Great thought leaders don’t just brag about their accomplishments on Instagram. They show others how to succeed. Their ideas push industries in the right direction, and they blaze trails others can follow. The only trouble is figuring out who to listen to and who to ignore.
We’ve put together a list of people we believe provide real value for professionals in the food and beverage industry. Not everyone below is a restaurateur. Some aren’t famous. But they each speak to real issues and offer actionable advice and innovative ideas.
Following these thought leaders will help you keep up to date with the social and technology changes coming to the industry. If you’re open to both, chances are you’ll come out ahead in 2019.
Food Critic and Podcast Host
San Francisco Chronicle/Racist Sandwich
If you haven’t heard of Soleil Ho, you will soon. She’s a 31-year old Vietnamese-American food writer and podcaster who has explored such issues as cultural appropriation, male dominance in the kitchen and culinary authenticity. She is a trained chef and freelance writer. Her podcast, Racist Sandwich, covers San Francisco’s culinary scene as well as social justice issues in the food and beverage industry.
Ho is replacing Michael Bauer, one of the most influential food critics of all time, at the San Francisco Chronicle. This position should allow her to bring more focus to the issues she has covered earlier in her career. It’s a big, bold change for the Chronicle and will likely bring more attention to global cuisine and marginalized food cultures, especially in the Bay Area.
Ho has written and spoken about larger topics like wealth disparity in the restaurant world and immigration. Expect to see a lot more about these subjects in the mainstream media. We believe Ho is going to be a major voice for these issues and worth following.
Editor-in-Chief and Executive Producer
Paul Barron is one of the most dedicated producers of useful content for restaurateurs. He’s an award-winning author, filmmaker and executive producer with over 20 years in food digital media. He’s not exactly a household name, but his articles and shows feature guests who tend to be ahead of the curve. For example, his interview with social media marketing strategist Ted Rubin goes into great detail about consumer trust in social media and Gen Z social habits.
Foodable Network is Paul Barron’s brainchild. It’s a media company built to leverage “the power of social, mobile and new media distribution for restaurant & hospitality professionals and enthusiasts that educates, entertains and provides unique insights not available anywhere else.” It doesn’t have a lot of eyes on it yet, but it just might end up being the Forbes of food. Get on it early.
Start with The Barron Report. This is a show on Foodable that mixes broad industry news with expert hot takes. It’s also available as a podcast. What we love about this show is how diverse and global the topics can be. He covers everything from clean-label initiatives in China to the secrets of marketing to Generation Z.
Aaron Allen & Associates
If you want to know what the big players are going to do with their marketing budgets in 2019, listen to Aaron Allen. He’s a third-generation restaurateur and one of the world’s most trusted marketing strategists. He focuses on food and beverage, which has allowed him to delve deep into what works in the industry. His clients are in 70 countries and have generated $37 billion in annual sales.
His company’s blog is an incredible resource for food and beverage entrepreneurs. He covers everything from digital marketing advances to global cuisine trends. What makes it a valuable read is that there’s always something practical to take away. He frequently contributes thought leadership to top media companies such as CNN, Forbes and AdWeek.
Allen has worked with more than half of the top 400 restaurant chains, making him one of the most experienced marketers focused on businesses of that size. He posts a lot of content on his LinkedIn page that enterprise businesses would find valuable.
Entrepreneur and Speaker
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Gary Vaynerchuk, but he offers deeply practical advice for standing out in a crowded, noisy world. He’s part marketing guru and part motivational speaker. What he’s best known as a master of branding and content marketing, especially via social media and video channels. He took his family’s wine business from $3 million to $60 million in a few years with an online video channel called Wine Library TV.
Vaynerchuk isn’t directly involved in restaurants, but he is involved in the business of courting attention and influencers. To learn more about his marketing secret sauce, Start with his YouTube channel or his latest book, Crushing It!.
Chef and Founder
Esquire called Chang one of “the most influential people of the 21st century.” He rose to fame as an innovative chef and founded the Momofuku group which includes Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Milk Bar, and Momofuku Ko. He’s also starred on ground-breaking food shows like the Emmy-award winning “The Mind of a Chef” from PBS and Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious.”
Chang has always been a force for creativity. We are eagerly awaiting whatever comes from his new entertainment company, Majordomo Media. Not much is known about it yet, but it’s supposed to embrace “difficult conversations, bracing opinions, and new ways to look at culture.”
The passing of Anthony Bourdain left a void in the world of big food personalities. Majordomo could be well positioned to help Chang, a frequent Bourdain collaborator, be one of the tastemakers people look to in the future.
2019 and beyond
According to analysts, 2019 should be a decent year for the restaurant business. But growth has slowed a bit, which means restaurants, bars and cafes will not be able to rest. To continue to thrive, they will need to be creative and dedicated to improving everything from their marketing to their menu.
It’s too easy when you’re running a business to keep your head down and grind. It’s helpful to keep an eye on thought leaders to get an idea of what might be coming. Thanks to social media and video, their advice is available to just about anyone who needs it.
So don’t just read a few articles, watch a few videos and do nothing. You have to take action with a few ideas, otherwise, what’s the point?
Take a look at our list, or people you like, and try to implement at least one of their ideas per quarter. If it doesn’t work, try something else. If it does work, keep doing it. Then try something else, too. Who knows, with enough experimentation and success, you might be the next big thought leader.