State of Tastes

The path into the food business is rarely a direct one, but sometimes those twists and turns can result in something truly delicious. Across the state, Cal Poly alumni are creating unique flavors, innovative products, and exceptional dining experiences — and many of them come from backgrounds that will surprise you. Wherever you live in California, you’re never too far from a Cal Poly alumnus who is changing the way the Golden State eats and drinks.

(Click on the map to scroll)

1 Forest Gray, Biochemistry
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, San Francisco
In today’s beer world, the independent craft brew is king and hops are everywhere. If that situation pleases you, then you probably owe a debt of gratitude to Forest Gray, founder and owner of Speakeasy Brewing Co. Big Daddy IPA, one of the brewery’s signature offerings, was an innovative leader in the wave of bold India Pale Ales that has swept over the nation like a hoppy tsunami. “When we started in San Francisco in 1997, there were a handful of brew pubs, and we were one of the first to go big on hops,” Gray says. “We definitely were a big part of the movement from early on.” Speakeasy offers a wide range of beer styles, from the rich, complex Prohibition Ale and robust Payback Porter to the crisp Metropolis Lager.


2 Kate Mecozzi, Kaitlin Munoz and Sabrina Muttillo, Business Administration, Food Science and Food Science
VegThisWay, Hayward
“Most snacks out there are high in sugar with a lot of ingredients you can’t pronounce,” says Kaitlin Munoz, co-creator of Rawr Bar, a delicious and healthy snack that was born at Cal Poly. “There really wasn’t anything out there that had a long shelf life, that you could throw in your purse, and that was made of fruits and veggies without being full of sugar.” The team developed and refined their business model in Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A year and a half later, Rawr Bars are in 65 retail locations around the state, and the trio of entrepreneurs are looking to expand. Last fall the company outgrew its headquarters in San Luis Obispo and moved to the East Bay. But for these Cal Poly alumni, the best thing about making Rawr Bar is watching their young customers get excited about eating their veggies.


3 Mike and Julie ColdaniCrop Science and Child Development
Calivirgin, Lodi
Born out of Mike Coldani’s senior project, Calivirgin Olive Oil produces exceptional-quality oil from olives grown in renowned wine country soil. Mike’s wife, Julie, sister Gina, and close friend Nick Kerns, all Cal Poly grads as well, help run the company, which is literally rooted in land owned by the Coldani family for generations. Calivirgin also creates exceptional flavored oils in a distinctive process in which basil, garlic, jalapeños and lemons are pressed right along with the olives. “It’s a lot cheaper to just buy flavoring or extract, but using fresh produce and crushing it with the olives really make the flavors shine,” he says. “We’ve made that our niche, and it’s become a big part of our harvest.”


4 Logan StarkChemistry and Polymers & Coatings Science
Element Roasting Co., Menlo Park
Since he was a kid, Logan Stark enjoyed coffee — as a vehicle for cream and sugar. But one day when his father introduced him to a single-origin Ethiopian with notes of blueberry, Stark’s appreciation for coffee was transformed. Today he’s a scientist at a Bay Area medical technology startup, but in his spare time, he roasts coffee, selling his carefully crafted roasts around the Bay Area. As a scientist, he is methodical in his process, taking copious notes as he unlocks the many elaborate flavor compounds the beans contain. “There’s so much potential, so many different ways to go, so much you can get out of the bean,” he says. “I just want to try them all.”


5 Alexis NegrantiAgricultural Communication
Negranti Creamery, Templeton
For Alexis Negranti, the experience of creating the nation’s first sheep’s milk ice cream was the ultimate Learn by Doing story. Although she had some early experience working with sheep as a member of 4H and FFA, she had neither milked one nor made a single batch of ice cream in her life when she decided to launch her business. “My time at Cal Poly gave me the mindset to just go do it, figure it out along the way, and make it work,” she says. Negranti’s ice cream can be found from San Francisco to Santa Monica, in flavors including Chocolate Malt, Strawberry Basil, and Salted Brown Sugar. Negranti has been praised in Martha Stewart Living, New York Times Magazine and Food & Wine.


6 Josh Christensen, History
Sidecar, San Luis Obispo
For Josh Christensen, owner of one of San Luis Obispo’s most inventive gastropubs, a great cocktail begins in the past — but doesn’t end there. “Classic cocktails are classics for a reason,” he says. “People who master the classics understand the principles of balance and flavor profiles and how ingredients work together.” Many distinctive cocktails at Sidecar are based on iconic drinks like the Daiquiri and the Old Fashioned, twisted with unexpected ingredients and techniques. Try his Kentucky Monk, a riff on the bourbon-based Manhattan that includes orange and Peychaud bitters and replaces sweet vermouth with Chartreuse and Bénédictine.


7 Neal RosenthalEnvironmental Engineering
Channel Islands Provisioners, Ventura
Neal Rosenthal’s passion for food and desire for adventure led him to create a specialty catering company, making and delivering food to adventure tours on and around the Channel Islands. There are many challenges in this unique business. First, it’s a long sail from his home kitchen to the service area, so detailed planning is key. Second, working in an ecologically sensitive area means that making a minimal environmental impact is crucial. Rosenthal creates dishes that are creative, seasonal and delicious — all while staying fresh and ready-to-eat over an ocean voyage.


8 Chang Sivilay, City & Regional Planning
The Standard, Los Angeles
The restaurant business is all about hospitality, and for chef Chang Sivilay, the unique demands of running a hotel restaurant are the epitome of that concept. As executive chef at one of downtown L.A.’s hottest hotels, Sivilay relishes the challenges of 24-hour service. In keeping with the hotel’s retro-hip aesthetic, the restaurant features classic comfort food with a twist. How does Sivilay keep the classics original? “I’m inspired by the seasonal ingredients at the farmers markets where I shop,” he says. As a former city & regional planning student at Cal Poly, the setting helps too. “I’m fascinated by the growth of downtown L.A., seeing how things are reborn and revamped.”


9 Marisa Voorhees, English
Gluten-Free Chef and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Orange County
When Marisa Voorhees discovered she was gluten-intolerant, one of the biggest challenges to her new lifestyle wasn’t dietary — it was social. “People would ask, ‘Don’t you miss bread? Don’t you miss pizza?’” she says. “But nothing tastes as good as how I feel when I’m eating right for my body.” As a chef and nutrition coach, Voorhees helps others navigate building the diet they need without sacrificing the lifestyle they want. One passion for Voorhees is taking her clients’ family recipes and adapting them for dietary restrictions. “Food is such an emotional piece in our lives,” she says. “There’s so much comfort and nourishment in the recipes we grew up with.”

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