The Hospitality Leaders With Powerful Social Impact

For those who see the world a certain way, food is a tool to create a better and fairer society.

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Whether you’re serving tasting menus or grab-and-go-meals, working in the hospitality industry can be a constant reminder of how unbalanced and precarious the world is. But for those who see the world a certain way, food is a tool to create a better and fairer society. The hospitality leaders on this list are addressing important issues including wealth gaps, food insecurity, discrimination and sustainability. One of their goals, of course, is to inspire many others to do the same.

Sam Polk

  • Co-founder, Everytable

“The thing I’m the most proud of is building a profitable, healthy food business in Watts,” Polk tells Observer. That South Los Angeles area has historically been a food desert. “Watts is a very challenged but beautiful community. A lot of people thought it wasn’t possible to not only drive the demand for healthy food but also supply it profitably there.”

Everytable, which has 55 Southern California locations (40 in L.A.) and nine New York City locations, serves affordable food with prices that vary based on the average income of zip codes. A salad or microwaveable meal that’s $8.25 in West Hollywood might be $6.95 in Watts. 

“The entire business model has been designed to accomplish that price point without sacrificing the quality of the food,” says Polk, who has a Downtown Brooklyn Everytable where you can grab $1 coffee and get lunch for half the price of a salad at Sweetgreen next door. “The key for us is we’re profitable at every location. It’s not a subsidy model. It’s not a charity model.”

Everytable sources fresh ingredients directly from local farms to a central kitchen, which uses automation and low-waste techniques to make pre-packaged meals efficiently. This allows its stores to operate without employees cooking on-site. Microwaves are available for customers who want to enjoy heat-and-eat meals immediately.

Polk has collaborated with independent creators like Compton-born Trap Kitchen, which created a curry chicken bowl Everytable serves on both coasts. Polk sees potential for upwards of 500 locations each in California and New York, but his ultimate plan is more ambitious. 

“What we’re really trying to do is make healthy, nutritious food accessible to everyone everywhere, and we think we have the model for that,” he says.

Sam Polk. Everytable

Dina Samson

  • Co-founder, Regarding Her Food

What makes Samson proudest about Regarding Her Food, a coalition with more than 700 female-identifying members in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., is the Re:Her Academy. With support from Doordash, this program “took 10 women, started with a growth plan, took them through 12 weeks of education and gave them $20,000 each,” Samson tells Observer. 

For some of these early-stage Los Angeles operators, that grant money meant they could put down a security deposit on a brick-and-mortar location. Re:Her is working to launch this program in five other cities next year.

The tireless Samson, who runs restaurants including Rossoblu and Superfine, also co-founded FeedLoveLA (which has provided meals to restaurant workers and their families) and the 1,100-member Independent Hospitality Coalition advocacy group. 

“We’re all independent and we don’t have the strength individually, but together we do,” she says.

Dina Samson. Ed Anderson/Submitted

Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne and David Lentz

  • Hosts, L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade

The most prominent and meaningful food event in Los Angeles is a star-studded, family-friendly fundraiser for childhood cancer research. Goin, Styne and Lentz, inspired by Philadelphia’s Great Chefs Event, have raised more than $10 million at festive gatherings that have brought in high-profile chefs (Nancy Silverton, Ori Menashe, Bricia Lopez, Chris Bianco, Marc Vetri, Frank Castronovo, Frank Falcinelli and more than 50 others cooked at this September’s event, which was the return of L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade after a Covid-19 hiatus). 

The intersection of food, celebrity and the philanthropic community at L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade has resulted in wondrous occurrences like a 2017 live auction selling the same private dinner with female chefs three times for $90,000 each. Then Jimmy Kimmel announced a barbecue with male chefs at his barn, which was quickly sold twice for $100,000 per private dinner.

“The ball was rolling, the energy was going, I don’t think he even asked the chefs,” Goin tells Observer. “He just got on stage.”

Goin says she is proud that her event has launched a program that empowers children to raise funds and share the stage with A-listers. This is an event that’s for kids, through and through.

“We’re not in a ballroom, it’s not a formal evening where you’re black-tie and you’re raising your hand to show off what you’re buying to your friends,” Styne says. “It’s much more low-key than that. It’s outdoors. It started off as a chef’s cookout. So it sort of equalizes everyone out there. Everyone is elbow-to-elbow. Kids are running around. It’s definitely got a family feeling.”

Caroline Styne, David Lentz, Suzanne Goin. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) ABImages

Tim Ma and Kevin Tien

  • Founders, Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate

Since 2021, Ma and Tien have mobilized chefs in Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit for events that have raised awareness of anti-Asian racism and generated funds that have gone to AAPI organizations as well as World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts on the Ukraine border. Ma and Tien also cooked the first-ever Lunar New Year dinner at the vice president’s residence, one week after attending a Lunar New Year celebration at the White House.

“I think what makes us most proud about this whole initiative is showing other communities and industries that you can make an impact,” Ma tells Observer. “We’ve used our skill set as chefs to make it happen.”

After D.C. chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s Maketto had a window broken, Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate launched its nationwide Storefront Emergency Fund to provide financial assistance for AAPI businesses that are victims of vandalism and violence. 

“Some people may not have insurance, or they have to pay a deductible,” Ma says. “These incidents aren’t cheap. We’re operators ourselves, so we understand that. This was launched through our experiences.”

Tim Ma and Kevin Tien. Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate

Tanya Steel

  • Executive Director, Careers Through Culinary Arts Programs 

At Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a nonprofit that offers culinary training and career opportunities to underserved youth, Steel oversees programs for more than 20,000 middle-and-high-school students at public schools around the country each year. C-CAP, which has a strong presence in cities including New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Miami, has awarded more than $70 million in scholarships and helped create a more equitable hospitality industry that better represents the markets it serves.

“C-Cap has been part of transforming our hospitality community,” chef Marcus Samuelsson, who’s been the organization’s long-time co-chair and credits founder Richard Grausman for turning him on to this meaningful endeavor, tells Observer. “It’s made our industry more diverse. It’s brought me so much joy to see so many great young chefs that have become managers, restaurant owners, master somms, you name it.”

Tanya Steel. Clifford Roles

Fariyal Abdullahi

  • Executive Chef, Hav & Mar

“It’s not just about creating more opportunities for the minority, but we’re also telling a beautiful story of the African diaspora,” Abdullahi, the proudly Ethiopian-born head chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s Hav & Mar, tells Observer.

Abdullahi, who knows that only 12.5 percent of executive chefs in America are women and only 10 percent are Black, runs a kitchen led by Black women. She sources ingredients from often-overlooked Black farmers. She’s devised creative solutions (like making ash oil from onion scraps and skins) to reduce waste. 

Abdullahi is also a philanthropist whose Take Care of Home nonprofit builds schools and provides access to water in Ethiopia. She recently visited Capitol Hill with Save The Children to advocate for a better Farm Bill to help food-insecure communities.

Fariyal Abdullahi. Angela Pettigrew

Daniel Patterson and Keith Corbin

  • Founders, Alta Community

Patterson is a Michelin-starred chef who conquered fine dining before turning his attention to feeding the masses. Corbin is a previously incarcerated Watts native who found a new path in the kitchen. This fall, the pair will resurrect Locol, the community-focused Watts restaurant that Patterson co-founded and where Corbin worked.

It helps that, this time around, Patterson and Corbin have a buzzing restaurant, Alta, in South L.A.’s West Adams neighborhood. They’ve created Alta Community, a nonprofit organization that’s in the process of raising funds for and reopening Locol.

The mission for Alta Community and Locol is about addressing food insecurity, hiring from the neighborhood, offering job training and becoming that important third place away from home and work that residents of more affluent areas take for granted.

“Hopefully if it works out, this is a path to ownership and encouraging entrepreneurship within the community,” Patterson tells Observer.

“For me, it’s really personal because this is the path that led me where I’m at today,” says Corbin, who, like Patterson, is a partner at Alta, where Issa Rae, Jay Z, Diddy and Tracee Ellis Ross have dined. “Being able to go back and give the same opportunity to people in my community is what it is for me,” he tells Observer.

Daniel Patterson and Keith Corbin. Getty Images

Massimo Bottura

  • Founder, Food for Soul

Beyond being one of the world’s most famous chefs (with a restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, that was recognized as the top destination in the World’s 50 Best list), Massimo Bottura is a community-minded leader who wants to eliminate food waste and feed underserved areas. 

His Food for Soul nonprofit’s Refettorio Harlem, a community center inside a church, has collaborated with local organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen to make meals for the impoverished while giving at-risk youth culinary training. Perhaps more than any other chef, Bottura (who headlined the $6,000-per-person Once Upon a Kitchen pop-up in Miami during Formula One weekend this year) understands wealth gaps and wants to do what he can to close them.

Massimo Bottura. Osteria Francescana

Alexis Nikole Nelson

  • Social Media Personality, Black Forager

A forager and cook with more than 4.4 million followers on TikTok and more than 1.5 million on Instagram, Nelson uses the act of finding ingredients to shine a light on vital food-system issues, including sustainability and cultural roots. 

She’s a reminder that you don’t have to work at Noma to pick edible flowers and herbs in the woods. Many plants you see while hiking are edible, and Nelson will help you understand what’s common, what’s endangered, and how to make satisfying delicious vegan meals with the dandelions or purslane you forage. She’s signed a deal with Simon & Schuster for her first cookbook, which will spotlight invasive species you can pick with a clean conscience.

Alexis Nikole Nelson. Yaw Asiedu via TikTok

Oliver Woolley

  • Owner, Peads & Barnetts

Top restaurants all over California rely on Woolley to supply what many believe is the best pork available. Woolley, who is based near San Diego and comes from a family of British pig farmers, is a champion of regenerative, humane, antibiotic-free agriculture: His Berkshire pigs live their entire lives outdoors and are fed a diet without any corn, soy, GMOs or animal byproducts. 

Woolley has helped turn unconventional cuts, like the pork collars served at Los Angeles media darling Anajak Thai, into coveted pieces of meat. He’s also diversified into beef by grazing retired dairy cattle. Peads & Barnetts is proof that farming in more sustainable ways results in food that tastes better.

Oliver Woolley. Ry Essi

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