Every day, thousands of foodservice directors around the country are feeding millions of people—their impact is undeniable. But outside the permeable bubble of noncommercial dining swirl innumerable factors, from the government to restaurateurs to the internet, that can’t help but make their mark. These 20 changemakers are at the forefront of that movement.
1. Michael Samuels
The exec boosting the boom of mobile ordering on college campuses and beyond.
As third-party food ordering gains further ground, mobile-ordering platform Tapingo has set itself apart by focusing on one group notorious for convenience-seeking: college students. Since debuting in 2012, Tapingo has built a presence on about 150 campuses—and is currently eyeing about 50 more, says Head of Growth Management Michael Samuels, who has been with the platform since 2013, serving in roles related to operations, finance and partnerships. Now, Samuels oversees the group that works with campuses to add Tapingo service, which says it processes nearly 70,000 orders for pickup or delivery daily. It’s also made moves into healthcare and business-and-industry sites, an extension perhaps spurred by partnerships with Aramark and Sodexo.
2. Michael Bloomberg
The billionaire who’s backing soda taxes.
Building on a pet project from his term as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg has written $18 million in checks in the past year that could affect foodservice operators’ bottom lines. The billionaire and anti-soda crusader helped fund city soda tax measures in several cities that stuck a per-ounce soda fee on distributors.
Philadelphia’s tax, the first of the bunch to go into effect at the beginning of the year, has forced operators to either absorb the additional costs or pass them along to their customers. At University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the dining team has decided to take a hit in lieu of raising meal plan prices, but the department’s retail locations will incrementally increase the price of sugary beverages.
3. Steve Ells
The CEO charged with saving Chipotle’s reputation.
With Chipotle co-CEO Monty Moran’s departure from the company in December, all eyes are turned to founder and now-sole CEO Ells in the lingering aftermath of its E. coli outbreak. While the fast-casual restaurant giant’s assembly line-style, build-your-own meal model has had a huge effect on noncommercial dining, Chipotle’s next influence could come in the realms of food safety and training. At a conference in January, Ells said the company had spent too much time on the “esoteric aspects of an empowered people culture” instead of basic customer service. “We have [to invest] much more time to ensure that every employee is thoroughly trained and coached on the skills they need to deliver an excellent guest experience,” he said.
4. Marc Edwards
The scientist who blew the whistle on Flint’s troubled waters.
Since the water crisis in Flint, Mich., flooded the news cycle, New York and Illinois have passed legislation requiring schools to test for lead in their drinking water. Positive test results at some operations are forcing directors to find ways to prepare meals with little or no water. But concerns about contaminated H2O didn’t come to a head with officials until Marc Edwards, an environmental and water resources engineering professor at Virginia Tech, stepped in.
When the city started sourcing water from a local river instead of Detroit, resident complaints poured in to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. After her children broke out into rashes, one Flint mom sent Edwards water samples from her home containing dangerously high lead levels.
Today, Edwards helps influence policies beyond Flint that directly impact operators. The New York Times reports that Congress looks to the scientist as an “oracle” on matters of science, policy and even morality.
5. The bureaucrats who will set the regulatory tone.
Secretary of Agriculture nominee
As President Donald Trump’s appointee for Secretary of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue would oversee a $155 billion annual budget—including the National School Lunch Program. If confirmed, Perdue will preside over the U.S. Department of Agriculture while the legislature works to reauthorize child nutrition regulations. Amid all this, Republicans have proposed relaxing requirements and granting more control to states, Fox News reports.
A representative from the School Nutrition Association said the organization looks forward to working with Perdue. “If confirmed, we are hopeful Gov. Perdue will work to strengthen school meal programs and help ease funding and regulatory challenges,” SNA President Becky Domokos-Bays said in a statement.
Secretary of Labor
President Trump’s original labor secretary pick—CEO of the parent company for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, Andy Puzder—dropped out following criticism from both sides of the aisle. As head of the U.S. Department of Labor, the next labor secretary, whomever he or she may be, will oversee the government agency that reviews worker compensation and safety violations. The appointee will be charged with parlaying presidential promises of deregulation. Trump has signed an executive order requiring legislators to toss out two regulations for every new law passed. In January, the president froze pending regulations, including the new overtime rules, which a federal judge already had put on hold. While many foodservice associations have expressed enthusiasm about the regulatory future under Trump, former labor secretary Tom Perez does not think he has workers’ interests in mind, he told The Hill.
6. TJ Sudiswa
The Disney chef who works magic on dietary restrictions.
Walt Disney World chef TJ Sudiswa has cooked up a following of involuntary picky eaters during his more than 25-year tenure at the resort. No, they don’t flock to him for his towering chocolate-drizzled desserts—it’s the chef’s ability to cater to a wide variety of food allergies that draws crowds.
A few years ago, Sudiswa changed restaurant locations at the park, and fans flooded the internet, asking, “Where, oh where has chef TJ gone?” Many will eat wherever he is cooking, according to the Taste of Wonderland blog, and online forums are dedicated to tracking which Disney restaurant he’s working at at any given point. Sudiswa has found a way to offer special treatment to guests with dietary requirements without singling them out. Tabletop signs help signal dietary needs to staff, and Sudiswa gives guests a tour of the buffet, pointing out what they can safely consume.
In 2016, Food Allergy Research & Education presented Sudiswa with the Outstanding Professional Award for Food Allergy Activism for his “positive impact in the lives of people with food allergies and [support of] the food allergy community through education, awareness, establishment of accommodation best practices and/or advocacy efforts.”
7. Nancy Easton
The mom who made healthy school lunches her mission.
In 2005, Nancy Easton was a mom with a young child in the New York City school system when she joined forces with other parents to start Wellness in the Schools. Their mission: to work with school foodservice to provide healthy, scratch-cooked meals and promote fitness and nutrition education. What began as an all-volunteer effort in one classroom has since grown into a national nonprofit reaching 50,000 students in 100 schools across New York, New Jersey, Florida and California—some of which have large populations of children living in shelters.
WITS partners with boards of education and chefs to develop alternative menus that fit within the national school lunch guidelines. Some of the recipes require kitchen staff to learn new skills, so WITS places a culinary school grad in each school to train and coordinate the program.
8. Daniel Giusti
The chef bringing Michelin-star foodservice know-how to schools.
When Daniel Giusti left his job as head chef at two-Michelin-star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen to start a new company, he wasn’t looking to follow the traditional chefs-into-schools mold. Instead, he aims to place professional chefs into full-time positions alongside existing staff and reform cafeteria food from the ground up. Giusti’s program—which is in its pilot stage at two schools in the New London Public School District in New London, Conn., for the next three years—is serving dishes like pasta Bolognese and broccolini with garlic and dried chili to more than 1,000 students daily on a budget of $1.25 per meal.
9. Randy and Brian Stowell
The brothers taking co-working foodservice to a luxe level.
Though many co-working spaces provide sustenance by way of coffee, snacks or—in some cases—a kegerator, Mod founders and brothers Randy and Brian Stowell wanted to take the concept’s foodservice to a different level. The in-house dining program offers only foods meant to boost energy or health, such as chia pudding and a soba noodle bowl. “We put together this constellation where wellness in the workplace is a shining star,” Brian Stowell told Business Insider.
The brothers, who previously were employed at Google, brought their tech backgrounds to the table when designing Mod’s POS system. Food orders are placed through a proprietary app and are coordinated by the host via Apple Watch, says Jamie Shaw, director of brand experience.
10. Billy Shore
The CEO hitting child hunger at multiple pain points.
No Kid Hungry was launched in 2008 by Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, with the goal of ending childhood hunger in America through feeding programs at key intervention points. “We work to meet kids with healthy food where they live, learn and play,” says Shore. “In the past two years, with help from our partners, we’ve added 1 million more kids to the national school breakfast program with our breakfast-in-the-classroom model. This would not have been possible without the leadership and support of school foodservice providers.”
11. Debra Eschmeyer
The White House adviser who helped get kids moving.
The future of former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is unclear after President Trump’s administration eliminated it as a government program. But its effects—many of which were tied to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act—are ongoing. Eschmeyer, who took over the role of executive director of Let’s Move and senior advisor for nutrition policy in 2015, helped secure healthier school meals and snacks for 50 million students, according to the Let’s Move website. “We have made incredible progress on behalf of the health of future generations,” she wrote in a Let’s Move blog post in January.
Eschmeyer also co-founded FoodCorps, which places AmeriCorps volunteers in high-need schools to focus on hands-on lessons and healthy school meals and provided food education to 177,879 kids in 2016, according to its annual report.
12. Susie Weintraub
The contract feeding exec who’s focused on health.
Her title doesn’t make it immediately obvious how much Susie Weintraub, executive VP of strategic marketing and business excellence for Compass Group North America, has done to advance sustainability and wellness initiatives. She has led the campus battle against food waste by establishing partnerships with both the Food Recovery Network and Feeding America, and is actively involved in Compass’ Imperfectly Delicious Produce program. Although Weintraub is responsible for supporting more than $7 billion of Compass Group’s managed revenue, her goal is simple: making it easier for the customers she serves to choose healthier foods that also are good for the planet.
13. Saru Jayaraman and Fekkak Mamdouh
The activists ROCing labor policies.
President Donald Trump’s promises to block immigration to the U.S. have sparked calls for sanctuary restaurants and campuses that provide support to immigrant and refugee workers. “It makes the statement that the restaurant is a safe space for all vulnerable populations,” Saru Jayaraman (right), co-founder and co-director of nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which focuses on concerns such as undocumented workers and the minimum wage, told The Guardian. Jayaraman and fellow ROC co-founder Fekkak Mamdouh are leading the movement, with 120 eateries enlisted. At University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., campus dining has petitioned for the designation.
14. Kris Moon
The brains behind blended burgers.
Helping dream up ideas is just one part of Kris Moon’s job as vice president of the James Beard Foundation, but when it comes to the Blended Burger Project, it’s also one of the most ambitious. Since the JBF’s partnership with the Mushroom Council launched in 2015, more than 560 meat-mushroom patty blends concocted by restaurant and noncommercial chefs have faced off in a competition highlighting flavor, sustainability and cost-conscious sourcing. “In the past seven years, we’ve essentially been trying to bring some of these messages and solutions to the culinary community to have an impact on the country’s food systems,” Moon says of the foundation’s work in food advocacy and policy.
While Blended Burger Project contestants are only required to menu their recipes from Memorial Day to July 1, Moon—who co-founded the project with Michelle Santoro, the Foundation’s manager of strategic partnerships—says in many cases the customer response has been so positive that the burgers have remained a permanent fixture. He feels the project can particularly have an impact on college campuses, and says the conversation at JBF surrounding these opportunities is continuing to evolve.
15. Greg Drescher
The thought leader preparing operators for the reality of climate change.
Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, tries to meet the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Large operations such as Google Food and Compass North America have adopted Drescher’s veggie-focused mindset as a guidepost.
Beyond pushing toward a more plant-based menu, Drescher and his team educate operators about climate change, an area where industry response has been declining or regressing, according to the Menus of Change Scientific and Technical Advisory Council. As part of an annual summit, Drescher helps to organize tours to reconnect industry members with food producers’ evolving challenges.
16. Claire Benjamin DiMattina
The food policy advocate who keeps score.
Claire Benjamin DiMattina—the executive director of Food Policy Action, which rates Congress members based on their food policy votes—is one of the many centrifugal forces working to shape school meal regulations. When the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled its version of a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill with a block grant exempting three states from regulations, Benjamin DiMattina came out against the bill, vowing that the FPA would not stop fighting for a bill that guarantees access to nutritious meals.
17. Emily Broad Leib
The academic with a laser focus on food waste.
While Emily Broad Leib’s work is largely focused on commercial food labeling, the director of Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic’s focus on reducing food waste could have long-reaching effects on noncommercial diners—especially those K-12 students who don’t have enough to eat at home. “For most foods, the date on the label is about freshness, not safety,” she told Forbes. As part of her efforts, Broad Leib’s own state, Massachusetts, passed a commercial organic waste ban in 2014 prohibiting institutions that generate a ton or more of food waste weekly from throwing food in the trash. That includes hospitals and colleges like Harvard, which diverts 583 tons of waste into compost annually.
18. Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth
The point-and-click queens of college dining.
Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth launched Spoon University as an undergraduate magazine in 2012, and since have turned it into a nationwide tool and influencer for student diners. The two garnered
$2 million in investors by 2015, and today Spoon University sees 4 million unique online visitors a month.
With 170 chapters, Spoon University is affecting the way students think about and interact with food, as well as what they want from their on-campus operations. “I felt like people prepare you for everything else in your life except for the moment where you have to become an adult,” Barth told Forbes. Just one example from FoodService Director’s March issue: University of Colorado at Boulder built exhibition kitchens and culinary classes into its newest dining hall, with an eye on growing a new generation of cooks.
19. Jose Andres
The restaurateur bringing vegetables to the masses.
James Beard Award-winning chef Jose Andres has lately been pouring passion into bringing “fast good” food to the masses on the cheap. Through Beefsteak, his 2-year-old veg-centric fast-casual chain, he’s aiming to make good on that promise. Two Beefsteak locations are on college campuses and a Beefsteak pop-up is operating, in partnership with Aramark, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Andres has said he sees the concept growing to 100 locations—including hospitals and retirement communities—in five or six years.
20. Dan Coffin
The chef heating up Sheetz’s c-store test kitchen.
Since joining Sheetz in 2010, Dan Coffin become a force of creative energy at the 600-plus-unit c-store chain as AVP of culinary development, creating and testing new items while maintaining the fresh customization options the brand is known for. While most stores are inside gas stations, Sheetz has opened stand-alone locations on or near three college campuses, with plans to continue expanding.