ferry Building and a few other locations next year.
Bennett Cross, 26Openings Specialist, Blue Bottle Coffee
As SF-based international coffee purveyor Blue Bottle continues to expand its reach at home and beyond, the company turns to Cross to make sure new U.S. locations live up to its reputation, creating the varied position to capture Cross’s vast bean knowledge. A coffee enthusiast who even designed his own independent college study course on Italian coffee culture, Cross is an expert in every aspect of the biz, from sourcing fair-trade beans to marketing. Beyond creating systems to ensure consistent service, Cross is known as a coffee expert worldwide, speaking at the International Coffee Symposium in New Zealand this year.
Matthew Cruz, 29Sous-Chef, Lazy Bear
Though this revered pop-up went brick-and-mortar in 2014, the new mainstream status hasn’t stopped Cruz, owner David Barzela and chef de cuisine Chris Johnson from keeping the improvisational spirit alive. The trio turns to a whiteboard to collaborate on new dishes and constantly tests concepts to land on hits such as the recent buttermilk “snow” made with liquid nitrogen or Nantucket Bay scallops paired with local pine, redwood tips and Mandarins. Cruz’s 18-hour days are infused with creative freedom, which he learned from cooking with his mom and grandmother throughout childhood and by staging his way through college at acclaimed restaurants.
Rene Cruz, 26Pastry Chef, Presidio Social Club
Responsible for the acclaimed perennial lemon meringue cake and legendary seasonal pies that help make this classic destination an SF institution, Cruz’s cooking philosophy, which he honed at Baker and Banker before switching to desserts full-time, is simplicity at its finest. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “We want to offer classics that will conjure up pleasant memories.” Known for his impossibly creamy cheesecakes, Cruz recently developed the pastry menu for the restaurant’s new fast-casual breakfast and lunch concept, Presidio Palms Café.
Simone Ferrara, 26Chef de Cuisine, Desco
Originally from Torino, Italy, Ferrara grew up learning the olive-growing and pasta-making business from his father’s side of the family, while his mother’s French heritage influenced some of his cooking technique. At the age of 20, he was sponsored to come to the states to cook, eventually bringing authentic Neapolitan pizzas, braised oxtail and handmade pastas to restaurateur Donato Scotti’s Desco. A self-described “ingredient freak,” Ferrara uses his deep connections (and biannual pilgrimages) to Italy to bring the taste of his home to this under-the-radar Oakland gem.
Sara Hauman, 28Chef, Huxley
Though just 28, Sara Hauman calls her cooking style “grandma food,” referring to her instinctual, homey take on rustic Californian fare that’s earned this 25-seat Tenderloin gem a loyal following. Often acting as a one-woman-show, Hauman has done big things with her tiny kitchen, and in the process, revitalized a storefront that sat vacant for decades. She makes almost everything from scratch in her tiny open kitchen, even setting up a smoker where she smokes and cures fish, meat and lardo using grape vines and olive branches.
Tara Herrick, 25Wine Director and Sommelier, Dirty Water
Drawing on her degree in anthropology, Herrick carefully studies the region, culture and food pairings of each wine she selects for Dirty Water, which boasts one of the largest beverage programs in the city. Before getting charged with hand-selecting the 114 wines by the glass for the splashy new restaurant, this certified sommelier immersed herself in French wine culture in Cannes and later honed her knowledge at respected SF establishments Arlequin Wine Merchant and The Press Club. Find her behind the bar at Dirty Water or working the room to discover what diners want to drink.
Amir Hosseini, 28Co-Founder, Curry Up Now
With no formal culinary background, Hosseini and his two co-founders came up with the idea of a chicken tikka masala burrito over lunch in 2009. Within two weeks, they bought a truck to make their traveling Indian-Mexican restaurant a reality. Little did they know their lunchtime craving would roll into five food trucks, four brick-and-mortar restaurants and a cocktail bar and also be responsible for jumpstarting SF’s food-truck craze. “From the first weekend we opened we knew we were on to something,” Hosseini recalls. “We just had to teach ourselves how to run a business…and cook.”
Federico MacMaster, 26Dining Room Manager, The Restaurant at Meadowood
Executing the chef and director’s world-renowned vision on a daily basis is no easy task, especially considering there’s almost a decade of accolades to live up to. But MacMaster handles it like a pro thanks to his extensive training in every role. Starting as a food runner three years ago, MacMaster steadily worked his way through the ranks at the acclaimed Napa destination before being, as he puts it, “fully responsible for everything that happens in the dining room.” Originally from Colombia, MacMaster earned a degree in hospitality management less than a decade after moving to the states.
Madelyn Markoe, 26General Manager and Social Media Director, Tacolicious Restaurant Group
As one of Tacolicious Restaurant Group’s MVPs, Markoe catches whatever’s thrown at her— everything from managing social media pages to coming up with a seating plan for dining rooms. Earning her management stripes by helping to open Boxing Room, she’s now charged with transitioning the recently shuttered Chino into a pop-up space while she helps conceptualize the group’s next restaurant. Soon she’s going to Cuba for research and hopes to bring the flavor and vibe of Havana back to the city.
Rachel Orner, 29Chef de Cuisine, Delfina
Orner’s day begins around 7 AM when she receives texts from Delfina’s purveyors, alerting her to anything new and interesting. She then tests potential new dishes, striving for “simplicity that elevates ingredients instead of kills them with spice,” bringing cooks in on the process. While she’s able to spread her creative wings in her new role as chef de cuisine after working her way up from line cook in four short years, Orner says her priority is ensuring each meal lives up to the restaurant’s 17-year reputation as a critically acclaimed SF neo-classic.
Anthony Parks, 29Beverage Director, Mourad Restaurant; Co-Founder, Fifty-Fifty Cocktail Co.
If you’ve been in a San Francisco bar in the last eight years, you’ve likely had one of Parks’s cocktails. He laid his foundation at renowned establishments such as Bourbon and Branch, Rickhouse and Range, placing as a finalist at national competitions along the way. Most recently, he co-founded consulting firm Fifty Fifty Cocktail Co. and helms the program at the celebrated restaurant Mourad, marking his foray into ingredient-forward, chef-inspired libations that are quickly becoming new SF classics. Find him behind the bar experimenting with savory, umami flavors that he says “add a third dimension to cocktails.”
Marissa Payne, 29Beverage Manager and Wine Director, InterContinental San Francisco
A sommelier working on her advanced certification, Payne brings her robust wine education to the Intercontinental’s Luce and Bar 888, earning the hotel The Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence under her short-but-mighty reign. In under a year, she overhauled the wine list to feature more California and Oregon wines, modernized the bar program with local beers and spirits and created an herb garden to use in the herbaceous-leaning cocktail menu. You can also find her working the floor as sommelier five nights a week to round out what she calls “a project of love.”
Karen Praxedes, 29Pastry Chef, Foreign Cinema
An SF native and graduate of the culinary program at City College, Praxedes creates the legendary seasonal fruit pop tarts and pecan sticky buns at Foreign Cinema’s brunch, as well as end-of-meal delights that exemplify the farm-to-table ethos of this Mission mainstay. While working closely with chefs-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark, Praxedes has imparted her own native twist on the menu thanks to her housemade Dutch crunch bun for the brunch burger, which was inspired by her Bay Area upbringing.
Anderson Pugash, 29Owner, The Dorian, Palm House, Audio, Bergerac
A fixture of SF’s nightlife thanks to his promotions company Crossroads and consulting business Fifty Fifty Cocktail Co., Pugash got his start before he was even allowed to drink. In 2005, he threw his first annual philanthropic event, the SF Social, in memory of his father, who died from pancreatic cancer. “I wanted to honor his commitment to charity,” Pugash says. Realizing his skills actually lie in hospitality instead of real estate, Pugash penned the business plan for Palm House at age 22, and in just a few years, opened electronic music venues Audio and Bergerac and restaurant/bar The Dorian. What’s next for the empire builder? “More of everything,” he says.
Jason Raffin, 25Executive Chef/Part Owner, Scotland Yard
Though just 25, Raffin has over 10 years experience training in every position at respected spots throughout Boston and his native Bay Area. After proving his chef chops at Bin 38, this CIA grad helped open Scotland Yard in the same space, where he showcases his knack for refined, yet affordable, comfort food that’s as playful as it is technically sound. Not just set on satisfying cravings and curing hangovers with epic burgers and soul-soothing pho, Raffin hopes to bring affordable, clean eating to the masses by carefully selecting ingredients and applying modern techniques to classic dishes.
Charlotte Randolph, 28Beverage Director & Owner, Californios
With a three-star approval from Michael Bauer within the first year of opening, Randolph no longer has to explain why a fine-dining Mexican tasting menu with wine pairings “works.” But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her hands full running this family-owned operation — especially since her chef and brother-in-law’s food packs considerable heat, making selecting complementary wines a challenge. Drawing on the wine knowledge she honed at The French Laundry, Randolph primarily turns to organic Eastern European varietals with bright acidity to complement each dish.
Emma Rosenbush, 29General Manager, Cala
After Rosenbush toured overcrowded prisons while working with the Berkeley Prison Law Office, she vowed to hire formerly incarcerated individuals for future work. So seven years later, when she partnered with acclaimed Mexico City chef Gabriela Cámara to open Hayes Valley’s newest upscale Mexican eatery, she turned to her connections at Delancey Street and SF’s Probation Department to staff the restaurant — 70% of which have conviction records. “They’ve been my best hires and hardest workers,” the socially minded GM says of her well-received program.
Adam Ross and Jordan Nova, Both 26Executive Chef and Restaurant Director, 1313 Main Restaurant & Wine Bar
The process for creating the seasonal tasting menus and wine pairings at this Downtown Napa gem would likely confound anyone overhearing the dynamic duo’s daily meetings. Speaking in musical terms and applying each ingredient to a spot on a color wheel, the pair, who met at Honolulu’s Chef Mavro, “skeletonizes” each dish and wine in order to create what Nova refers to as “the entire spectrum of a color” in a dish. Diners thankfully don’t have to understand it — as Ross puts it, “We do wine pairings weirder than anyone else” — but the highly collaborative process (which often involves the entire staff) ensures the sum of a dish is greater than its parts.
Jessica Sackler, 29Owner, Calavera
As part-owner of a vibrant, new Oakland restaurant, Sackler (formerly Coqueta’s brilliant wine mind) has her hands in everything each night from tasting the margaritas to fielding feedback from guests. She’s also behind Calavera’s innovative wine program that seeks to change everything you know about pairing Mexican food with wine. Sackler's fairly unusual list, which draws on her familial ties in Mexico City, includes low-oaked, aromatic bottles from Mexico and around the world, as well as 20–30 cellared Rieslings. “If you don’t like Riesling, try it with Mexican food,” she suggests. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Elizabeth Sassen, 28Chef-Owner, Homestead Restaurant
Sassen’s Piedmont eatery has earned a loyal following thanks to the homey, family-style atmosphere — something that seems to come naturally to the husband-and-wife chefs-owners. Sassen’s menu is inspired by her childhood where her family would cook what they grew and gather around the dinner table each night. She brings the same comforting routine to the popular Sunday dinner series at the restaurant each week. Always innovating, Sassen uses rare slow nights to work on the restaurant’s retail program, selling homemade jams, preserves and breads to complement the business.
Daniel Sheel, 29Bar Manager, Gather
What started as a side gig — Sheel worked toward a degree in industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology — quickly became his true calling as he honed his cocktail craft at Atlanta’s Octopus Bar and Empire State South, often for a star-studded clientele. Today he’s committed to designing drinks instead of buildings, bringing his refined palate and sommelier certification to Gather’s beverage program. Infusing the menu with his own brand of creativity, Sheel creates food-friendly cocktails to complement the grassroots philosophy behind this Berkeley haunt.
Caley Shoemaker, 27Head Distiller, Hangar 1 Vodka
One of the few female head distillers in the U.S., Shoemaker isn’t just responsible for managing a distillery and producing award-winning vodka; she’s also set on changing people’s perception about the spirit. “It’s not just for shooters and pairing with juices,” she says. “I want to create products people sip straight and Bay Area bartenders are excited to work with.” To do so, Shoemaker scours farmer’s markets and gardening centers for interesting, fresh ingredients and constantly experiments with test batches, hoping to hit on her next great tasting-room-only delight or special flavor to bring to market.
Chris Sullivan, 27Maître d', Manresa
As one of the youngest maître d's in the country, Sullivan realizes his job is much more than greeting guests. “It’s my job to live up to expectations by building the culture of the restaurant,” he says. Sullivan tackles that amorphous goal by putting his finesse on every part of a night’s service at the Los Gatos destination, from remembering guests’ names to running food to liaising between staff members. He’s up to the varied challenge thanks to his background working every front-of-house position from busser to bartender — he even launched a gourmet food truck in Santa Barbara.
Aaron Thayer, 28Chef de Cuisine, Petit Crenn
This graduate of Johnson and Wales Culinary School starts every day at farmer’s markets looking for whatever ingredients are new and exciting, which informs that evening’s menu at Dominque Crenn’s newest restaurant. From there, his first customer is his boss, who provides feedback on everything before finalizing the nightly menu. Previously sous-chef at Atelier Crenn, Thayer has plenty of experience getting inspired by Crenn’s culinary narrative, but the tiny Hayes Valley restaurant is his first shot at running his own open kitchen. “The best part is seeing the instant feedback on diners’ faces,” he says.
Seth Wile, 29Lead Brewer, Magnolia Brewing
Wile began his career as an avian ecologist for the United States Geological Survey, but caught the beer-brewing bug when he began home brewing with his roommate, a former Magnolia brewer. Hooked, he left the world of birds for the world of beer, laying his official brewing foundation at Speakeasy Brewery. Now he’s the secret weapon of Magnolia — his longtime favorite — and charged with every aspect of day-to-day operations. “It took me a while to land on beer,” he says. “But I’ll likely do it for the rest of my life.”
Tiffany Yam, 28Partner, Salt Partners
When Yam began her career in banking, she needed a creative outlet and spent every Saturday staging at restaurants such as RN74 and Quince. Leaving finance, she parlayed her business savvy to land a partner role at restaurant consulting firm Salt Partners where she helps restaurants like Petit Crenn, LocoL, Humphry Slocombe and Bacon Bacon with every aspect of running a business. Often the unsung hero of behind-the-scenes necessities, Yam has her hand in everything from scouting spaces to pricing to hiring to health inspections. “I want to help my friends execute their vision,” she says of what drives her.