Name: Mark Shadle/Ami Beach Shadle

Title: Executive chef/Owner

Organization: G-Zen, Branford

Born: 1965, Middletown/1969, Hartford

Education: Bachelor of Arts, George Washington University (1992), culinary degree as a certified raw food chef from the Living Light Culinary Institute/ Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Institute of Integrative Nutrition (2006)

Accomplishments: Mark Shadle became a vegan chef long before the vegan movement hit full stride. He gained notoriety as executive chef and co-owner of It’s Only Natural in Middletown, but after over 20 years at that business, he decided to follow another path. The path led him and his wife Ami to a farm in Durham, where they planted a garden and renovated a 300-year-old farmhouse. Their path then hit the road in the form of a food truck that would sell only vegan food. (Naturally, the truck runs on bio-fuel.)

Today the Shadles’ business is supported by three legs: a food truck called GMonkey Mobile; the Durham Shadle Farm where the couple lives and works on their days off; and G-Zen, a new Branford sustainable farm-to-table restaurant.

The Branford restaurant was a natural progression for Mark Shadle, who was cooking vegan meals before vegan became popular. In 2011, as GMonkey celebrated the close of its first full season, the couple decided to look for a spot and open a restaurant. Deciding upon Branford, the Shadles opened G-Zen, a restaurant that serves vegan, vegetarian and raw foods.

“It’s two chefs, one farm and one huge mission,” Ami Shadle explains. She is a raw food chef who was advised repeatedly that raw food would not work in Connecticut. The Shadles are proving otherwise.

G-Zen and the truck offer a 100-percent vegan menu consistent with the couple’s lifestyle.

“If you make food that’s really palatable, no one in the end will miss the cheese or dairy, they just know it’s good,” she says. The restaurant draws a healthy dinner crowd (in both senses of the word), though it is not open for lunch. Ami Shadle balks at those who said a vegan restaurant would never work.

“The success of the restaurant is about knowing what the meat-and-potato guy is going to want when he comes in and delivering on that,” she says. This recent success is just one in a line of achievements for this couple.

Chef Mark Shadle calls his greatest achievement competing on a culinary team that won two gold medals in the Culinary Olympics in Germany. G-Zen’s greatest accomplishment thus far was being named to Shape magazine’s list of the top ten vegan restaurants in America within the restaurant’s first year of business.

Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: The Shadles know that the road to success is littered with obstacles, and they admit to feeling frustrated after repeatedly being told that a vegan/vegetarian restaurant wouldn't have enough interest and that it was too small a niche market to survive.

“We overcame this by creating an environment that both carnivores and vegans would feel comfortable in,” Ami Shadle says. “We created a menu that has comfort foods, decadent foods, health foods, gourmet desserts, cocktails, wine and beer.”

They created an environment where people feel welcomed and educated about sustainable and vegetarian eating, changing the way people think about vegan food. “They also feel good about supporting a business that does so many things for the environment while loving their meal at the same time. It’s a win-win for most of our clientele. As a result we have a very dedicated client base that make the trip to Branford from all over the state and often from out of the state,” she says.

Advice for other professional people: “If you are passionate about what you do, live from integrity and have a good business ethic you will go far,” Ami Shadle says.

Person who most influenced his/her life: The Shadles like to give credit where it is due, even if it is due a competitor. They look upon Bun Lai, owner of Miya’s Sushi on Howe Street, as a tremendous influence to give the New Haven area a chance.

“Through Bun's work on the shoreline about sustainability and his community efforts, we have really been inspired to follow in his footsteps in wanting to put New Haven County on the map nationally and internationally for sustainable cuisine,” Ami Shadle says. “Bun is equally as passionate about living his life from his heart and has made a huge impact in the sustainable and green business movement. We look forward to carrying this work forward alongside the powerhouse called Bun Lai.”

Guiding philosophy: The couple say their shared guiding philosophy is to 100 percent live their dream without compromising their beliefs to make others happy.


“If we had listened to most people we would have never taken the huge risk in opening a fully vegan restaurant in a down economy. People thought we were crazy,” Ami Shadle says. “We knew in our hearts that the right people would value what we are doing. It’s obvious that there is nothing but love and passion in the food and it shows. Live your dream and it will manifest.”

Name: Heather Strycharz

Title: Independent designer

Organization: Love Local Designs, New Haven

Born: 1984, Springfield, Mass.

Education: MA media studies, New School for General Studies (anticipated 2013); BFA Media Arts/Art History, Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford (2006)

Accomplishments: When Heather Strycharz isn’t teaching, she’s learning — and vice-versa. One year ago, feeling like she had more to offer small businesses in New Haven than she was able to provide from her job as a web designer, she launched a new design company that would target a small niche. While many have dreams of corporate clients with a global presence, Strycharz’s love for local got the best of her.

The idea for Love Local Designs came about last summer when Strycharz was considering leaving her job as an e-commerce web designer and striking out on her own. She knew she wanted to work with local small companies, but also knew she had to pay the bills.

She named her company Love Local Designs after realizing how strongly she feels about supporting local businesses.

“I think about what local means to me,” she says. “As a business, I don’t want to cut myself off completely from opportunities outside of the New England area, but my focus is on the area I live in. At the end of the day, focus is on small business and ‘local’ was a nice way to phrase it.”

“Buying local is really starting to catch as a movement, especially with big box stores taking over,” she says. “I wanted to make buying local palatable. You catch more bees with agave nectar.” She does have a sweet yet capable manner about her.

Once her web design and video editing business was up and running, she introduced a line of printed T-shirts that are intended to bring attention to local farmers. A portion of the profit from Love Local Farmers shirts goes to City Seed, an organization that brings fresh produce to urban communities.

“Instead of taking 100-percent profit from the design, I’ll give back to the organizations that I think are doing the most good in our local area,” she says. City Seed is one of her favorite organizations.

Strycharz seldom takes without giving. She teaches web design at Northwestern Connecticut Community College in Winsted and she does contract work part-time in addition to running her web design company. She’s working on her last semester in graduate school at the New School for General Studies in New York City. Her career focus is to teach media studies, video and web design.

“People are struggling everywhere and it’s hard when you’re one of a million [web designers],” she says. That said, she knows she has to appeal to the local firms with good old-fashioned service, keeping her clients involved with the design process.

“Since many don’t know what is involved with web design, it can be very overwhelming,” Strycharz notes. “I’m into helping people learn a little more and empower them to not be so afraid or overwhelmed by the process.”

When asked what she was most proud, the modest young lady said it is her master’s degree in media studies, which she anticipates completing this winter.

Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: Strycharz believes that there will be obstacles on the way to every accomplishment and her greatest obstacle has physically slowed her down, while at the same time strengthening her spirit. Two years ago, after suffering an injury in a sprint triathlon, she underwent hip surgery.

“It was a long recovery and it impaired my ability to sit for long hours and do my work,” she recalls. “Healing, working and going to school has been a challenge.”

The race was both one of her biggest accomplishments and biggest obstacles. “I placed second in my age group, but I tore the cartilage around my femur.”  

Advice for other professional people: “Never stop learning. Always keep yourself open and keep your ego down. There’s always going to be someone who’s better than you and there’s always going to be someone who knows more than you, but the best thing you can do is learn from it.”

Person who most influenced her life: “I don’t really have one person who’s been the biggest influence; I have a lot of people. The biggest influences on me have been my teachers and professors,” she says. “I don’t like to elevate one person to that degree of influence. The fact that I have had so many amazing teachers and professors has led me down the path I’m on.”


Guiding philosophy: “Local is the guiding philosophy of my business, but as a person and artist, it’s really cheesy and general, but my guiding philosophy is making a difference. I’ve lost many family members and friends through my life and that has influenced my philosophy in that you only get a short amount of time and I don’t want to look back and see that I didn’t make some sort of difference. I have a lot of gifts and skills and I want to do the most good with those skills as I can. There are enough people in this world who are doing good for themselves, that might be great for them, but I can’t live my life that way.”

Name: Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky

 Title: Executive director, New Haven Museum

 Organization: This year the New Haven Museum celebrates its sesquicentennial. It was founded as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862 by some of New Haven’s leading citizens who feared the political and social upheaval of the Civil War might undermine the preservation of New Haven’s rich history since the founding of the New Haven Colony in 1638. Today the New Haven Museum continues this tradition of preservation with a collection that includes folk, decorative and fine arts, an extensive photographic archive and a comprehensive manuscript collection.

 Born: Flushing, N.Y.

 Education: BS, communication arts, Cornell University (1986); MS, natural science/historic preservation, Columbia University (2006)


Professional accomplishments: Tockarshewsky spent a dozen years at the Queens (N.Y.) Botanical Garden. She began her career in the field as a museum publicist. Her career trajectory brought her to the New Haven Museum, where she began on February 1 of this year. “The reason I stayed [at the Botanical Garden] for so many years was that I so enjoyed what a diverse audience we had,” says Tockarshewsky. “There were so many opportunities for me to grow professionally there.” Eventually, she decided she was prepared to take on the responsibilities of a museum director, and upon learning about the New Haven job, “I thought this was a good fit,” she says. Tockarshewsky says she was especially impressed with the existing museum staff of six full-time as well as seasonal workers. Over the summer, she has moved to enhance the museum’s visibility at farmers markets and community festivals to get the museum’s name (which was changed from the New Haven Colony Historical Society) more widely recognized.


Most significant obstacle encountered and how you surmounted: When she arrived in New Haven last winter, “The organization was interested in my ability and interest in community organizations with outreach,” says Tockarshewsky, who saw that alliances with other groups in the community was key to expanding the museum’s sphere of influence. One example is the Wooster Square neighborhood, for which the museum has organized a walking tour to take place next spring. Another new (and logical) partner is New Haven Preservation Trust, with whom the museum is collaborating on the Wooster Square project.


In addition, “I would like to see us expand our outreach to schools,” Tockarshewsky says. “I would like to see us do more family programs.” On September 29 the New Haven Museum will take part in “Museum Day Live,” a national event sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution in which participating museums open their doors to anyone presenting a Museum Day ticket for free.


It’s all part and parcel of raising the profile of a museum that despite its rich reservoir of Elm City historical artifacts and memorabilia has languished in the shadow of larger and better known museums such as Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. Last year, for example, Tockarshewsky says the museum attracted some 7,000 visitors.


Of course, the greatest obstacle to most non-profits in the recession’s wake, and not just the New Haven Museum, is “insufficient funding,” says Tockarshewsky. “You always feel you could do more if you had greater resources.” Hence the sense of urgency regarding outreach to more constituencies in the larger New Haven community. She adds that it’s important to resist the temptation to scale back on programming or marketing when times are tight. “You have to work harder to demonstrate value,” she says.


Advice for other professional people: In a word, listen.

“I’ve really made it my mission to meet a new person every day,” Tockarshewsky says. “And I think I’ve been pretty successful. But coming in I emphasized that I would have an open-door policy, and I’ve tried to maintain that. I get welcome inquiries and question and suggestions from people in other organizations about how we might serve the community better.”


Person who most influenced her life: “I was introduced to a career in museums while I was a student at Cornell University, when the public-relations director for the Herbert F. Johnson Museum invited me to be her intern,” Tockarshewsky recalls. “She remains an inspiring mentor and a close friend today. I am also tremendously grateful to my executive director at Queens Botanical Garden for affording me many opportunities for professional growth and development, and encouraging me to pursue my graduate degree.”

Names: Winfield Davis/Christina Ortwein

Titles: Executive director/Business center manager

Organization: Town Green Special Services District, a business improvement district providing services and advocacy for businesses in downtown New Haven

Born: New Haven, March 8, 1980/Bethlehem, Pa., Feb. 14, 1953

Education: BA, History and Psychology, University of Vermont (2002)/Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, Pa.; George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.


Accomplishments: It was not too long ago that New Haven’s Ninth Square neighborhood felt very much on the outskirts of the city center.

Today the area is almost unrecognizable in its atmosphere and vitality — restaurants, shops and other businesses as well as living spaces have flourished in recent years.


The Town Green Special Services District has been providing visitor information, beautification, cleanup and safety services, as well as business advocacy since 1996, and while the heart of downtown steadily revitalized, the Ninth Square seemed slow to catch on. When Executive Director Win Davis started in 2002 as a public space director (he was an intern the year before), there was a 40-percent vacancy rate for downtown storefronts — a plurality of them in the Ninth Square.


While it was mostly restaurants that brought people to the area, it was innovation that set the area apart — shared work spaces like the Grove, the Bourse, and MakeHaven injected the area with young people and experimental business models, as seen in the studio/storefront clothing design of Neville Wisdom.


“It shifted the focus from restaurants and residential to innovation. Now you’ve got a lot of very talented people all of sudden calling the Ninth Square home,” Davis says.


He adds that the addition of the 360 State Street apartment tower and Elm City Market, along with the opening of Gateway Community College’s downtown campus will only spur further growth, traffic issues aside.


“Most downtowns in America would feel very good about having parking and traffic issues; that means people are actually coming downtown,” Davis says. “We’re dealing with growing pains, and that’s a very desirable position to be in.”


Chris Ortwein, who joined the District in November 2011 following an established career working in downtown revitalization in Pennsylvania, heads the Economic Prosperity Initiative, managing business recruitment and retention, and working with everyone from business owners to brokers and public officials.


“I thought this was a place we could really create more awareness that it was a marketplace and a shopping district, and that we find the right type of people that fit,” she says, celebrating the arts, innovation and wellness businesses that have flourished there. “We needed to get more foot traffic down there.”


In April Ortwein launched the On 9 open house event that takes place with a different theme each first Friday of the month on the streets of the Ninth Square, designed to give a taste of the restaurants, stores and other neighborhood destinations.


She also launched the Downtown Business Center website, which collects information, reports, statistics and resources for aspiring business owners looking to locate downtown.


The Ninth Square now has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the city, Davis says. The downtown commercial vacancy rate as a whole is now hovering at 13 percent.

The New York Times even recently featured a brief slideshow showcasing the Ninth Square on its website.


“It was my plan to create awareness of the Ninth Square as a destination,” Ortwein says “People think of Yale, and restaurants, but not the Ninth Square, so the fact that we got an article in the New York Times was really something.”


There’s still plenty to be done. Among the objectives and future goals, Davis says that finding a way to convert downtown one-way streets to allow two-way traffic is a concern, and Ortwein mentions the fate of the former Veterans Memorial Coliseum site which borders the Ninth Square, and how the city’s plans for the property will impact future plans for the neighborhood.


Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: Davis says the largest continuing obstacle deals with the sometimes negative perception of New Haven, especially in suburban communities.

“You read the paper and watch the news, and your perception is colored,” he says. “Right or wrong, people’s perception of New Haven is that it’s a tough place. But when people come downtown their perception changes. They see this vibrant, beautiful city; nine times out of ten [their experience] is more positive than they thought it would be. We’re trying to make sure those people come back.”


Advice for other professional people/Guiding philosophy: “This is something that really has to be in your blood because there are so many challenges that go along with it,” Ortwein says. “If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to last very long.”

Davis’ philosophy is to “Leave things better than the way you found them.” It is one he likens to a quote from Gandhi to “be the change you’d like to see.”

“Being involved in your community is something I’d recommend to everybody,” he says. “It’s part of what every city and town needs. Community is a big part of why our efforts in the Ninth Square are succeeding.”


Person who most influenced their lives: Davis gives a nod to his predecessor Rena Leddy for her example, but more specifically points to his old Boy Scout master, Charlie Whiting.  

“He taught me a great deal about being a man, and I’m grateful to him for all he gave me in terms of leadership, and really everything that scouting gives a guy,” he says.

Ortwein credits the influence and perseverance of one of her downtown revitalization colleagues in Pennsylvania, Diana Kerr, who worked for the commonwealth’s Department of Community & Economic Development.


“She worked there for 25 years, and I owe my career to the fact that she worked through the bureaucracy to keep it going,” she says.


Name: Nora Rizzo

Title: Sustainability Coordinator

Organization: Fusco Corp., a family-owned building and property management company in New Haven

Born: November 25, 1979, Bridgeport

Education: BS in human services, University of Connecticut (2005)

Accomplishments: Nora Rizzo is determined to save the planet — one building at a time. Since becoming Fusco Corp.’s sustainability coordinator in May 2010, she has been instrumental in obtaining Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design [LEED] certification for buildings such as 55 Park Street in New Haven, a LEED Gold-certified clinical laboratory for Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Camp Niantic, a regional training institute that earned LEED Gold certification. She is working on several other LEED building projects, including a federal office building and courthouse in Puerto Rico, the Campus at GreenHill and Burns & McDonnell office in Wallingford and a 260,000-square-foot multi-magnet high school [aerospace, technology and zoology] in Bridgeport powered by solar electric panels and wind turbines.


Rizzo’s passion for environmental preservation began in elementary school. “I was always the kid who was talking about turning off the lights, shutting off the water and recycling things,” she recalls. At Shelton High School, she was a vegan, co-chair of Earth Day and a member of Students Enraged at the Earth’s Destruction [SEED], a group hosting school-sanctioned events focusing on deforestation, animal rights and other topics. Following college she went to work for Land-Tech Consultants Inc., a Westport engineering and site-planning firm, where she was a project manager and earned LEED credentials. In 2011, she became an Everblue Training Institute-Certified Sustainability Manager and earlier this year earned Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification from the Center for Health Design.


“I recently became the first Living Building Challenge Ambassador in the state,” Rizzo says. “It’s similar to LEED but much more intense. You have to have a net-zero energy and net-zero water building. There’s a whole list of banned construction materials.”

In addition handling documentation and tracking for LEED certification, Rizzo has spearheaded initiatives at Fusco such as persuading company officials to install recycling bins at its 555 Long Wharf Drive headquarters and to purchase hybrid vehicles.

This spring she launched a weight-loss challenge contest in which Fusco employees shed 1,400 pounds. “People were working out every day and sharing recipes, she says. “Some lost over 20 percent of their body weight and 90 percent of the people have kept it off.”


Even a new yoga class, which had construction workers “rolling their eyes” when they heard about, has caught on. “Some have tried it and liked it,” Rizzo says.


“Fusco is fantastic at trying new things. It certainly is the perfect spot for me.”


Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: “For me there is no huge obstacle, just these constant roadblocks,” Rizzo says. “There’s this general perception that LEED buildings take a lot more time and cost a lot more money than a traditionally built building. Just getting people over that hurdle and getting them to think differently is my greatest challenge. We’ve never not met a deadline because of LEED. If it’s integrated into the design early in the project, it really does not impact the bottom line.

“I do a kickoff meeting with the subcontractors at the beginning of each project to get them to accept that they need to follow these requirements. I give them my card. I get ten calls a day. It takes up the largest part of my day.”


Advice for other professional people: “People need to recognize the sustainable building industry is going to be the new standard for building in five or ten years,” Rizzo says. “If LEED requirements become standard building code, no one is going to be surprised. The sooner people adopt this approach the easier it’s going to be. I think it’s a daunting task at first to ask people to get LEED-certified, but once they start looking into what the credit requirements actually are and what the standards are, they often come up to me and say, ‘This makes sense.’

“So my advice is to embrace it and learn as much as you can.”

Person who most influenced her:  “My dad,” Rizzo says. “He probably has the polar opposite look on life than I do. If I put something in the recycling bin, he takes it out. The way he looks at the world really influenced me and made me think there must be another way to do things. His perception that the world is going to be here for us no matter what we do to it kind of made me want to become an advocate for protecting our resources and for saving the environment.”


Guiding philosophy: When designing and constructing buildings, Rizzo says, “Everything doesn’t have to be done the way it’s been done for 50 years. I try to look at a situation and think about ways that it could be done differently. I try to come up with different outcomes and strategies and figure out what it will work, for the people involved in the project, for the building, the community and the environment.”


Name: Kathie Pelliccio

Title: Founder/owner/“Seed Queen”

Company: Kathie’s Kitchen, maker of Superseedz Pumpkin Seeds

Born: April 4, 1961, Bedford, N.Y.

Education: Bedford High School, 1978

Accomplishments: Kathie Pelliccio started flavoring and roasting pumpkin seeds as a way to create a healthy snack for herself and her family back in 2003.


But what started in her kitchen with a cast-iron skillet is now a burgeoning national brand with eight sweet and savory flavors. The seeds aren’t immediately recognizable as they’ve been shelled from their white husks.


She began taking some to parties and local arts-and-crafts shows to generate some buzz.


“People started asking where I got them from, and when I tell them they say, ‘Oh you should sell them!’” Pelliccio says. “I think that’s the story for most entrepreneurs.”


The upbeat and welcoming Pelliccio built her brand slowly but surely, using a door-to-door approach to introduce them to local smaller food shops, orchards and wineries. She’s also spent countless hours at conventions and trade shows getting the SuperSeedz name out there.


Her husband Joe Pelliccio, formerly a sales and marketing trainer, eventually jumped on board with SuperSeedz full-time. The two often spend seven days of the week on the road “planting seeds” at various functions and meetings.  


They are regulars at the Big E in West Springfield, Mass., where they noticed sales — at just over $5 per bag — were going strong across demographics.


“Our economy hasn’t been in this kind of shape since the Great Depression, yet we actually see people spending $40 to $60 on pumpkin seeds,” Joe Pelliccio says.


And momentum seems to be on the ascendant. For the past five years, the seeds have been in TJ Maxx and Marshall’s stores, as well as certain Stop & Shops, IGAs, Christmas Tree Shops, to name just a few. Recently local Xpect Discounts and ShopRite stores have been added to the list.


Pelliccio utilized rented kitchens to prepare her seeds in small batches (220 lbs. at a time). She might get an order from TJ Maxx and spend 16 hours to prepare enough for 16,000 six-ounce bags. Her father even hand-labeled each bag before they moved to printed bags last year. She stopped using rented kitchen space a year and a half ago, transferring production and packing to a New York facility.


But otherwise most of their product is still sourced locally – custom spices are mixed in Manchester, shipped to retailers from Bridgeport, and artwork and printed materials sourced from Branford and East Haven companies.


Not bad for a company whose product started in orders of cups at fairs and has gradually grown to boxes, palettes and now 17-ton containers. They estimate they’ll hit $1.5 million in sales this year.


“We’re looking to grow,” Pelliccio says. “I was at capacity doing this by myself. I could have gone along with what I was doing and not grow the company, but our passion is to share this with America.”


Joe estimates they’re at least five years ahead of the curve with their healthy snacks. Factoring the time it takes to get a product onto a grocery store shelf is one thing, but they don’t often see anything similar in the trade circuit.

“The amount of new products we see locally and at the shows we’re doing is really limited,” he says. “There are some popcorns, but nothing like this.”  


Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: Kathie Pelliccio says new obstacles arise almost daily, but the consistent and ongoing challenge she seems to have faced since the beginning is to remind people that pumpkin seeds are a viable healthy snack food.


“People don’t really get pumpkin seeds yet. They just think, ‘Sunflower?’” she says. “We’re trying to introduce people to a healthy snack that’s really versatile. Our goal is to get a seed in every hand. It’s tough because people don’t get pumpkin seeds yet, but they will.”  


Joe points out building brand identity has been crucial to getting more store chains to carry SuperSeedz on their shelves.

“Grocery stores are real-estate holding companies,” Joe adds. “Depending how much money you have and are willing to pay will determine how quickly you get on the shelf, because you have to bump something else off.”


Person who most influenced her life: While Pelliccio says she is inspired by other “little guy” companies like Bear Naked and Stacy’s Snacks (famous for their pita chips), her children are her biggest influence. After all, making healthy food for them is what SuperSeedz were all about in the first place.

“I was a sneaky mom before that was a label,” she says. “I’d make them cookies, but I would always sneak good stuff in there. It was always important for me not to give them processed crap food. They had a homemade meal every night.”


Guiding philosophy/Advice to other professionals: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” she says. “To me, ‘no’ means ‘not yet.’”