People to Watch
As New Orleans begins its next 300 years, we look forward to seeing the creative people it will continue to provide a setting for; people such as those in this year’s class of People to Watch.
We define a Person to Watch as someone doing something new and interesting. In some cases it might be someone who has already been watchable but that is moving in a new direction. (Over the years there have even been a few that have wound up in jail, but that only validated our thesis that they should have been watched.) Most of our selections, however, achieve the greatness that we had anticipated, or greater. How will this class do? We’ll be watching.
Pastry Chef, Emeril’s Restaurant
In the past year, pastry chef Jeremy Fogg has appeared on four different Food Network competition shows: “Dessert Games,” “Chopped,” “Best Baker in America” and “Beat Bobby Flay,” where he was declared the winner for his S’mores Ice Cream Sandwich.
That ice cream sandwich can be found on the menu at Emeril’s Restaurant, where Fogg is charged with creating the dessert menus and managing the pastry kitchen operations.
“I manage the flagship restaurant daily,” said Fogg, “but I also assist with the dessert menus for some of the other restaurants as well as offsite and charity events. I’m also looking forward to taking the dessert menu at Emeril’s even further creatively and sharing some really great dishes with our guests.”
While he said his current position is “100 percent what I’m supposed to be doing,” Fogg does have dreams for the future.
“Ultimately, I want to have my own bakery and restaurant, and perhaps an ice cream shop,” he said. “Those are all years in the making though.”
Katy Hobgood Ray
Host, Producer and Musician, Confetti Park
Katy Hobgood Ray has been recording and performing since she was 15 years old, but said she was always too shy to put out her own music.
Seven years ago, with the birth of her son, Louis Bienville Ray, things changed.
“When I had a child my attention naturally turned toward the genre of children’s music,” she said. “And once I did, I discovered how joyful I felt writing songs for children — seeing the world through fresh eyes, not taking for granted the unique experiences, colorful scenery and delightful characters that New Orleans has to offer.”
Ray soon found herself running a children’s choir based out of her neighborhood park called The Confetti Park Players. That grew into a weekly radio show and podcast, choir performances at festivals like French Quarter Fest, the Jazz & Heritage Festival and Bayou Boogaloo, two children’s books and her first CD, “We’re Going to Confetti Park,” released in 2015.
“I am writing a lot,” she said. “And hope to record another children’s album this coming year.”
Dr. Catherine Wilbert
Founder and CEO, Big Sky Ranch, C.A.T.N.I.P. Foundation
For more than 30 years, Dr. Catherine Wilbert’s passion for animals has grown to include a 10-acre animal sanctuary in Folsom called Big Sky Ranch — home to a wide array of animals and hundreds of cats. Her Working Cat program offers up feral cats that are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped as effective pest control options for local businesses and farms. There’s currently a waiting list.
In only eight years, two cats can multiply to create over 2 million cats. “They’re like rabbits, in that they’re spontaneous ovulators,” said Wilbert. “Average cat litters are between five and six kittens and cats can get pregnant as young as four months old.”
She’s also created a Seniors for Seniors program that pairs up local senior citizens with senior cats who would likely otherwise be euthanized.
Wilbert remains a tireless advocate for legislative changes to address our cat problems and her efforts helped over 700 cats find homes last year alone.
“We need affordable, accessible spay and neuter programs, that’s the No. 1 thing,” she said. “We can do it, we just need people to support it.”
CEO & Co-Founder, Dig — The Dog Person’s Dating App
There are dating apps that pair singles based on a wide array of things — from matching people of the same religion, to an app that pairs people based on things they hate. And now, thanks to Leigh Isaacson, there’s an app devoted to connecting dog lovers with other dog lovers.
Dig — The Dog Person’s Dating App, was co-founded by Isaacson and her sister, Casey, in 2017 and has been strategically growing city-by-city ever since. So far this year, Dig was also a finalist at the 2018 Coulter IDEAPitch and JEDCO Challenge.
“For the first 25 cities, we’re launching with big dog-friendly events that also promote local rescue groups and dog businesses in the area,” said Isaacson. “The events are fun, dog-friendly and free (often with free beer too.) People just have to download Dig for entry.”
Before this latest venture, Isaacson worked as a reporter for WVUE-TV Fox 8 News for two years and as the Southeast regional director of the Coastal Conservation Association from 2015 to 2017.
“My job is now about dogs and love,” she said. “It’s an incredible position to be in.”
Ashley Ann Lyons Porter
CEO & Designer, Porter Lyons
From potion bottles, skulls and evil eyes to rare stones, pearl and diamonds, Ashley Ann Lyons Porter has made a name for herself through jewelry creations as diverse and magical as the city her family has called home since the 1800s. Porter’s family once owned a pharmacy called I.L. Lyons that called Camp Street home from 1866 to 1966.
Porter Lyons, Porter’s jewelry and accessory brand, opened its flagship store on Toulouse Street in 2016. It has since been named one of “America’s Coolest Stores 2018” by Instore Magazine.
“The biggest opportunity I’ve had is moving into custom designs for clients,” she said, “including engagement rings and recreating family heirloom jewelry into more modern pieces.”
Porter Lyons will expand its retail reach this October with a mobile tiny house, a move that will coincide with the debut of a Pharmacy Collection, inspired by her family’s business.
When asked about her long-term goal, Porter said she wants to bring more industry to New Orleans.
“This city is a hub for makers and artists,” she said, “and to build infrastructure here would be a dream.”
Founder and Designer, Bow Shoeshoe
Edward Wycliff’s company has nothing to do with shoes…but it is making sure hundreds of people can get on their feet.
Bow Shoeshoe (pronounced bo shway-shway) was created by Wycliff, a former Peace Corps worker, three years ago.
“I’d lived for over a year in a small village, deep inside one of Africa’s highest mountain ranges, with less than 50 people,” he said. “There were no paved roads or running water and barely any jobs other than subsistence farming or herding sheep.
What the Basotho people did have was a vibrant fabric [shoeshoe] that had been in their culture since the 1940s.”
With that fabric, Wycliff has taught over 150 people in seven different communities how to sew hand-tied bow ties from their fabric. He then sells them and returns the money to the people.
“For about two weeks of work I was able to pay them what the average person earns after two months,” he said.
When not at the Palace Market on Frenchmen Street selling the ties, pocket squares and shirts, Wycliff is currently busy expanding the line to scarves, funky shoelaces, full suits and heavy, woolen Basotho blankets.
Owner, Atlas Handmade Beads
A New Orleans native whose family has called the city home since the mid-1800s and the co-creator of Hollygrove Market & Farm, Kevin Fitzwilliam’s love for his home town runs deep, but there’s one thing he’d like to see much less of: plastic beads.
Through his new company, Atlas Handmade Beads, launched in 2017, Fitzwilliam is enticing Carnival participants to ditch the plastic in favor of beads and bracelets made from recycled magazine paper, handcrafted by women in Uganda.
For Carnival 2019, Fitzwilliam is partnering with ARC of Greater New Orleans to offer float riders the option of purchasing boxes of a mix of re-used and Atlas Handcrafted beads. He will also be partnering with local school and universities to offer up his creations as a way to showcase school pride or fundraise.
“I would like to play a role in helping us all shift away from plastic in our daily life,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people learn about and become motivated to do more for the environment, as well as support handcrafted work.”
Allison Albert Ward
Founder/CEO, Pet Krewe
Lions, pirates, mermaids, unicorns, spiders…all are costume options for cats and dogs through PetKrewe.com, a company founded by New Orleanian Allison Albert Ward in 2015.
A Pennsylvania native, Ward grew up attending a Mennonite school where sewing was one of the focuses. It was a skill that she used for to create pet costumes for years until finally turning her hobby into her dream job.
In the year it launched, Pet Krewe’s first costume, a lion mane, became the top selling pet costume in the country. The company has since grown large enough to establish relationships with retail giants including Chewy.com, Amazon, Walmart and Overstock. Ward’s unicorn costume was even part of the swag bags for the Golden Globes.
While Ward still considers winning a blue ribbon at the Georgia State Fair for “Best Dressed Chicken” her greatest accomplishment, she says the company just closed its angel investment round, which will give the company the capital to launch its newest product, DIY dog bandanas.
“We’re confident that our fans will love this new product,” said Ward, “and that’s just the beginning of Pet Krewe 2.0.”
Caroline Nabors Rosen
Executive Director, Tales of the Cocktail Foundation
Formerly the executive director of the John Besh Foundation, Caroline Nabors Rosen was a natural choice to lead the re-launch of Tales of the Cocktail as a nonprofit, education- and grants-focused organization.
Since stepping in in February, Rosen and her team have been working non-stop to establish the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Grants Program, which has already granted $250,000 to 11 recipients.
In July, the first revamped Tales of the Cocktail focused heavily on issues of inclusion and free education on a wide array of industry topics.
The foundation, however, is about far more than one event. Next up is “Daiquiri Season” in September, “Tales of the Toddy” in December, and “Tales on Tour” in spring 2019.
“The hospitality and spirits communities are made up of some of the most giving people in the world,” said Rosen. “I am so extremely lucky to be able to give back to them. I love that my job is focused around educating, supporting and advancing these communities.”
Founder, Beignet Fest
Executive Director, Tres Doux Foundation
It’s hard to imagine that New Orleans went as long as it did without a festival celebrating what may just be the tastiest thing ever created with fried dough, but that all ended in 2016 with the first annual Beignet Fest.
Following the inaugural event, Travel + Leisure magazine named Beignet Fest one of the premier fall festivals in the country.
Last year’s event drew over 12,000 attendees and this year’s is scheduled for Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Festival Grounds at New Orleans City Park.
Beignet Fest was created by Sherwood Collins, who, along with his wife Amy, has two young boys — Wesley and Liam.
Eight-year-old Liam is on the Autism spectrum and was the inspiration for the festival, which raises money through the Tres Doux (French for “very sweet”) Foundation for children with developmental delays.
“In Louisiana, autism is the most cited diagnosis on school IEP’s,” said Collins. “We need more programs so I will continue to make it my job to raise as much money as I can.”
Michael J. Sawaya
President/General Manager, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
Following a national search, Michael J. Sawaya was chosen to take over all the facility operations and future land development for New Orleans’ convention center this past March.
For Sawaya, that meant a move from San Antonio, Texas, where he served for the past 15 years as the executive director of the city’s convention center, Alamodome, two theatres and two other sports facilities. Under his leadership, San Antonio’s $325 million convention center — the single largest project in the city’s history — was completed on time and within budget.
Sawaya’s plan for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is nothing less than to make it a “visionary project that will transform the New Orleans visitor economy and propel it to greater heights.”
“The immediate needs of our convention center are to build a new headquarters hotel and develop a mixed-use retail, residential and entertainment district that will be a new attraction that creates new demand for the city,” he said.
“Simultaneously, we will be renovating and modernizing our existing facilities and building a linear park. In three years, it will be a totally new experience.”
Wendy Rodrigue Magnus
Founder, George Rodrigue Life & Legacy Tour
Wendy Rodrigue Magnus was married to famed artist George Rodrigue from 1997 until his death in 2013. During that time she served as the director and co-owner of the Rodrigue Studio and did all she could to promote what she calls her late husband’s “honest and open way of seeing the world.”
“With his art he raised millions of dollars for humanitarian and arts-related causes,” she said, “and even more important, he gave of his time, particularly as a passionate advocate for the arts in education.”
Since Rodrigue’s death, Magnus (she is now married to her late husband’s friend and fellow artist, photographer and silversmith Douglas Magnus) has made it her mission to promote his legacy. In fall 2017, she began a statewide Life and Legacy Tour for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and Louisiana A+ Schools. Within six months, she visited 25 schools and exposed Rodrigue’s art to thousands of students, parents and educators.
“My favorite thing,” she said, “is when I realize I’ve surprised people and made them think about George’s life and art in a new and illuminating way.”
Fitness & Wellness Expert, Footprints to Fitness
Gentilly native April Dupré was a fitness and wellness professional for 15 years — and former Saintsation — before following her dream in 2014 to create a fitness community focused on diversity and inclusion.
Her company, Footprints to Fitness, creates experiences that cater to every age, gender and fitness level. Experiences include community fitness classes, Healthy Happy Hours, custom workplace wellness options, personal training and CPR training, Bridal Boot Camps, as well as various special events.
Last month the company rolled out Mats and Margaritas — a yoga event at La Casita Mexican restaurant.
The goal is to truly offer options for everyone that allow people to have fun and be healthier.
“Being a woman of color in an industry where most people don’t look like me inspires me to break barriers and change others’ perceptions,” she said. “It’s a blessing when people share that they’re inspired to become healthier because they see someone living a positive lifestyle that looks like them.”
Managing Partner, Port Orleans Brewing Co.
Play-by-Play Broadcaster, New Orleans Saints, WWL radio
“I knew I was getting close to the end of my playing career and I wanted to be a part of something that could become a part of all the things that make New Orleans great,” said former New Orleans Saints Offensive Tackle, Zach Strief. “Mardi Gras, crawfish, fishing and family gathering have one thing in common…beer.”
In January, Strief became a managing partner at Port Orleans Brewing Co. The Tchoupitoulas Street brewery opened May 9, 2017.
Port Orleans currently offers six different beers, an IPA, lager, brown ale, pale ale, pilsner and a blonde ale named for New Orleans Saints Coach, Sean Payton, that was Strief’s doing.
“Sean gave me the biggest opportunity of my life,” noted Strief on the brewery’s web site. “The least I can do is give him a cold one with his name on it.”
Strief will now be mentioning Payton’s name often as the new play- by- play broadcaster (along with color commentator Deuce McAllister) on the Saints radio network. If they need a cold beer after the game, they will know where to go.
Back at the brewery, next up will be the release of another beer named for a member of the Saints family, Steve Gleason.
“It’s a New England-style IPA, which is extremely popular right now,” said Strief. “I think it’s going to be great for Port Orleans, but also a great fundraiser for Team Gleason.”
President and CEO, Spears Group
This month, Sept. 22 and 23, New Orleans’ Woldenberg Park will again play host to the National Fried Chicken Festival.
Since its founding in 2016, the festival has attracted visitors from all 50 states to New Orleans, totaling 259,000 people.
In a state known for its never-ending list of festivals, after only two years the National Fried Chicken Festival holds the title of the largest food festival in Louisiana, and it wouldn’t exist without the hard work of public relations and marketing firm The Spears Group, founded by Cleveland Spears III.
This year The Spears Group is celebrating its own milestone — 10 years in business serving a long list of clients from Ochsner Health System and Entergy to the NBA and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as its own events including the Millenial Awards, Diner en Blanc and La Fete du Rose.
“We don’t sleep much at the Spears Group,” laughed Spears. “I have an amazing team and am so humbled that they believe in my dream. Together we can do anything.”