The Top 25 American Food Entrepreneurs

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  1. Adam Tihany
    In 2001, 20 years after the preeminent designer, who has injected the glamour into more than 300 establishments, completed his first restaurant, the New York Times crowned him one of the greatest interior architects. Period. His settings have enhanced all the great chefs (Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to name a few)—a process he claims is a two-way street. “You can bring a horse to water,” he says, “but if the chef doesn’t follow suit, you fail.”


  1. Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian: Edible Communities, Inc.
    Using a VISA card–like franchising business model for hyperlocal, extremely high quality food magazines? Who’d have thought it? And who could have predicted Edible Communities, Inc., would become the world’s largest local-food publisher, with a 5 million combined circulation for its 64 magazines? Ryder and Topalian are evangelists for the locavore movement in the best possible way.


  1. Jeff Sinelli: Which Wich?
    If you’re Texan you probably subsist on Which Wiches—the funnest lunch in the land, almost infinitely customizable by way of a multiple- choice questionnaire you fill out on the printed brown bag with a special red Sharpie. The 150-franchise point has been passed, and there are no signs of slowing, thanks to free Wi-Fi, low pricing, a satisfaction guarantee, music and newspaper stations, and a community vibe.


  1. Michael Kirban and Ira Liran: Vita Coco
    True story: Two childhood friends meet a couple of Brazilian women at a bar who say they miss coconut water—so they start selling it. Eight years (and a Brazilian-American wedding) later, Vita Coco generates $100 million in revenue from more than 20,000 U.S. retail outlets, and boasts Madonna, Demi Moore, and Matthew McConaughey among its investors. “We felt coconut water could be as big a market as orange juice in the United States,” said Kirban.


  1. Shelly Hwang and Young Lee: Pinkberry
    Poster children for the latest fro-yo boom, restaurateur Hwang and architect Lee, originally (but no longer) partners in life and yogurt, decided simple and tangy with extra millions of live cultures was what the world needs now. Since their high-design, pebble-floored franchised stores now number more than 130 in the U.S. and 15 other countries (and Howard Schultz is betting millions on them), they may have a point.


  1. Tom Ryan: Smashburger
    Denver-based fast-food veteran Ryan (he led the stuffed-crust-inventing team at Pizza Hut before becoming McDonalds’ CMO) remembers thinking “the hamburger is our favorite food, and still we’re not satisfied.” His solution—quality beef “smashed” to order on a butter-brushed griddle in fun, friendly surroundings—seems to hit that spot: The company has 450 signed franchise agreements on top of their 143 locations, and the title of 2011’s “most promising company in America,” according to Forbes.

Kate Sekules, a former editor at Gourmet Live, Food & Wine, and Culture + Travel, is founder of the curated swap site

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