Culinary trends can be as fickle and fast-changing as any other fad — just ask any owner of a now-shuttered frozen yogurt store, or the former employees of once-popular cupcake shops.
But for the members of the 30 Under 30 class of 2018 in food and drink, shaping America’s meals is less about zeroing in on what’s next and more about balancing what consumers say they want with strong business fundamentals and products that will withstand the test of whims.
Take, for instance, Peter Yang, the 29-year-old cofounder of the fast-growing Pokéworks chain of poke shops. His poke — which is pronounced “poh-kay” and is essentially a salad of raw fish — got a boost from a viral video in 2015. The two-hour lines out of Pokéworks’ Manhattan doors have since subsided, but Pokéworks has been able to keep expanding: the chain has 13 locations across America and Canada, and is targeting $15 million in revenue this year.
“Healthy [and] quick is not just a trend. It’s more of a lifestyle, and you see that in every concept that’s successful,” Yang says. “But also, the flavors within poke are very similar to other foods that have been accepted and has been part of the American diet. So it’s just a different vehicle of enjoying similar foods in the way that people like to: fast and healthy.”
Poke (and its preparers) also benefits from a real estate edge.
“Everything is prepped fresh. And there’s no grease. There’s no fire,” Yang explains. “So we’re able to really get into spaces that a lot of, let’s say, full-kitchen concepts wouldn’t be able to.”
Also responsible for nurturing and growing a phenomenon is 28-year-old Marguerite Mariscal, the vice president of brand and design at the internationally-known Momofuku restaurant group. Mariscal works across all projects and departments at Momofuku — but most importantly, Momofuku insiders say, she is founder Dave Chang’s right-hand woman and frequent translator. “As Momofuku grows in numbers and concepts, the guest experience needs to work hand in hand with the food ― all without losing sight of our form-follows-function dogma,” Mariscal says. “I act as a conduit between Dave’s brain and our internal teams to strike that balance. I speak fluent Dave.”
Then there’s 29-year-old Grant Pinkerton, who’s winning legions of fans with both his barbecue and his charity: as Hurricane Harvey bore down on his Houston hometown, Pinkerton vowed to keep his eponymous barbecue shop open for the area’s first responders. “To all first responders/high water rescue personnel/fire stations—if you can get to Pinkerton’s BBQ, we have BBQ for y’all,” he wrote on Facebook. Within a few days, Pinkerton had served 950 police officers, 50 members of the National Guard, and more. Pinkerton lives above his restaurant and still trims every piece of brisket himself.
Over in Miami, 25-year-old Amanda Pizarro is capitalizing on the Cronut craze — and Miami’s dearth of artisan doughnuts — with the Salty Donut, a place where decadence and creativity are the modus operandi. Recipes change on a weekly basis and go beyond the typical maple bacon (a recent autumnal offering featured donuts with bruleed figs and almond streusel). The funky flavors have won Pizarro plaudits at home (Thrillest named the shop one of the top donut purveyors in Florida) and nationally (the team notched a win on the Cooking Channel’s Sugar Showdown in 2016).
In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the bakery taking carb-lovers by storm is Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, founded by 26-year-old Aaron Caddel. Caddel describes Mr. Holmes Bakehouse – a craft bakery meant to be an alternative to the “crappy” fare sold at most coffee shops – as a building spree fueled by his own mortality. He was diagnosed with a primary motor-cortex tumor when he was 19, and while he’s fine now, Caddel insists there’s no “right way” to scale. Within two years, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse has grown to seven locations across California and South Korea.
Baked goods and poke aren’t the only food businesses experiencing exponential growth — as anyone with an eye toward the industry knows, you can’t write a trend story in 2017 without mentioning the word “juice.” And within the juice category, one of the fastest growing businesses is Dirty Lemon. Cofounded by 26-year-old Sommer Carroll, the company has a text-to-order twist (you text, they bring you juice) that’s provided 500% growth for two years in a row. It also helps that Dirty Lemon’s drinks each have ingredients the company says aid health and beauty, like a buzzy formula with collagen to help “skin elasticity” or magnesium to ease customers into sleep. The text-based platform makes responding to customers quick and easy, and Carroll, a Stanford University alum, says this helps Dirty Lemon launch new products within 30 days.
As it is every year, assembling the 2018 list was a thorough (but mostly delicious) process that spanned more than three months, 200-plus nominees, dozens of phone interviews, and three expert judging entities: Christina Tosi, the founder and CEO of Milk Bar; the Sweetgreen founding team of Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman; and last but certainly not least, Lee Schrager, founder of the New York City and South Beach Wine & Food Festivals and veteran Under 30 judge. Nominees were asked to list awards, divulge financial metrics and, in certain cases, provide sample products. Based on the answers we received, a short list was presented to the judges. In-person deliberations ensued. Follow-up interviews were sought. And, finally, consensus was achieved.
After you click through the full list of the 30 tastemakers who are redefining American consumption, take a look at the honorees in the 19 other categories — they are sure to impress you and, perhaps, inspire more than a little bit of professional jealousy.
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