Buzz List 2012

 In Feature, Style

St. Louis’ most influential people, organizations and ideas of 2012.





David Freese, 28, 2011 World Series MVP, St. Louis Cardinals Third Baseman

There’s arguably no one more popular in St. Louis right now than David Freese, the man, in many ways, behind one of the biggest comebacks in the history of baseball. The smell of sweet victory is still in the air, following what really began in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series‰ÛÓthe match pegged as one of the greatest World Series games of all time, where fans watched as the Cards battled through a roller coaster of errors, then numerous comebacks of hits and home runs. And, if there’s anything that sports fans love more than a do-or-die game, it’s a hometown hero. Enter Cards third baseman, Freese, a Lafayette High School grad who’s had his share of hurdles over the last few years, including a right ankle injury during the 2010 season and a fractured left hand that caused him to miss two months of play in 2011. But, just as the Cardinals rallied after falling behind 10å_ games in the NL wild card in August to make it into the postseason, Freese’s epic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 6 won the game (and extended the series) for the Cards and catapulted Freese into the spotlight that reached well beyond Cardinal Nation. “It’s one of the greatest experiences to be down like that and come back as a team,” Freese says. “I really learned to believe in myself.” Freese set a postseason record with 21 RBIs and took home the title of 2011 World Series MVP and a 2012 Chevy Corvette. He also went on a whirlwind of media appearances afterward that included a stop at “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” the Country Music Awards and a guest role on the ABC sitcom “Work It.” And, although David Freese is now a household name, he’s still as down-to-earth as he was when he started in the majors just three years ago. Crediting the support of his family, Freese says that just making it to the big leagues was a dream come true, and the fact that he’s now a world champion, well, that makes it all the more special. After all, he’s still the same David Freese who played baseball in his backyard, mere minutes away from Busch Stadium. The only difference now, according to him: “I’ve got a ring.”
‰ÛÒ Cristy Miller


In Good Company

Emily Brady Koplar, 31, Fashion Designer, Wai Ming

“I’ve already received orders from retailers all over the country, and Bermuda‰ÛÓwe’re international!” jokes Emily Brady Koplar, the fashion design phenomenon whose first Spring 2012 collection hits stores (including STL-based Ivy Hill and Cha) this month. Titled Wai Ming (Chinese for “Gift of Light” and Koplar’s given middle name), the line is composed of cool, subtly-feminine pieces with clean lines and a European flair “that can be worn from day to night, in different cities and in different seasons,” says the Parsons School of Design grad, who credits her post-college experience (including work under Vivienne Tam) for her apparent knack for the fashion world. Although she flits to New York each month to oversee the line’s production, she remains based in St. Louis, where many of her pattern- and sample-makers are located‰ÛÓand is settling into her role of “driven boss.” “You have to be the one who lights a fire under your own butt because nobody else will,” Koplar says. “And that’s what I have to do to expand.”
‰ÛÒ Jill Manoff


Foodie Fortune

Kevin Willman, 33, Chef/Owner, Farmhaus

You’d hardly suspect a chef whose menu includes dishes like bacon-wrapped meatloaf or nachos to be honored by “Food and Wine Magazine” as one of the best new chefs of 2011. That is, until you’ve savored the merlot reduction in Chef Kevin Willman’s meatloaf or tasted his house-made sweet potato chips with fire-roasted red pepper ketchup. It’s Willman’s locavore-focused menu and witty take on the classics that got the attention of “Food and Wine” editors and earned him national recognition just one year after opening Farmhaus in South City. But, don’t think the rapid success has gone to his head. The humble chef ‰ÛÒ who’s also known for tweeting his daily-changing menu and “Blue Plate” special ‰ÛÒ says he still has much to accomplish. What’s next? We’re guessing his 2,400-and-counting Twitter followers will be the first to know.

Robbie Montgomery, 71, Chef/Owner, Sweetie Pie’s

Sweetie Pie’s owner Robbie Montgomery is experiencing a new kind of success‰ÛÓas the star of her own reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” debuted last year to much fanfare‰ÛÓso much that Montgomery and her son Tim Norman began taping a second season in November. But, Montgomery is no stranger to the spotlight. After finding fame as a backup singer for Tina Turner, The Supremes and the Rolling Stones, she opened the first Sweetie Pie’s in 1996. Eight years later, she opened a second location in The Grove, and today, she’s making headlines with the expansion of a third Sweetie Pie’s in Grand Center. The new venture opens this spring with a restaurant, banquet hall, culinary school and performing arts center‰ÛÓcombining her longtime love of music and food.

David Bailey, 33, Owner, Bailey’s Range

For this unstoppable St. Louis restaurateur, 2011 marked two big milestones: the birth of his first child and the opening of his fourth restaurant. And, while David Bailey might be new to parenthood, he’s certainly no novice to creating successful restaurants. Most of us have savored a chocolate martini at Baileys’ Chocolate Bar, enjoyed a roasted apple crepe at Rooster or sipped a craft brew at Bridge. And now, the serial foodie has debuted the new grass-fed burgers and shakes concept, Baileys’ Range, which has already achieved hotspot status‰ÛÓthanks to the deliciously creative burger menu (complete with house-made buns and sauces) and his made-on-site ice cream flavors. As for what’s next, Bailey points to more restaurants in the future, but his focus is elsewhere for now. If four restaurants and a new baby don’t keep him busy, we’re not sure what will.
‰ÛÒ Cristy Miller


Style Child

Emily Brady Koplar, 31, Fashion Designer, Wai Ming

“I’ve already received orders from retailers all over the country, and Bermuda‰ÛÓwe’re international!” jokes Emily Brady Koplar, the fashion design phenomenon whose first Spring 2012 collection hits stores (including STL-based Ivy Hill and Cha) this month. Titled Wai Ming (Chinese for “Gift of Light” and Koplar’s given middle name), the line is composed of cool, subtly-feminine pieces with clean lines and a European flair “that can be worn from day to night, in different cities and in different seasons,” says the Parsons School of Design grad, who credits her post-college experience (including work under Vivienne Tam) for her apparent knack for the fashion world. Although she flits to New York each month to oversee the line’s production, she remains based in St. Louis, where many of her pattern- and sample-makers are located‰ÛÓand is settling into her role of “driven boss.” “You have to be the one who lights a fire under your own butt because nobody else will,” Koplar says. “And that’s what I have to do to expand.”
‰ÛÒ Jill Manoff


Music Mavens

Blu Bolden, 39, Campus Director, Ex’treme Institute

Born of a partnership with world-famous rapper Nelly, the latest addition to the Vatterott family of colleges aims to educate the next generation of music producers and, in the process, reunite the STL music scene. As former vice president of Nelly’s St. Louis-based record label Derrty Entertainment, Blu Bolden is well versed in the management of a professional studio. She’s always had an itch to get into education, so when the opportunity to be involved in the Ex’treme Institute arose, she jumped at the chance. Her hope is that the institute will help unite the fractured communities of musicians and producers she grew up as a part of. “At one point, St. Louis was a big music city‰ÛÓthe blues scene was a big deal here,” she says. “That got lost somewhere along the way, and it’s very disconnected now.” As campus director of the new school, Bolden sees herself as the principal, taking care of the day-to-day operations and using her connections and Nelly’s network to bring in some of the top professionals in the industry as guests, lecturers and clients.

Carl Nappa, 43, Executive Director, Ex’treme Institute

Leading the charge at the Ex’treme Institute as executive director is Carl Nappa, an industry veteran and Nelly’s personal sound engineer for over five years. A player in the recording industry since age 19, Nappa has spent his career working with the likes of Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and has now taken on the leadership of EI as a way to give back to the music community. He’s played a key role in developing the curriculum and programs, as well as furnishing the state-of-the-art studio in Laclede’s Landing with cutting-edge recording and production equipment. EI is a school by day and a professional studio by night, where students put their new skills to use as they work alongside seasoned professionals, just as Nappa did. “It’s not about a diploma, but the life experience you have in the industry,” he says. “I learned what I know in the field.”
‰ÛÒ Gwen Ragno


Treasure Hunters

Annie Brahler, 45, Owner & Phil Black, 46, Lead Carpenter, Euro Trash

It’s Annie Brahler’s passion ‰ÛÒ or “obsession,” as she labels it ‰ÛÒ that has built her business. And, there’s virtually nothing else like the 15-year-old import firm in the metro area. Among Brahler’s unique services is the ability to supply vintage and antique finds (this 18th-century sofa is one of many) from France, Holland and Belgium to retailers nationwide. And, they’re 100 percent her finds. “I got frostbite once because I was holding a mirror on top of our van while driving in Brussels; I couldn’t move my hand, and I didn’t care,” Brahler laughs. A pioneer in the anti-reproductions movement, Brahler oversees a team of carpenters (headed by Phil Black), installers and seamstresses‰ÛÓas well as warehouses in Europe and Illinois. She also takes on extra projects that truly excite her, including elaborate design jobs spanning up to three years‰ÛÓand starring in her own TV show. Currently mid-filming, the end result will tout “trusting your own instincts, and not thinking you need a brand name to bring it into your house.” Call it a foreign concept.
‰ÛÒ Jill Manoff


Film Fanatics

Carlyn Graumenz, 29, Producer/Production Manager, Lamplight Films

It might not be Hollywood, but Carlyn Graumenz sees St. Louis as an emerging city for high-production and professional films. Companies like Lamplight Films and their crews “might not live on the coast,” she says, “but it’s becoming known that we are just as talented and can create high-quality films right here in the Midwest.” After handling 60+ networks’ commercials, scripts and advertising production for Charter Media ‰ÛÒ not to mention directing music videos and breaking into feature film production with the UK release of “Bringing Up Bobby” ‰ÛÒ Graumenz completed her jump to the film industry with Lamplight in 2009. She had the business savvy and and video background to help Lamplight grow, and has been instrumental in producing all of its feature-length films, including the thriller “Call Me On Tuesday” and film noir “23 Minutes to Sunrise.”

Lauren Munsch, 33, Producer/Partner, BCDF Pictures

To say that Lauren Munsch is an over-achiever would be an understatement. This SLU Med School grad, Wash U Internal Med alum, NYC Cardiology fellow and Founder/CEO of the STL-based Anthropedia Foundation also happens to own and operate a film financing and production company. Her background doesn’t exactly read “film,” but it’s been an ongoing passion, and after a lot of research and guidance, she and her two business partners (Brice and Claude Dal Farra), formed the NY-based production company, BCDF Pictures. Over just two years, BCDF has produced films like “Higher Ground,” starring Vera Farmiga, “Bachelorette,” featuring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher, and “Liberal Arts,” with Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Radnor and Zac Efron. Five out of the first seven BCDF films have already been accepted at international film festivals, including “Bachelorette,” “Liberal Arts” and “Predisposed,” which all made the cut for Sundance 2012‰ÛÓa big step for putting St. Louis on the filmmaker map. Move over, Hollywood, Munsch is making her entrance.

Chris Benson, 37, Owner/Director of Photography, Lamplight Films

With 40 local films, 12 St. Louis Film Festival appearances and industry awards for Best Cinematography and Best Director under his belt, Chris Benson has come a long way since serving as his classmates’ go-to film guy at Webster University. Since then, he’s filmed everything from a Syfy Channel movie to videos for stars like Nelly and Murphy Lee. In 2003, Benson created Lamplight Films as an STL-based production company with a feature film focus and has kept plenty busy ever since‰ÛÓhaving wrapped production on local thriller “Call Me On Tuesday” and film noir “23 Minutes to Sunrise” last year alone. This year, Lamplight goes into production with local flick “The Lemp Legacy” and “Standby,” starring Burt Reynolds. Benson says Missouri’s loss of the film tax credit has been a challenge, but he still sees opportunities in St. Louis and vows to stay true to his mission of making high-quality films locally at a low budget.
‰ÛÒ Katie Davis


Drama Queen

Joan Lipkin, 57, Producing Artistic Director, That Uppity Theatre Company & Co-founder, The DisAbility Project

A self-proclaimed cultural provocateur and a “not-so-secret agent of social change,” Joan Lipkin and her methods might seem subversive, but that’s the point. “You can’t have a healthy community if you only have big institutions,” she says. “You need a cultural landscape with all kinds of people coming up from the margins and pushing towards the center.” The Arts & Education Council has named Lipkin the Arts Innovator of the Year in its 2012 St. Louis Arts Awards, and she has been asked to design and direct theater programs in universities from Yale to Alabama. Often using humor as a way to approach difficult subjects ‰ÛÒ from disability, cancer and Alzheimer’s to LGBT and reproductive choice issues ‰ÛÒ Lipkin employs That Uppity Theatre Company and The DisAbility Project (in which people with disabilities perform plays about their lives) in her mission to tell the stories that aren’t being told and provoke new ways of thinking. Lipkin’s first big project of the year is co-producing a theater festival called, “Briefs: A Festival of Short Lesbian and Gay Plays,” on Feb. 24-26‰ÛÓthe first of its kind in St. Louis.
‰ÛÒ Gwen Ragno


Masters of Brew

Jake Hafner, 38, Owner, The Civil Life Brewing Co.

Jake Hafner, former owner of 33 Wine Bar, says despite his love of the grape, he’s always indulged more in beer than wine‰ÛÓso it was only natural that his next project would be hops-centered. Hafner’s brewery, which he opened with brewers Dylan Mosley and Mike Bianco in fall 2011, specializes in lower-alcohol session ales that are well-balanced, easy on the palate and eminently quaffable. Hafner sees The Civil Life’s niche in the rapidly expanding craft beer scene in St. Louis to be that of an old-school public house. He wants the Civil Life tasting room, located with the brewery in a refurbished warehouse in Tower Grove South, to be a place where friends can meet up, sit at the German-style picnic benches, raise a glass or two and nosh a bit while discussing the events of the day.

Florian Kuplent, 38, Co-founder/Brewmaster, Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

Florian Kuplent boasts an impressive brewing pedigree‰ÛÓhaving studied the art in Germany and then spending a couple of decades in the beer industry, including a stint with local beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch. But, like so many creative types, he always harbored a dream of getting out from under the yoke and doing his own thing. So, in early 2011, he took the leap into the craft beer fray and opened Urban Chestnut. Kuplent stays firmly rooted in classic European styles with Urban Chestnut’s Reverence series of beers, while also taking a more modern, artisanal approach with the libations in the Revolution line. Now, the talented brewmaster is upping the ante even more by experimenting with aging beers in bourbon barrels and starting an onsite bottling operation. Kuplent, who knows a thing or two about these things, says he sees St. Louis becoming a true craft beer mecca‰ÛÓand he’s certainly doing his part to make it happen.

Kevin Lemp, 33, President, 4 Hands Brewing Company

Kevin Lemp always wanted to own his own business, but for a long time, he didn’t know what it would be. His experience in the wine and spirits industry fomented his love of craft beer, which eventually led to the idea of making his own commercial brews. 4 Hands (the name represents Lemp, his wife and two sons) takes a creative, culinary approach to the art of brewing, featuring big beers with robust flavors‰ÛÓthanks to bold hops, malts and non-traditional ingredients (like the fall seasonal ale made with sweet potatoes and aged on whiskey-infused pecan wood chips). Lemp and head brewer Will Johnston have started barrel-aging some of the brews, and even suggest food pairings, leaving the menu to some of the top chefs in town with a rotating roster of local food trucks that serve up their signature fare in the tasting room.
‰ÛÒ Matt Sorrell


STL’s Silicon Valley

Anthony Favazza, 35, Founder, DiningCircle

Son of an iconic local restaurateur, Anthony Favazza has a soft spot for mom-and-pop eateries‰ÛÓand a real beef with anyone who short-changes them. Formerly a corporate lawyer in New York City, Favazza moved back to St. Louis to look for a business niche. After fruitlessly researching a reasonably priced, easy-to-use online reservation service, he realized he’d found his niche. Favazza understands the value in simplifying reservations, but as a tech-savvy businessman, he knows customer e-mail interaction provides a big potential for profit. Initially, the $50,000 investment attracted him to the Capital Innovators mentorship at T-REx, but he’s now more appreciative of the innovation side of the program, which has helped him refine his sales model, research new software solutions and explore expansion plans to regional cities like Indianapolis, Memphis and New Orleans. Favazza is already off to a strong start, and couldn’t be happier that it all started here. “St. Louis has an amazing food culture,” he says. “This is a pretty special place.”

Judy Sindecuse, CEO/Managing Partner, Capital Innovators

Could the next Facebook or Groupon come out of St. Louis? Certainly, says Judy Sindecuse, a “serial entrepreneur” of sorts, whose startups include “Bride & Groom Magazine,” Oversees Colorworks and Printing and real estate development company Redesign. Would they face unique challenges here? Yes again. Chief among these is a lack of venture capitalists and angel investors, those deep-pocketed funders who bring startups to the next level. Her program, Capital Innovators (another T-REx tenant), provides $50,000 and 12 weeks of mentorship for early stage tech startups in return for a small stake in the company to “get them growing as far as possible as fast as possible on as small a dime as possible.” CI works with five companies at a time, helping shape their pitches and products so they can seize financial opportunities. Building a local pool of IT venture capital is Sindecuse’s long-term goal, in addition to marketing the region to venture capitalists nationwide. Let’s just say when the program’s Demo Day is held April 4, the pitches will be ready.
‰ÛÒ Amy De La Hunt


STL’s Silicon Valley

Jay DeLong, 44, Vice President for New Ventures and Capital Formation, Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA).

Pat Bannister, 59, Director of Business Development, St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC).

Kevin Farrell, 61, Senior Director of Economic & Housing Development, The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis.

With all the bad news about the economy, you’d think an incubator for startup IT companies would be a hard sell. Not so. In fact, the Technology Entrepreneur Center in Downtown’s Railway Exchange Building (now dubbed T-REx) has exceeded expectations for attracting tenants since it opened last summer‰ÛÓany number of which could be the next big thing in IT. As of January, 20 IT-centric businesses ‰ÛÒ including social media organizer Gremlin, customer relations software company JBara and medical device developers Pulse Therapeutics ‰ÛÒ called the 25,000-square-foot T-REx home. The building’s owner, developer Rick Yackey, provides low-cost leased space, and the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, RCGA and SLDC each donated $35,000 to underwrite the incubator’s creation and operation. But, T-REx is much more than a cheap place to work. Because the entrepreneurs are all tech-focused, they benefit from synergies in services, skill sharing, discounted tuition at Wash U’s IT Center, mentorship and the camaraderie a space like this evokes. The ultimate mission is to get investors interested in funding these start-ups, and thanks to the Downtown Partnership, SLDC and RCGA, funders like this are already being brought to the table. From there, it’s up to the companies, which is why T-REx members participate in weekly practice pitch sessions. The goal for the space itself is to be self-sustaining, perhaps as early as Q1 of 2012. There’s room to expand the IT capacity, but another idea being tossed around is a fashion incubator. High tech and high heels all under one roof? Talk about a combination we can embrace.
‰ÛÒ Amy De La Hunt


Boy Geniuses

Howie Sher, 44, Founder, What-A-Ya Nuts?!

He might goof off in ads, but Howie Sher is totally serious about growing his brand of healthy nut cluster snacks. Since September’s local launch with four unique flavors (Jalepeno Hysteria, anyone?), Sher has been eyeing other markets‰ÛÓand envisioning a day when baseball stadium vendors are shouting “What-A-Ya Nuts?!” as often as “Cracker Jacks.” Sher’s local roots go deep‰ÛÓthe fourth-generation grocery store owner literally grew up talking about product placement and distribution. When he ventured into food manufacturing, his credentials got him in the door with former Kashi and Bear Naked Granola food development execs, who helped create the product, and his friendships in the industry led to serendipitous marketing coups like a spot on the dessert menu at Herbie’s Vintage 72. Success with an all-natural snack in the conservative Midwest is a litmus test‰ÛÓand and Sher’s hometown test market is already eating out of the palm of his hand.

Sam Franklin, 21, Founder,

Sam Franklin makes entrepreneurship look easy. The Wash U student thought ad-laden online invites weren’t classy enough for weddings or professional events, and started tinkering with ways to address it. Within nine months, sales were at $9,000 monthly, and Franklin went from designing 75 percent himself (pulling 18-hour days with classes) to having a team of three developers, two designers and one support agent. The invitations are simple enough to integrate into online calendars, yet are visually appealing enough to print if Grandma doesn’t have e-mail. Franklin’s goal for 2012 is to develop more invite options and “features that no one else is doing.” The entrepreneur community has embraced Franklin, and mentors are helping him structure his organization so it’s scalable. We have no doubt this eco-friendly concept will need it.

Robert Paul, 41, Chief Science Officer, Nawgan

Experts and potential investors gave Dr. Robert Paul heat when he wanted to launch a new brain health beverage promising to increase focus and concentration right here in St. Louis. But, he says Nawgan couldn’t have originated anywhere else. For this neuropsychologist, the nexus behind Nawgan was marketing versus science. Many beverages that claim to boost focus and alertness are more hype than substance, and they don’t always taste good. Nawgan’s all-natural ingredients ‰ÛÒ Cognizin citicoline, lycopene and vitamin E ‰ÛÒ are known to be associated with cognitive performance, which caught the attention of Japan-based Kirin Holdings, one of the largest beverage companies in the world. In 2012, Nawgan will expand beyond shelves in St. Louis into Florida, Arizona and California. But, Paul won’t divulge his new flavors just yet. Our thirsty brains will have to wait and see.
‰ÛÒ Amy De La Hunt


Photo credit: Tuan Lee

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