GETTING STARTED | Hospitality Hot Shots: How Valley Food & Beverage All-Stars Got Their Starts


By Alison Bailin Batz

The hospitality industry – from resorts to restaurants and bars – drives Arizona’s economy in a major way. According to the Arizona Restaurant Association, there are more than 9,000 places to eat, drink and stay in the state, and restaurants alone generate more than $11 billion in sales. For those serious about the industry, the opportunities for long-term success are endless. Here are five leaders in the industry on how they got inspired to go into the field and how they got their starts.

“I grew up in the Valley and while attending Horizon High School at age 15, I started working at a then-Sam Fox restaurant called Chloe’s Corner. The corporate chef and I got along straight away, so when she made the decision to buy the business from Fox, I stayed on with her. Then, once I started at ASU in 2009, I went to work for Pranksters, which was owned by a family friend. By age 19, I was co-running the Tempe location and helping in Scottsdale – getting fascinated by the quickly growing craft beer movement but not yet able to taste it. I moved over to Spanish Fly in 2011 and stayed on when it converted to Boondocks in 2013, really focusing on how to champion local and regional craft beers.”
–Michael Kogan, manager at Boondocks

“My father was an engineer, and I initially planned to go in that direction. So much so, I double majored in electrical engineering and physics in college. By year five of six into my studies, I just knew it wasn’t the right path for me. Being a big guy, I got my start in the hospitality industry as…a bouncer and server. But, I quickly learned that I loved being around people. My first big break came when I went to work for Olive + Ivy in 2006. They had an advanced sommelier on staff, and he was kind enough to take me under his wing. Turns out, there was so much more to wine than simply red and white – and I wanted to know it all.”
–Jason Caballero, lead sommelier at Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina

“I actually didn’t start out in the industry. In fact, I got my start in law enforcement before going back to school and getting into finance, eventually working my way to a CFO position. Ready to take on a new challenge, and an avid wine and food fan, I purchased an existing wine bar to whet my chops in the industry. The first two years provided me a crash course of the work that goes into ensuring others enjoy themselves. What an education! This business is not for those simply seeking to hang out and entertain – it’s about filling needs of people, making them happy and mastering multi-tasking. It wasn’t until just earlier this year that I opened my own complete concept – PNPK Craft Slider + Wine Bar – and I am still learning something new each day.”
–Kellie Pruitt, owner of PNPK Craft Slider + Wine Bar

“My father, Woody Johnson, opened his first restaurant in 1946 so my start in the industry came before my first steps, I was born into it. My earliest memories are of my father bringing “his little one” to work on the weekends to help out the hostesses. They would hold my hand as we would seat guests. A few years later I would get some more responsibility to bus tables and make the mud pie dessert.”
–Sharisse Johnson, owner and CEO of Woody’s


“Some of my favorite memories were growing up in an Irish Catholic kitchen with my mother. I loved to watch her cook and savored all of the dishes she would make. I still use the same recipes today, both at work and home, but as much as I attempt to recreate them just like my mother, I can never get them to the perfection that she had.”
–Colin Ribble, executive chef at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino


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