The Top 25 American Food Entrepreneurs

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  1. Nell Newman: Newman’s Own Organics
    Everyone knows the creation myth of Nell’s dad Paul’s salad dressing. But it was Newman’s Own daughter who invented the pretzels, cookies, candy, et cetera (even pet food), division, a separate entity since 2001. And it’s as highly successful, socially responsible, and not-taking-itself-too-seriously a company as its parent.
  2. Steve Ells: Chipotle Mexican Grill
    While working the line for superchef Jeremiah Tower at San Francisco’s Stars, Ells wondered how all-natural Mission-style burritos and tacos might go down with the masses. They go down well. Ells took the brand from one store in Denver to well over 1,000 (owned not franchised) and counting.


  1. Danny Meyer: Union Square Hospitality Group
    Meyer, dubbed “the greatest restaurateur Manhattan has ever seen” by the New York Times, has (through partner Susan Reilly Salgado) spun off his gold-plated Union Square Hospitality Group into a management-skills consultancy, teaching his signature “HQ” (Hospitality Quotient). If this results in more restaurants like Gramercy Tavern (opened in 1994) and the Modern, or fast-food joints as good as Shake Shack, we’ll have even more to thank him for.
  2. Steve Smith: Tazo
    When Smith sold his previous tea company, Stash, and started Tazo, the country was not exactly starved for dried leaves in little gauze bags. Yet his “Reincarnation of Tea,” with its premium blends, herbs, flowers, and peels, conquered the crowded market, and Smith sold it to Starbucks in 1999 for $8 million. Now, Tazo is huge, and Smith has reincarnated in Portland as “Steven Smith Teamaker.”
  3. Nobu Matsuhisa: Nobu
    Surely the chef who wields the greatest influence with the fewest syllables, Matsuhisa (only his first-ever place, in L.A., carried his last name) has 25 restaurants on 5 continents—and counting. Starting at Nobu New York and with partner Robert De Niro at his side, Nobu has leveraged celebrity fans and New Style Sashimi into an empire.


  1. Steve Hindy and Tom Potter: Brooklyn Brewery
    It was a red-letter day for the American microbrew industry when the scrappy but beloved operation started by journalist Hindy and banker Potter in 1987 moved into its own real Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg. Now that their 2011 $8 million brewhouse next door has increased local production capacity 1,000 percent, Hindy and Potter might be the next macro-brewery.


  1. Don Feinberg: Brewery Ommegang
    The slightly moonstruck idea of brewing Belgian beer just outside Cooperstown, New York, paid off when actual Belgian brewers—the almighty Duvel Moortgat—bought the company in its sixth year. Feinberg is still in charge, bringing Witte and Hennepin to 43 states and ensuring it still “isn’t overhopped or overhyped.”
  2. Jean-Georges Vongerichten
    You could date the Alsace native’s transition from great chef to great entrepreneurial chef from the opening of his four-star flagship, Jean Georges. After that, fresh JGV inventions started popping up everywhere. He’s passed the dozen restaurant mark, and, in partnership with Starwood hotels, is about to go more global than ever, with 53 new openings reportedly in the offing.
  3. Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger: Scharffen Berger Chocolate
    A sweet yet bitter tale of the evolution of domestic artisanal chocolate. A cancer diagnosis sent Dr. Steinberg in pursuit of his cocoa dream, and then into business with his former patient, winemaker Scharffenberger, to make then-unheard-of selected-bean, high-cocoa-content American bars. It was so good, Hershey bought them out for about $20 million. After Steinberg died, Hershey closed the original factories with their vintage equipment. Scharffenberger’s making tofu now.


  1. Mario Batali
    The opening of Babbo was the beginning of brand Mario—and the Italian-American chef, despite media saturation and restaurant proliferation (16), remains popular with everyone from your grandmother to Gwyneth Paltrow. With his shorts, signature orange Crocs and green Vespa—plus his 10 books, TV shows, pepper mills, watches, wines, ovens, world’s biggest Italian food venue (Eataly, co-owned with the Bastianich family) et cetera—he’d inspire jealousy if he weren’t so cuddly.
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