Updated 8:40 a.m.
With acclaimed chefs, new restaurants opening at a breakneck pace, and bars snagging national attention, Pittsburgh’s dining and nightlife scene has never been more popular.
But a thriving food ecosystem goes deeper than those headlines.
It’s also about people demanding sustainability, filling gaps in food deserts, and feeding nutritious meals (and sweet treats) to those in hospitals. It’s about the education behind the distilling process, a business model that turns a night out for drinks into a charity drive, and an event pointed at making the beer community more accessible.
For our latest Who’s Next class, we introduce you to the under-40 pros making all of that happen.
This group, with support from series sponsor S&T Bank, spotlights young people shaping the city’s food and drink scene. You have a chance to meet and celebrate them at a June 25 happy hour. Get your tickets now.
Until then, let us introduce you to the 23 people making an impact on Pittsburgh’s food and drink scene.
This event is for you if you consider yourself a foodie, take pride in knowing about the newest places to eat and drink, or are the friend who's always tasked with making the brunch plans. Join us at a happy hour in honor of The Incline's Who's Next: Food and Drink class, a group of under-40 pros working in kitchens, opening restaurants, increasing access to food, making food sustainability a priority, and pouring (and brewing and distilling and stirring) drinks. Who's Next, presented by S&T Bank, is a monthly series honoring young Pittsburghers shaping the city. At this happy hour, meet this talented class of Pittsburghers and enjoy light appetizers and samplings of beer, wine and spirits. Your ticket supports our local newsroom, which is committed to keeping you informed by reporting relevant, original and actionable journalism.
Where: Nova Place outdoor plaza at 100 S. Commons (North Side)
When: June 25, 2018 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25 for public | Free for Who's Next: Food and Drink honorees
New Orleans-native Michael Barnes moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 with his family. A self-proclaimed “seasoning snob,” his goal is to bring the spices of Cajun-Creole cuisine to Pittsburgh. He noticed a lack of authentic Southern-Creole food in Pittsburgh and decided to introduce the community to the meals he grew up eating. In his work with Roux Orleans, Barnes combines 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry with the lessons learned from his mother and grandmother. He plans to establish Roux Orleans' brick-and-mortar location in Homewood with the goal of employing local residents in the kitchen. “The mission of the company is to bring workforce development, economic growth, and good seasoning to the entire community,” he said. Barnes lives in Avalon.
As general manager of Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, Jeralyn Beach oversees all aspects of a 27 farmer-owned cooperative. She handles everything from sales to operations to finances at Penn’s Corner, which is dedicated to providing high quality, fresh food to the Pittsburgh region. “She works tirelessly with local farmers, restaurants and the community to support and promote the local sustainable food scene,” her nominator wrote. Beach has dedicated her career to food and sustainability, previously holding roles at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the New York City Department of Education Office of School Food and Nutrition Services. In her free time, she’s a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture and previously served on the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and the Lawrenceville Farmers’ Market Association Committee. A Lawrenceville resident, Beach holds degrees from Ball State University and Johnson & Wales University and a master’s degree in food studies from Chatham University.
Ed Bailey and Day Bracey run the weekly podcast Drinking Partners, which infuses conversations about beer with comedy. This summer, the duo will host an event they founded called Fresh Fest ’18. It’s Pittsburgh’s first black beer festival, which will bring together more than a dozen blacked-owned breweries from around the country to partner with black artists, entrepreneurs and small business owners to collaborate on a beer. Minority inclusion in the craft beer scene remains low. As Bracey described it: “When we go to breweries, we look around, and it’s like, ‘Man, there’s not a whole lot of us here.” In addition to their event planning and weekly podcast, the comedians perform regular stand-up shows at Arcade Comedy Theater Downtown, and Comtra Theatre in Cranberry. A Pitt graduate, Bailey lives in Munhall. Bracey of Beaver graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
For Sarah A. Buranskas, the issues of food access, healthy food retail, school food policies and equity are key. In her role as food access coordinator for the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, she coordinates goals for the council’s Food & Health Equity Working Group and Food Access Initiatives Subcommittee. As part of her goal to integrate healthier, local foods into public schools, she recently organized a delegation of school food service managers to attend the Farm to Cafeteria conference. She’s also working to integrate the region into a statewide farm-to-school network and to develop an online food access map. “Pittsburgh Food Policy Councils mission is to facilitate the growth of a just, equitable, and sustainable food system and Sarah is playing a large role in making that happen!” her nominator said. A native Michigander, Buranskas earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at University of Michigan and now lives in Shadyside.
With a decade of experience in education and non-profit management, Teresa DeFlitch recently joined Wigle Whiskey and Threadbare Cider & Mead because she’s passionate about bourbon. “She's brought the skill set to creating education programs and individualized spirits and cider training pathways for Wigle and Threadbare staff, customers, and the general public,” her nominator said. DeFlitch uses her background in education innovation to create dynamic learning opportunities and to build community in the spirits industry. A Forest Hills resident, DeFlitch holds a bachelor’s degree from Saint Vincent College, a master’s degree from Syracuse University, and a certification as Certified Executive Bourbon Steward from the Stave & Thief Society.
With 17 years of culinary experience, Jewel Edwards is set to become one of the first bakers at local bakery incubator TBSP. She serves as a baker for Morrison/Compass Group, which works with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. There, she said, she bakes for the retail cafeteria and for “the amazing kids in the hospital.” Over the years, Edwards has served in a variety of food service positions at Sodexo, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Au Bon Pain, and UPMC. A fan of anything sweet, Edwards’ specialities include cheesecake, brownies and bread pudding. In the future, she hopes to open a bakery/lounge where people can gather with friends to socialize and enjoy programming. A graduate of the International Culinary Academy, Edwards lives Downtown.
Diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of five, Doug Foster spent nearly his entire life carefully avoiding all foods containing gluten. With the proliferation of gluten-free foods over the past 20 years, he wanted to explore gluten-free beer. So he co-founded Aurochs Brewing Company, which he said is the first world’s first naturally gluten-free brewery that can compete with regular craft breweries based on taste. The company has grown dramatically since its launch in 2012 — from one account to 100; from two employees to 11. Foster is also a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of of Greater Pittsburgh. “His extra efforts to get the word about BBBS during the day, nights, and weekends while running his own brewery business are remarkable,” his nominator said. He’s also a camp counselor at Camp Celiac. A Penn State graduate, Foster lives in Wexford.
Timothy Garso is known for cultivating a coveted local beer list, a wine program featuring wine made by female winemakers, and a nostalgia-heavy cocktail menu. But he’s proudest of Smallman Galley’s charity cocktail program, which has raised about $15,000 for a variety of charities through drink specials, tip drives and sales donations. When the Galley Group expands to Cleveland, the charity cocktail program will become a part of the menu there, too. Previous to the Galley Group, Garso worked at Cure and Kaya. At home, Garso and his wife are foster and adoptive parents to six children. “Tim is more than just a great leader who's redefining the service industry in Pittsburgh, he's also a husband and father,” his nominator said. “His role as a father has also transitioned into his role as a bar manager, his entire staff lovingly addresses their leader, Tim, as ‘Dad.’” A graduate of Robert Morris University, Garso lives in Bellevue.
Growing up in Bulgaria, Tzveti Gintcheva developed a palate for local ingredients: Fresh homegrown produce, yogurts, Kashkaval cheeses, dill, spring lamb and wild boar. After immigrating to Pittsburgh, she honed her cooking skills in a variety of other traditions, from Portuguese cooking to modern American practices, all the while developing what she describes as “a lifelong search for transforming New World ingredients using Old-World preparations.” After a stint in Pittsburgh, she moved to Madrid to explore Spanish cooking under the tutelage of two acclaimed chefs. Back in Pittsburgh, she worked at Dish, Nine on Nine, Cure, and Vivo Restaurant. This year, she’ll strike out on her own with a two-concept kitchen — Spanish-inspired De Pan y Queso Bocadillos Bar and modern-American StoneFront Kitchen. In her free time, she volunteers with Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, sharing her knowledge with students as a guest chef. A Chatham University graduate, Gintcheva lives in Braddock.
Every day, 30,000 meals are served on Pitt’s campus. Nick Goodfellow strives to make each one more sustainable. As sustainability coordinator for the university’s dining services program, his approach is three-pronged: To build a food system that supports a healthy body and healthy planet, strengthens local communities, and minimizes waste. Through several sustainability programs on campus, he advocates for food recovery, plant-based dining, food waste composting, and BYO(mug) and BYO(bag) initiatives. He’s already made great strides in these goals, from recovering more than 22,000 pounds of surplus food and placing it through 412 Food Rescue, to organizing a training for Pitt cooks to learn plant-based recipes, to expanding composting across campus. A member of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Goodfellow was awarded the 2017 Pitt Staff Sustainability Award. He also brings to the role experience as a tour manager in the music industry. A Pitt graduate and a Washington D.C. native, Goodfellow lives in East Liberty.
Thirty-year-old Joey Hilty started in the business 17 years ago as a dishwasher, working his way through the ranks of the front of house and kitchen. In 2015, he opened Lawrenceville restaurant The Vandal, which immediately drew attention from Eater, Bon Appetit, Conde Naste Traveler, and the New York Times for its youth-driven, forward thinking, dining experience. It continues to pick up accolades for its progressive, seasonal dining, led by fellow Who’s Nexter Chef Csilla Thackray. Now, Hilty is bringing those same principles to his second project, Joey’s Snack Bar, housed at restaurant incubator Smallman Galley. His nominator puts it like this: “He is unapologetically innovative and forward-thinking in everything he does. He has gained city-wide notoriety and has fans all across the Rust Belt. … His dishes are prepared in a unique, eastern European-influenced manner and he is a student at what he does; constantly learning and trying new things.” A graduate of West Virginia University, Hilty lives in Friendship.
As production manager at Aladdin Food Management, Bek Hlavach oversees the production of 780 meals every day. Her work ensures that patients at John Kane Regional Medical Facility in Ross Township can eat fresh foods that they want (and that meet their dietary needs) every day. Previously, she owned Sweet Peaches catering company and worked at Legume, Union Pig & Chicken, and Right by Nature. “Bek is a woman whose passions ensure that Pittsburghers — regardless of background, tastes, or access, regardless of socioeconomic status — are eating and eating well,” her nominator said. When she’s not at work, she likes to hike, smoke meats and get dirty in her garden. She’s the mom of twin teen girls. A Garfield resident, she attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and is currently studying at Community College of Allegheny County.
Correction: The name of John Kane Regional Medical Facility has been corrected.
This duo, former U.S. Naval Officers, founded restaurant incubator Galley Group, known locally for Smallman Galley in the Strip District and Federal Galley on the North Side. Their goal is to spur the growth of new culinary and beverage talent in Pittsburgh through financial and professional support at their food hall concepts. “They provide mentorship, guidance, costs of overhead equipment, front-of-house staff and much more so that these chefs can focus on what really matters — serving the community,” their nominator said. Galley Group is expanding to fellow Rust Belt cities Cleveland and Detroit, as well. The food hall concepts are inspired by the communal dining the veterans witnessed while deployed in Southeast Asia. Benson, of Aspinwall, earned a bachelor’s degree at University of Michigan and an MBA at Indiana University. Mantica, of Lawrenceville, graduated from The United States Naval Academy.
Environmental stewardship is the guiding principle for Wadjet Mentuhotep. With experience in horticulture technology and remediation, Mentuhotep serves as farm staff lead with Mama Africa’s Green Scouts where he plans jobs, designs farm plots, landscapes, keeps an eye on the plants’ health, and interacts with volunteers during events. As part of the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers Cooperative of Pittsburgh, the organization’s gardens, located in Homewood and Uptown, serve as community spaces with farmer’s markets. The goal? To help minorities have faith in sustainability, Mentuhotep said. In addition to his agriculture work, Mentuhotep carries his passion for sustainability into his work as a visual artist and as founder/president of the Engineering Impact Initiative, which helps minorities learn about math and reading. A Homewood resident, Mentuhotep studied at Life’s Work of Western PA, Community Empowerment Association, Bidwell Training Center, New Century Careers, and Swanson School Of Engineering Manufacturing Assistance Center.
After taking over the Lorenz Cafe in 2015, Monica Nickles said she has been “working hard to breathe new life into a long-neglected building and business model.” From replacing the kitchen ventilation to installing a new draft beer system, Nickles and her sister continue to make needed repairs. “This woman has taken a local, run of the mill dive bar and over the course of several years has put some serious blood, sweat and tears into developing a business,” one nominator said, lauding her menu of homemade comfort foods. Another nominator praised her commitment to the community: “She inspires me with her dedication to building a legacy not only for her local Elliott community, but for her young family as well.” Her work has earned loyal customers and a spot on The Incline’s Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry bracket. In addition to her work at the restaurant, she’s helped organize neighborhood clean-ups and collected donations for back-to-school supplies. A graduate of ICM School of Business and Community College of Allegheny County, Nickles lives in Castle Shannon.
Jordan Robarge founded Revival Chili just more than a year ago, and the food truck has already participated in more than 200 events. With a passion for helping people who were incarcerated get jobs and re-enter the workforce, the company hires ex-convicts to work in the food truck before the employees move on and start their own businesses. “He equips them with a stable job, training to become more deeply employable,” his nominator said. Before starting the food truck, Robarge worked at Thrill Mill, Venture for America, and Gray Street Solutions. A University of Virginia graduate, Robarge lives in Bloomfield.
As the owner of Mesa in Oakland, Robert Sayre has made work-life balance a priority for his staff, guaranteeing $15/hour and flexible scheduling. In addition, “he's worked to set up a really respectful and inclusive kitchen environment, which is rare in this industry. Staff from different races/LGBTQ/parts of the city — he wants people to feel like it's a family, without the crassness/vulgarity that is so common at some restaurants,” his nominator said. He’s also striving to change the perception of the demanding hours in the kitchen, tweaking his own shift hours so he can spend time with his wife and three kids. Plus, he’s serving what another nominator describes as “Pittsburgh’s first taste of New Mexican cuisines … delicious, inventive food.” Before Mesa, Sayre served as culinary director at Conflict Kitchen and general manager at Salt of the Earth. With degrees from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and Middlebury College, Sayre lives in Stanton Heights.
In his role as a sous chef, Christopher Suntala loves cooking for just about anybody, but his favorite customers are his parents. He counts his family and his travels with his wife as a major inspiration for his work. He helped to open the already-buzzed-about Pie for Breakfast, a new project from the James Beard-nominated Legume, where he works as sous chef. He’s been in the restaurant business for more than a decade, starting out as a dishwasher at Rocky River Brewing Company, then moving to line cook at Oakmont Country Club, and sous chef at Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar before joining the team at Legume. At Legume, he oversees kitchen operations for late-night food service. As his nominator wrote: “At just 28 years old, Chris has already worked in some of the best kitchens in the city.” In his spare time, Suntala volunteers for organizations that address food insecurity in Pittsburgh, including taking part in the Empty Bowls 2018 event, which benefited the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. A graduate of Ohio University, Suntala lives in Morningside.
Emily Voelker first learned about growing food as an intern at One Woman Farm, located just outside of Pittsburgh. Since then, she has worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Center, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh. In her current role, she serves as Learning Garden Educator at Grow Pittsburgh. There, Voelker teaches hands-on garden planting, harvesting and cooking in seven schools. In addition, she encourages teachers to integrate growing food into school culture and guides them through workshops they can use as a tool in the classroom. Voelker said she’s “honored to continue to learn about food and people through a social justice lens.” When she’s not working at Grow Pittsburgh, she volunteers with Education Rights Network, bakes cakes, and occasionally writes for QueerPGH Magazine. A University of Maryland graduate, she lives in Squirrel Hill.
Even as a kid, Nicole Waltenbaugh saved her coins to donate to the local animal shelter. That love grew as she got older, and she wanted to do something to help animals. So she combined her compassion for creatures with her passion for coffee roasting and founded Curly Tail Coffee. A portion of the proceeds from each bag is donated to an animal rescue cause. With orders in every state, Canada, the United Kingdom, El Salvador and Australia, she’s been able to donate more than $5,000. The shop’s name comes from Waltenbaugh’s love for pugs. She and her husband have three pugs and a pig, and each has a roast named after them. A Lower Burrell resident, Waltenbaugh earned degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh.
Amanda Wright is the chocolatier behind candies that look almost too beautiful to eat. “A519 Chocolate is the manifestation of her chocolate dream; the brand and product demonstrate her passionate dedication to the art and science of hand-made chocolate treats,” her nominator said. Under her direction, A519 has grown since its 2015 launch into Pittsburgh’s premier luxury chocolate and has begun to establish a national following. More recently, she’s partnered with two women to launch a W3 Chocolate, which strives to create delicious chocolate bars and to empower women to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. The Lawrenceville resident holds degrees from University of Rochester and the Culinary Institute of America.