Richard is Founder and Chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based corporation that owns over 100 restaurants nationwide. The restaurant business has been his life work, beginning with his early days in a family-owned restaurant and later as a teenager working in fast food eateries. After realizing that he wasn't cut out to be a college student, he met Jerry A. Orzoff, a man who immediately and unconditionally believed in Richard’s ability to create and run restaurants. In 1971 the two opened R.J. Grunts, a hip burger joint that soon became one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago. They continued to develop restaurant concepts together until Jerry’s death in 1981. Through his relationship with Jerry, Richard formulated a philosophy based on the importance of partners, of sharing responsibilities and profits with them, and of developing and growing together. Today, Richard has almost 70 working partners, most of whom have come up through the organization.
David has been credited with popularizing modern Asian cuisine, though he didn’t begin his culinary career until his twenties. He attended Trinity College, majoring in religious studies, before pursuing a brief career in finance. He decided to become a chef and got his culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute. From there, he worked at Mercer Kitchen, Craft, the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and a number of kaseki, izakaya, and ramen restaurants in Japan. He came back to the United States to work at Café Boulud before opening Momofuku Noodle Bar in the summer of 2004. By the age of 33, he had successfully opened four restaurants and two bakeries. Today, Momofuku has grown to include restaurants in New York City, Sydney, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, and Toronto.
Mary Celeste Beall
Mary Celeste is the proprietor of the acclaimed resort hotel Blackberry Farm in the Tennessee Foothills. For more than a decade, she has lived and worked on the family-owned property. She and her late husband, Sam, are credited with transforming the space into a renowned food, wine, and wellness destination. Prior to moving to the farm, Mary Celeste earned degrees in business and accounting and worked as an associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Francisco. She resides on the property with her five children in the family home she and Sam built within Blackberry’s working farm.
Charles has been a waiter at Antoine’s, the acclaimed New Orleans restaurant, for nineteen year. He began there as an apprentice waiter and was the second youngest person ever to be made waiter there at the age of 18. His great uncle, Chester Laviolette, was a waiter there for 52 years, and his father, Val, for 29 years.
Shortly after graduating from Wesleyan University, Jordyn Lexton took a job with East River Academy, teaching literature to incarcerated youths on Rikers Island. Three years in, Jordyn grew determined to make a difference in her students' lives. She raised nearly $500,000 to buy a food truck (called Snowday) and launch Drive Change, a nonprofit that trains formerly incarcerated young people and helps them find jobs in the food-service industry. They all start out working on the truck, which serves sweet and savory dishes, all featuring New York maple syrup. Snowday has won Rookie of the Year at the Vendy Awards street-food competition, and Gothamist and Time Out named it one of the top ten food trucks in the city. Jordyn spends her days working on the truck talking to customers about social-justice issues while also planning her next big initiative: securing a commissary where food trucks can park overnight, get cleaned, and load up in order to provide back-end services to the food trucks parking there and to supply them with employees as well.
When Frank began college at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he had the intention of becoming a doctor. But when he went to visit his father--a retired plasterer who had opened a Cuban-Italian restaurant in Miami--over a school break, he realized he loved the restaurant business and switched his major from pre-med to restaurant and hotel management. He took his first job with Sky Chefs and worked his way through executive posts at Restaurant Associates, the Wolfgang Puck Food Co., Au Bon Pain, and Uno’s. Frank serves as an advisor on the UMassHospitality and Tourism Management Board, is a trustee for the Boston Children's Museum, a director for the National Restaurant Association, a director for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, and a member of the Nutrition Roundtable for the Harvard School of Public Health.
Mel, Mojo, & Sharifah
Melissa “Mel” Gibson, Jophilla “Mojo” Frazier, and Sharifah Johnson work at the Waffle House on the Savannah Highway in Charleston, South Carolina. Mel has been there for 6 years, Mojo for nearly 10, and Sharifah for 26! They work the same shift together and deliver the most genuine and loving hospitality together with some of the best waffles the south has to offer.
Born and raised in rural Virginia, Sean began his professional career at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, after graduating from Johnson & Wales University. He then moved to Richmond, Virginia, to serve as executive sous chef of Lemaire Restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel before becoming the executive chef at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. Sean returned to Charleston to be the executive chef at McCrady's. There, he developed a 2.5-acre farm on Wadmalaw Island to create a true field-to-table experience and fill the needs of the kitchen and the demands of an increasingly sophisticated food community. He went on to open Husk just down the street from McCrady’s, emphasizing local ingredients and the people who grow them. Most recently, inspired by the flavors of Mexico, Sean opened Minero.
A native city of Madison, Wisconsin, Sam attended Cornell University and graduated with a degree from the School of Hotel Administration. Prior to joining the team at Union Square Cafe, Sam worked in various roles throughout Union Square Hospitality Group, including Service Manager (Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, MoMA), Beverage Director (Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, MoMA), Bar Manager (Eleven Madison Park), Dining Room Manager (Eleven Madison Park), and Assistant General Manager (Eleven Madison Park, Maialino). In 2011, Sam became the General Manager of Union Square Cafe and in 2012 became a Managing Partner of the restaurant. At Union Square Cafe, Sam has continued the traditions of excellent service and warm hospitality that have made the restaurant one of New York’s (and the country’s) most beloved New American restaurants for the past 27 years, while thoughtfully continuing the restaurant’s evolution through such initiatives as revitalizing the beverage program and spearheading the subtle rebranding of the restaurant.
A Baltimore native, Melanie went to Brown University where she studied engineering and economics before shifting her focus to business. After graduation, she worked on the corporate development team of Starwood Hotels before joining Richard Branson in founding Virgin America. Melanie left Virgin for Equinox, where she was given the opportunity to find new markets for the company, one of which was SoulCycle, whose team she joined in 2012 with a dedication to building and leading the company. She became the CEO in 2015, scaling the fitness company to over 70 locations around the country.
Dr. John Medina
A developmental molecular biologist, John has a lifelong fascination with how the mind reacts to and organizes information. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School--a provocative book that takes on the way our schools and work environments are designed. His latest book is geared towards parents and early-childhood educators: Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five. John is an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and lives in Seattle, Washington.
Gary retired from the FBI in 2003 following a 30-year career as an investigator, instructor, and negotiator. A significant focus of his career was directed toward investigating Middle East hijackings in which American citizens were victimized. In addition, he was an FBI hostage negotiator for 23 years of his career, retiring as the Chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, Critical Incident Response Group, the first person to hold that position. In that capacity he was heavily involved in numerous crisis incidents covering prison riots, right-wing militia standoffs, religious zealot sieges, terrorist embassy takeovers, airplane hijackings, and over 120 overseas kidnapping cases involving American citizens. Following his retirement from the FBI he became a Senior Vice President with Control Risks, an international risk consultancy, assisting clients in managing overseas kidnap incidents.