GameChanger—I just love the sound of the word, don’t you? It applies to sports, science and tech, and it certainly applies to business here in the North Bay. We’ve been highlighting business GameChangers at Northbay biz magazine for six years now, and it’s become one of our most anticipated issues for very good reasons.
Being a GameChanger doesn’t necessarily assure success, but rather indicates a transformational way of doing something a bit differently than your peers and competitors. The prospect of success, that illusory and fleeting moment, is not fixed whatsoever, making the outcome all the more interesting to the rest of us. And it sure makes for fascinating reading!
After working for many years in computer science with a focus on knowledge-based systems, including a few years developing artificial intelligence at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Aseem Das made a career change 14 years ago. “After NASA Ames, I worked in a few companies, but was still searching for what would be personally meaningful to me, which is to have my work be about social and environmental issues,” he says.
Fast food is synonymous with greasy, unhealthy, fat and sodium-laden food, but Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen is aiming to change that perception single-handedly with “healthy fast food.” Though it may be an oxymoron, healthy fast food is quickly serving the likes of consumers, and Amy’s Drive Thru is the shining light in the dark vast sea of national-chain fast food competitors. And if one company can change an industry, Amy’s can.
From the outside, the CannaCraft offices look like any of the others in the Santa Rosa office park, standard concrete and smoked glass, flat roof and generic. No signage announcing the business. A simple instruction sheet on the door advises guests to ring a bell.
The Napa Valley Wine Train (NVWT) was formerly owned by the DeDomenico Family, former owners of Golden Grain Pasta, Rice-A-Roni and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Three years ago, the NVWT was a tired business model. It mostly offered the same tour and the same food as it had for the past 27 years. The cars were the worn. The energy level was low. Since then, it’s been a runaway train of creative ideas, new partnerships and a whole new bandwidth of community investment—not only in money, but also in personal involvement.
Marin County is fertile ground for entrepreneurship. Good ideas abound, but it requires nurturing to take a concept and shape it into a successful business, especially for individuals just starting out. Thus, when VenturePad, an entrepreneurship center in San Rafael, opened in March 2017, one intent was to meet the physical needs of businesspeople by providing co-working and meeting spaces. Another equally important goal was to serve as an education resource and provide access to a set of advisors who could share their expertise with budding entrepreneurs and help new enterprises grow.
Thirty-five years ago a dedicated teacher and his Petaluma students set out to save the Adobe Creek native steelhead from extinction. Their resolve would be tested many times. Theirs would be a journey of celebration and heartbreaking setbacks. The story of the Casa Grande High School Fish Hatchery is one of resilience, and unrelenting determination.
Our newest entry into the bonus issue category is GameChangers, and its purpose is to provide a special focus on the people and organizations shaping the future of the North Bay. It’s an idea we discussed for many years that finally came to fruition in 2013 when its inaugural edition debuted. The feedback we’ve received after every issue from both readers and advertisers has been overwhelmingly positive, and now this issue is locked into its role as an annual issue.
In February 2017, a dog named Ilsa discovered the first-ever cultivated European Tuber melanosporum, or the Périgord truffle, in Sonoma County.
Imagine you’re at a fancy ladies’ soiree, enjoying wine, food, shopping and wearing your most glamorous shoes, while learning about the people you’ll help each time you open your wallet. You’re immersed in an atmosphere of fun, fashion and compassion. Welcome to the world of Wine Women & Shoes (WW&S), and a new kind of fundraising event. (Gentlemen are welcome, too, of course.)
If you happen to drive down Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, chances are you’ll see a line of people around the block, waiting outside the Russian River Brewing Company. Hoping to try some of the most famous beers in the world, locals and tourists wait as long as two hours, for a chance at a bar stool, table or even a bench spot on the front patio to enjoy a cold one. Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo spent years perfecting their fiercely desired and crafty beers, poured and produced in Sonoma County.
Since opening their doors for business 20 years ago, Russian River Brewing Company has made a dramatic impact on the beer world—not to mention the economy—in Sonoma County. The brewing company is notably famous for their double IPA Pliny The Elder and perpetually sought-after Pliny The Younger, a triple IPA released annually for a two-week period, beginning on the first Friday of February. More than 300,000 visitors make the pilgrimage to the holy land of hops each year. In 2016, the economic impact infused nearly $5 million into the county.
“We are seeking to be the most beloved chicken nugget in the world, with the highest standards, the best taste and impeccable ingredients,” says Jennifer Johnson also known as Chef Jen, co-founder of Hip Chick Farms in Sebastopol. Johnson, along with her co-founder and wife, Serafina Palandech, started playing with an idea, which materialized as Hip Chick Farms in the fall of 2011. At the time, Johnson was the private chef for billionaires Ann and Gordon Getty in San Francisco, and her job included cooking meals for their grandchild and the other children attending the Montessori school in the Getty’s home. The kids at the school absolutely loved her cooking—especially the chicken fingers. This spurred the idea of sharing her recipes and talent with the world, and became the inspiration behind Hip Chick Farms and its line of artisan, transparently sourced, frozen chicken and poultry products.
Kids clustered in groups, sharing ideas and discussing issues, is an increasingly common sight in schools these days. It’s project-based learning (PBL) in action, as the orderly rows of neat desks that once defined how children learned make way for new methods in teaching that give students the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge to prepare them for the challenges of life beyond school. It’s a transition that’s reshaping education, and it’s been a long time coming. “School has not changed much over the past 100 years,” says Bob Lenz, executive director of the Buck Institute for Education in Novato.
The buzz among foodies about SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn started long before it became reality. Plans for the newest ultra-dining experience in Sonoma County were first announced two-and-a-half years ago, when the impressive two-story structure going up at the corner of North and Center streets in Healdsburg was nearing completion. For decades the town’s post office had stood on that corner, one block north of the Plaza, as a long-time community hub. But it was destroyed by fire in 2010.
Helping people see how vision can become reality
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