The Buzz List

 In Culture, Feature

St. Louis’ most influential people, organizations and ideas of 2011.


Steve Smith, 54, CEO, Lawrence Group
The old adage: “Do what you love and the money will follow” is one Steve Smith has taken to heart—and to the city. He’s combined his passions for architecture, development and motorcycles and has transformed the area wedged between Grand Center and Midtown Alley into a thriving corridor. Smith invested in the area 10 years ago when nothing much was happening east of The Fox Theatre. Since then he’s built a portfolio of projects that include the Moto Museum, Triumph Grill and the new motorcycle dealership, Moto Europa, which will expand this year to feature a performance and custom upgrade shop. This spring also sees the opening of Hotel Ignacio, a boutique hotel and Smith’s latest project, in partnership with Saint Louis University. —Matt Sorrell

Ryan Mertz & Madisin Rian 

Ryan Mertz, 20
Currently a full-time model signed with agencies in New York, LA, Miami, London, Hamburg, Paris and Barcelona, Ryan Mertz is a true “small-town success story” if ever there was one. Discovered by Mother Model Management’s Jeff and Mary Clarke during a pep rally at Wentzville High School his sophomore year, he admittedly wrote off modeling as “weird,” and made no efforts to give it a go until his mother got wind of the possibility two years later. Just days after meeting with the Clarkes, he signed with industry legend NEXT Models, and—one month after that—he was walking in New York Fashion Week on a coveted exclusive contract with Calvin Klein. The day after he graduated high school, he moved to Paris—and has been working consistently ever since. He bides his time bouncing from shoots for ad campaigns and editorials for such publications as “GQ” and “Numéro.” —Jill Manoff

Madisin Rian, 18
Talk about a young career coming full circle. Discovered at 16 during a local Kimora Lee Simmons-hosted charity luncheon, model Madisin Rian counts receiving a personal invite to the recent launch party for Oxygen’s “Running Russell Simmons” among her most memorable perks to date. Her résumé already includes editorials for editions of “Elle,” “Cosmo,” “Marie Claire,” “Glamour” and the April 2011 issue of “Seventeen;” a commercial for Victoria’s Secret and a campaign with L’Oréal (she’s the face of SoftSheen-Carson, which launched last month). “You need to stay focused. It’s about maintaining yourself, knowing who you are and never giving up—because nothing is guaranteed.” It seems her longtime inspiration, Ms. Simmons, has taught her well. —Jill Manoff

Sonny Saggar, M.D., 43, Founder/Owner, Downtown Health and Wellness Center
Two years ago, if Downtown residents needed to see a doctor, they’d have to leave the limits of St. Louis City proper. Today, thanks to Dr. Sonny Saggar, most can walk mere blocks to get urgent and primary care at the Downtown Health and Wellness Center. Recognizing that Downtown dwellers and employees had access to restaurants, gyms, a grocery store and shops but couldn’t get treated for a sore throat, get a flu shot or schedule a regular checkup, Saggar bought the building at 916 Olive Street in March 2008, hired top-notch physicians, nurses and staff, brought in other health-focused tenants and began treating patients. “The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was getting people to see we aren’t a free city clinic. We want people to know it’s a great facility that provides quality care,” says Saggar, who has been an ER physician and internist at almost all St. Louis-area hospitals for over 10 years. It seems he’s reaching his goal already—Downtown residents make up over 50 percent of his patients and more and more city employees are partaking in his corporate health services. —Cristy Miller

Paula David, 50, Artistic Director/Founder, St. Louis Dance Theatre
St. Louis’ dance community has some new moves, thanks to Paula and her team at St. Louis Dance Theatre who have cultivated a place where local and out-of-state dancers can train, perform and perfect their craft. The Downtown-based organization embraces the city’s deep-rooted love of jazz and blues and is St. Louis’ first full-time contemporary jazz dance company. “Our objective is to blend jazz dance and jazz music, old and new, into performances that will bring enjoyment and value to a large cross section of the St. Louis community,” says David, a former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer. Although still in development, plans for the company’s premiere performance series this fall include “The ’40s,” a technical swing number; “Punctuations,” a quirky trio that uses the richest traditions of good theatre, vaudeville and dance and “Grid,” a piece that studies St. Louis’ diverse cultures and their interplay. Stay tuned. —Marylyn Simpson

Tony Rich, 29, Executive Director, The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
Though an avid chess player since his freshman year at St. John Vianney High, Tony Rich never dreamed he’d make a career around the sport he adored. But in 2008, when the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis—the brainchild of local philanthropist Rex Sinquefi eld—was preparing to open its doors, Rich left his tech support job at a major law fi rm to become the club’s executive director. That was a well-played move. Under Rich’s direction, the Chess Club hosted the most successful U.S. Chess Championship in the competition’s 165 years in 2010, and also hosted the 2010 Women’s Championship and the 2010 Junior Closed Championship. This veritable triple crown of chess competition positioned the club to become the country’s premier tournament venue. What’s more, the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum, which was previously located in New York City, Washington D.C., and most recently, Miami, will relocate to St. Louis this spring to a space across the street from the club. For his dedication to bringing chess curricula to local students through in-school and after-school programs and for his hand in establishing a word-recognized chess hub in St. Louis, Rich has held the distinction of the “Organizer of the Year” by the United States Chess Federation for the past two years. —Sheniqua Faulkner

Rosa Mayer, 23, Space Manager, Saint Louis Coworking
If you’re looking for fresh ideas in the workplace, try changing how you view the workspace. It’s no secret that work as we’ve known it is dramatically changing; about one-third of the current American workforce is independent and the number of new small businesses increases every year. Enter coworking, a concept based on the idea that people work better when they’re not working alone. Freelancers, start-up entrepreneurs and other self-employed professionals who would normally set up shop in their basements or coffee shops come to an office where their monthly rent includes desk space, a shared conference room, printer/copier use, wifi and coffee. The first and largest of these groups, Saint Louis Coworking, opened Downtown in August; Within the first four months, the 10,000 square foot space in the Shell Building had over 40 drop-in or full-time coworkers, from lawyers and accountants to web designers, PR professionals and marketers. “It’s rewarding to see the synergies that come out of the space, when workers give each other business or help each other,” says Space Manager Rosa Mayer, who visited several spaces in San Francisco before helping launch Saint Louis Coworking. Indeed, the intangibles are key to its allure; the offi ce hosts networking events, happy hours, free yoga and kettlebell classes, weekly community breakfasts and lunchtime Pictionary matches. Starbucks just can’t compete with that. —Kelly Hamilton

Brian Cohen, 42, Founder/Organizer, LouFest Music Festival
Recognizing a gap in the St. Louis indie music festival scene, Brian Cohen, a documentary film instructor at Washington University, decided enough was enough and took matters into his own hands. With the help of a talented local team, Cohen launched LouFest, St. Louis’ only two-day outdoor indie-rock music festival, last August. In it first year, LouFest attracted national acts like She & Him, Jeff Tweedy and Broken Social Scene, had over 8,000 attendees, and was all the buzz for its sustainability efforts, eco-conscious vendors and integration of local restaurants. With 18 bands at its first event, LouFest has already become a platform for up-and-coming artists. “We want to stay connected to the local music scene,” says Cohen. Hot off the heels of its successful debut year, Cohen is determined to make the 2011 LouFest better, with a bigger lineup and an increased number of restaurants and retail booths. —Marylyn Simpson

Chris Sommers, 35, Co-Founder, Pi Pizzeria
Chris Sommers opened his first Pi restaurant three years ago (on 3/14, cleverly); since, he and his business partner Frank Uible opened three additional locations in the area and last year, he brought our city its first successful, large-scale food truck. In 2011, he takes his concept national—to our nation’s capital—opening a Pi restaurant and food truck in Washington D.C. next month. Not bad for a former IT professional who fell in love with a San Francisco deep-dish restaurant’s pizza recipe, bought the rights and decided to open not just a pizza restaurant, but an eco-friendly one. “I was confident people would be receptive to Pi, but I didn’t think it would take off as quickly as it did,” says Sommers. With its fresh, unique pizza, creative cocktails and a neighborhood-driven atmosphere, it’s apparent Sommers has more than one recipe for success. As for what’s next, Sommers says he plans to eventually open more locations in St. Louis, including Downtown. “I don’t take for granted what St. Louis has done for Pi. St. Louis will always be our focus.” —Cristy Miller

World Events Productions, Bob Koplar, 31, VP of Legal and Business Affairs, & Jeremy Corray, 33, Creative Director
In 1984, St. Louis-based World Events Productions created “Voltron: Defender of the Universe,” an animated series about the adventures of five youths who pilot mechanical lions that, when combined, form a giant robot. Voltron has since become a pop culture icon, name-dropped by the likes of Murphy Lee, Wu-Tang Clan and Kobe Bryant and used as a metaphor to describe anything that comes together to form a greater whole, from corporate mergers to basketball defenses. There have been a few new Voltron animated projects over the years, but Bob Koplar and Jeremy Corray are ramping up the concept. The two are spearheading a Voltron resurgence that includes a new animated Nicktoons series debuting this spring, a toy line from Mattel, a video game and, ultimately, a big-screen movie, to be produced by Chuck Roven’s Atlas Entertainment of “The Dark Knight” fame, projected to release in 2013—all driven locally by our own “mom and pop giant robot shop.” Transformers who? —Matt Sorrell

Autumn Wiggins, 31, Founder, Upcycle Exchange
Autumn Wiggins is one of those fervent entrepreneurs you look at and can practically see their wheels turning. In addition to heading Strange Folk, the largest craft show in the St. Louis area (drawing crowds in excess of 15,000), Wiggins founded Upcycle Exchange, a web-based space for the local indie craft community. Best described as an efficient common ground that has allowed crafters to operate with a conscience, the site allows artists to post their material and supply “wish lists.” Meanwhile, customers of area retail stores and other drop sites donate things they’d written off as trash, which Upcycle collects, sorts, matches to lists and distributes, keeping artists green and well supplied. After spending the last two years working out of a “spiderwebby, messy basement,” she is now transforming the business into a store-slash-stomping ground for artisans early this year. An open-sourcing enthusiast, her invented Upcycle program has recently been picked up by like-minded innovators in Chicago, New York and the UK—and, if all goes according to plan, more will join in. —Jill Manoff

Adam Birenbaum, 32, CEO, Buckingham Asset Management, LLC & Matt Hall, 37,
Co-Founder, Hill Investment Group

Adam Birenbaum and Matt Hall are going ninja on the established financial investing world, and working to build something new. Call it “passive investing” or “evidence-based investing,” Birenbaum and Hall (who worked together at Buckingham before Hall started his own firm) say what they’re doing is just bringing back logic and simplicity. Instead of trying to outsmart the markets, and thus pushing products or schemes onto their clients, Birenbaum and Hall use all of the unbiased academic evidence available to come up with sound strategies for the long term. As Hall says, the rest of the investment world has made things way too complicated. Less cost, more personal power and better results—evident in the success of their businesses; Buckingham, collectively with its sister company, manages or administers over $13 billion of client assets, while Hill Investment Group has grown 37 percent per year over the past four years. Can’t argue with that bottom line. —Matt Sorrell

Ali Kindle, Don Hutcheson & Claire Wolff

Ali Kindle, 30, Founder and President, Rung Boutique
“Fashion was always something fun, but it was never a passion of mine,” says Kindle. That is, until she discovered that fashion could be a way to pursue her true desire to
help women who need a little extra support. Her nonprofit resale boutique, which opened last spring, “started as a place for women to come together and help each other,” Kindle explains. Professional women donate clothing items appropriate for a workplace setting. Far from pigeonholing them into suits, Kindle stocks a range of stylish, sometimes designer, clothes. Following the example of her entrepreneurial grandfather, who founded Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and her mother, who heads Enterprise’s charitable foundation,
Kindle’s venture is doing well by doing good. It donates 100 percent of profits to the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis, which raises funds for nonprofits.

Don Hutcheson, 44, Joint Venture Area Director, St. Louis Bread Co. Community Cares Café
First there was one in Clayton. Then in a Detroit suburb. Now on the West Coast, in Portland. Before you know it, St. Louis Bread Company Community Cares cafés could be everywhere. Panera donates $50 to $100 million a year in product, but company executives decided to do more. Their goal: to tackle the problem of food insecurity and “create an environment where people would eat food with dignity and respect,” Hutcheson explains. Customers toss in what they can afford, with about 60 percent giving the suggested amount, 20 giving more and 20 giving substantially less, or nothing.
Local residents have more than filled the volunteer slots, and associates volunteering from other locations supplement the paid staff. The Panera Foundation, which operates the three self-sustaining cafés, donates profits back to the community. Locally, the beneficiary is Covenant House, which receives direct programming to help homeless teens gain life skills and work experience.

Claire Wolff, 25, Co-founder, Urban Studio Café
The Old North neighborhood didn’t ask for much. Just an oasis in a coffee desert. When Urban Studio, an organization that presents arts programs and classes for low-income youth and adults in the neighborhood, fulfilled residents’ request by adding a coffee shop, community support poured in. The resulting café is being hailed nationally as an example of social enterprise. “Our goal is for the café to be a model for other social ventures,” says Claire Wolff, who believes the arts are a powerful tool for social change. Under the umbrella of Grace Hill Settlement House, Urban Studio Café not only generates profits for the Urban Studio Art programs, but also serves as a gathering place for the neighborhood. For examples, she describes the sun-themed mural children painted and the surprise party kids threw for a coffee shop regular. “It exemplifies exactly what happens when the community comes together and has a place,” Wolff says. —Amy de la Hunt

Keith Alper, Amanda Boyce, Stacey Wehe, Jeannette Thompson, & Jay David

TEDx St. Louis, Keith Alper, 48, Founder and Curator
The original TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) nonprofit conference series started in California in 1984, devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED talks are a mashup of people and passions. Presenters get 18 minutes onstage, and there’s no panel discussion after the fact. The series became so successful that the organization decided to license TEDx groups across the country. Enter Keith Alper, whose company, Creative Producers Group, secured the license for TEDx St. Louis. The group had its first event at the Science Center in November, and plans to have two events per year. “It’s almost like a concert of ideas,” Alper says, and you never know just what you’re going to get.

MothUP St. Louis, Amanda Boyce, 31, Organizer, & Stacey Wehe, 28, Founder
“Closet creatives” Stacey Wehe and Amanda Boyce got turned on to The Moth, a New York-based storytelling project, via a podcast. They started out trying to get The Moth’s performance tour to stop in St. Louis and ended up starting a local MothUP affiliate group. Since last March, MothUP St. Louis has met every four to six weeks in venues like Foam and Citygarden to encourage new voices to get up for 15 minutes or less and speak on a predetermined (and broadly interpreted) theme. Stories have to be true and told from memory—no notes allowed. MothUP groups can’t advertise, so Wehe and Boyce rely primarily on Facebook and word-of-mouth for promotion.

PechaKucha St. Louis
, Jeannette Thompson, 38, Co-founder, & Jay David, 35, Co-founder
Think PowerPoint presentations are only good for inducing naps? Check out PechaKucha St. Louis and think again. The original PechaKucha, named after the Japanese term for “chitchat,” started in Tokyo as events for creative people to share ideas. Participants are limited to 20 PowerPoint slides, which are onscreen for 20 seconds each. Thompson, David and 10 other local likeminded individuals began the local group last January after Thompson saw how many other cities were participating and thought St. Louis had as much creativity on tap as they did. The group shoots for four events per year, and it’s a completely grassroots endeavor. No one gets paid, events are free and open to the public, and anyone can participate; all it takes are creativity and big ideas. —Matt Sorrell

Ed Reggi, 40, and Scott Emanuel, 42, Organizers, Marriage Equality Bus
When Iowa legalized same-sex marriage in April 2009, Scott Emanuel and Ed Reggi—a couple of 10 years at the time— decided to cross state lines immediately and tie the knot. Another couple wanted to join them, and another; within a few days, the group grew to 17 couples and the Marriage Equality Bus was born. Since then, seven bus trips have taken 89 gay and lesbian couples to Iowa City, where they obtain their marriage licenses, have individual ceremonies with clergy and enjoy the legal validation the day brings to their relationships. Emanuel and Reggi’s dedication to full marriage equality has garnered attention from not only press (“USA Today,” CNN and countless blogs), but also from playwrights and filmmakers. The documentary Heartland Transport, which focuses on the first bus to Iowa, has gone to 38 film festivals over the last year and currently plays on the Documentary Film Channel. This Valentine’s Day week, the bus will make its eighth trip and take its 100th couple to legal marriage. Who says men can’t commit?
—Kelly Hamilton

Ryan’s leather jacket and boots available at Sole & Blues, The Loop, 314.863.3600. Ed and Scott’s tuxedos courtesy of Savvi Formalwear, The Loop, 314.725.2150. Boutonnieres courtesy of Botanicals Design Studio, Tower Grove Park, 314.772.7674. Photo Assistants: Jennifer Hengst and Josh Kennon | Fashion Assistants: Ebony Clemons and Carson Lewallen | Hair and Makeup by Amber Kohl & Katie McCurdy, Belleza Salon, O’Fallon, 636.300.3437.


1340_513.jpgSteve Smith, CEO, Lawrence Group

1341_513.jpgSonny Saggar, M.D., Founder/Owner, Downtown Health and Wellness Center

1342_513.jpgTony Rich, Executive Director, The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

1351_513.jpgSonny Saggar, M.D., Founder/Owner, Downtown Health and Wellness Center

1344_513.jpgBrian Cohen, Founder/Organizer, LouFest Music Festival

1345_513.jpgChris Sommers, Co-Founder, Pi Pizzeria

1356_513.jpgPaula David, Artistic Director/Founder, St. Louis Dance Theatre

1358_513.jpgWorld Event Productions: Bob Koplar, VP of Legal and Business Affairs, & Jeremy Corray, Creative Director

1359_513.jpgAutumn Wiggins, Founder, Upcycle Exchange

1360_513.jpgThe Investment Innovators: Adam Birenbaum, CEO, Buckingham Asset Management, LLC, & Matt Hall, Co-Founder, Hill Investment Group

1361_513.jpgThe Social Entrepreneurs: Ali Kindle, Founder and President, Rung Boutique

1362_513.jpgThe Social Entrepreneurs: Don Hutcheson, Joint Venture Area Director, St. Louis Bread Co. Community Cares Cafe

1363_513.jpgThe Social Entrepreneurs: Claire Wolff, Co-Founder, Urban Studio Cafe

1364_513.jpgThe Facilitators: Keith Alper, Founder and Curator, TEDx St. Louis

1365_513.jpgThe Facilitators: Amanda Boyce, Organizer, & Stacey Wehe, Founder, MothUP St. Louis

1366_513.jpgThe Facilitators: Jeanette Thompson, Co-Founder, & Jay David, Co-Founder, PechaKucha St. Louis

1367_513.jpgThe Happily-Ever-After Activists: Ed Reggi & Scott Emanuel, Organizers, Marriage Equality Bus


Photo credit: Photography by Tuan Lee; Art Direction by Victoria Millner

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