ROI Influencers: Food & Beverage 2021 (The Top 15)

 Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson Group/Newark Working Kitchens

Samuelsson, a celebrity chef and famed restaurateur, made our inaugural list in 2019 for his willingness to bring his world-class cuisine and concepts to Newark. Samuelsson, who has restaurants all over North America, opened Marcus B&P on Halsey Street in the fall of 2017.

As it turns out, that was just an appetizer.

When the pandemic struck New Jersey and elsewhere, Samuelsson joined with chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen and Audible CEO Don Katz to form Newark Working Kitchens. The concept is to use donations to buy meals for those in need — thus helping those with food insecurity while giving restaurants much-needed revenue and preserving jobs, as well.

The group uses more than two dozen Newark restaurants, but the organization starts with Samuelsson.

The original goal was to buy 100,000 meals. This month, the organization topped the 1.1 million-meal mark — and is showing no sign of slowing down.

To be sure, philanthropic efforts such as this require a team. So, this honor, the No. 1 spot in the 2021 ROI Influencers: Food & Beverage list, can be shared by many. But Samuelsson, for his work here and his efforts to promote Newark as a food destination, gets the call as the face of a franchise doing so much good for so many.

 Richard Saker
Saker ShopRites

As a longtime contributor to (and former chairman of) the New Jersey Food Council, Saker’s influence on the grocery business in the state goes well beyond the approximately three dozen stores he owns. That was clear during the pandemic, as he was instrumental in helping the industry’s workers become heroes in the effort, as well. Saker’s business efforts remain strong, too, as he has managed to open new, giant stores and replaced several smaller locations to grow his footprint and market share in Central Jersey during the pandemic — keeping one step ahead of the new competition entering the market, including Lidl, Wegmans and Amazon Fresh.

 Bob Unanue; Peter Unanue
CEO & president; Executive vice president
Goya Foods 

Bob Unanue caused a bit of a controversy when he met and praised President Donald Trump, but there’s no argument about the efforts of Goya Foods during the pandemic. The Jersey City-based company, the country’s largest Hispanic-owned food company, will donate 85,000 pounds of food this week to 18 local organizations. It’s just the latest in a long list of philanthropic efforts. The company has donated more than 4.5 million pounds of food since the pandemic started.

 David Rosenberg; Marc Oshima
CEO; Chief marketing officer

The pandemic has brought the issue of food insecurity to the forefront of consciousness in the U.S. and around the world. Rosenberg and Oshima are doing something about it at AeroFarms, their revolutionary indoor vertical farming company. AeroFarms, based in Newark, will show its global reach when it opens facilities in 2022 in both Danville, Virginia, and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

 Carlos Rodriguez; Ilene Isaacs
CEO; Executive director
Community Food Bank of N.J.; Table to Table

While anyone involved in helping the hungry deserves a salute, we’ll give a specific one to Rodriguez and Issacs. Their organizations are two of many doing great work fighting food insecurity up and down the state.

 Peter Cancro
Founder and CEO
Jersey Mike’s Subs

It’s not just that Jersey Mike’s has been expanding rapidly during the pandemic — and doing so in New Jersey as well as the rest of the country. The company has been dramatically growing revenue at its existing stores, too, thanks to the relaunch of its app months before the start of the pandemic. The first quarter of 2021 saw same-store sales up 40%. Of course, the company always gets a nod for the name — as it scores reputational and branding points for the state with every sub.

 Thomas Bonfiglio; Yvette Bonfiglio
Co-founders and co-owners
Triple T Hospitality Group

This husband-and-wife team has managed to build and grow a successful chain of restaurant concepts — even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several new locations have opened up with their brands, Tommy’s Tavern & Tap and Tio Taco & Tequila Bar. The Bonfiglios also make the list for their business acumen in their established stores. Smart thinking — and pivoting — helped the company survive and thrive during a pandemic that has hurt the industry like nothing previously.

 Christina Minardi; Nicole Wescoe
EVP of operations; President – Northeast Region
Whole Foods 

The “dynamic duo” has only gotten stronger as Whole Foods continues to dominate in the organic market, opening new stores and forging its path as Amazon opens a sister food retailer, Amazon Fresh. But, for as great as Whole Foods is, the connection to Amazon and Amazon Fresh is what propels the duo to such a high spot on our list. We’re not sure how Amazon is going to upend the grocery business, we just know its track record indicates it will be in a big way — and in a successful way.

 Linda Doherty
New Jersey Food Council

As the head of one of the country’s most powerful food lobbying organizations, Doherty has never been more influential — or busier. She was a key leader in helping the industry adjust to the pandemic, creating heroes out of the workers who made sure food always was on the shelves — perhaps an unappreciated effort. More than that, Doherty was a key player in negotiations to create the smart, sensible and uniform plastic and paper bag ban legislation around single-use items that will go into effect next spring.

 Tammy Murphy; Josh Weinreich
Founding chair; CEO
N.J. Pandemic Relief Fund

The millions in relief aid the NJPRF has given to food pantries across the state has been a difference-maker — and bringing to light the needs of these organizations undoubtedly has spurred many others (individuals and companies) to help the cause. It’s worth repeating: Anyone helping to feed the hungry is worthy of recognition, but the exceptional efforts of the NJPRF make it worthy of a spot in the Top 10 of our list.

 Lawrence Inserra Jr.
Chairman, CEO and president
Inserra Supermarkets

As the biggest player in the Wakefern/ShopRite supermarket co-op in North Jersey, Inserra and his team had to step up during the most trying conditions — ensuring that stores were open for business in an area hit as hard in the opening months of the pandemic as any in the country. Inserra’s efforts don’t end at the storefront. A noted philanthropist, he recently celebrated a ribbon-cutting to open the Inserra Family Diabetes Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack.

 Joe Sheridan
President and chief operating officer
Wakefern Food Corp.

Holding top positions at the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States — one that is one of the largest employers in the state — is reason enough to be called influential. Sheridan goes deeper. He’s helping Wakefern manage to stay on top of the competitive nature in the retail food market and still chart a path for growth by pushing new store banners such as the Fresh Grocer and Price Rite and new private label brands to help the co-op of more than 50 owners grow and bring new members.

 Mike Wystrach
Founder and CEO

The announced opening of a 234,000-square-foot assembly and distribution center in East Greenwich — one that will bring 340 jobs to Gloucester County —is reason enough to draw attention. The facility, however, means more than that. By opening its largest distribution center in the country in New Jersey — a center that will assemble and ship 1.6 million meals per week — Freshly is signaling that New Jersey is the place to be in a segment of the food sector that appears headed for exponential growth for decades to come.

 Adenah Bayoh
Founder and CEO
Adenah Bayoh and Cos.

Opening a third location of Cornbread, her signature soul food restaurant, in Newark during the heart of the pandemic was impressive. Along with her handful of IHOP franchises (and residential real estate projects), Bayoh has established herself as one of the state’s great self-made entrepreneurs. She also serves as a role model. In a state with a rich and diverse mix of people (and food), one that will soon become majority-minority, Bayoh has built a road map for other food entrepreneurs of color to follow.

David London
Head of government relations, East

It’s easy to say third-party delivery services went from novelty to necessity in a matter of weeks. London and DoorDash could be honored solely for that. The company, however, is doing much more. DoorDash not only served restaurants that had to suddenly pivot to delivery, it did so with reduced rates in an understanding of the times. The company also created a $500,000 grant program to help New Jersey restaurants in need — and has established a number of new programs to ensure it will still have a post-pandemic place in the restaurant landscape.

ROI Influencers: A-F

ROI Influencers: G-M

ROI Influencers: N-Z