Jessica Kittrell is the winner of the small for-profit award.

Jess Kittrell, Co-Owner, 101 Beer Kitchen

About: Community-focused gastropub featuring rustic food and craft beer

In Position: Since 2012

Previous: Abercrombie & Fitch senior financial analyst, US Bank portfolio manager, Woodforest National Bank credit analyst 

When Jessica Kittrell and her husband, Thad, discovered home brewing, it led to more than good beer. The practice and the product gave the couple a theme for the restaurant they long hoped to open. “Our concept came into very clear focus,” she says.

They decided to build their restaurant around craft beer and initially intended to include a brewery, says Kittrell, who was working in finance for Abercrombie & Fitch when they opened their first 101 Beer Kitchen in Dublin in 2012. Although Kittrell’s professional career focused on banking and budgeting, she developed a love of restaurant work during college. She held several positions at the restaurant where she met Thad, a chef.

Today, the Kittrells own three 101 Beer Kitchen locations in central Ohio and are actively looking to open stores in Indianapolis. She oversees the office and nonoperational side of the business, while Thad heads the culinary side. Kittrell says she enjoys the challenge of juggling so many tasks. “I love a project,” she says. “I love diving in head first. I had no idea what it would be like wearing so many hats.”

Thanks to her years in the business world, she feels comfortable managing staff members tasked with handling much of the day-to-day operations while she focuses on marketing, branding and strategic planning. Her understanding of operations means she can delegate to her team and know if things are running smoothly.

As the business has grown and the work increased, Kittrell focused on researching and learning what needed to be done to operate a successful restaurant chain. (Thad’s experience working for the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group has been instrumental to the pair’s success.) She also is willing to hand job duties off to someone else so she can move onto the next thing. She says educating herself about different aspects of the business helps her hire the right employees and successfully manage them.

“I’m willing to dive in and learn until I know I need to find somebody who’s better than me,” she says. “By then, I understand what I need, how I want it done and who I need to do it.”

One of her first key hires was Evin Harpur to serve as controller. Kittrell worked with him at Abercrombie and believed he was an ideal fit for her new business. Harpur accepted the position with little hesitation. “I fully believed in Thad and Jess,” he says. “It was a great decision. They are a fantastic team. You have to talk about them as team because it’s a shared vision.”

He admires Jess for her work ethic and creativity. “The thing that stands out to me is she’s a doer,” he says. “She’s always learning new things. She’s also always willing to hear you out.” The Kittrells treat their employees and their customers like family and that comes across in their restaurants, Harpur says.

Employee success is an important part of the business, Kittrell says. In fact, it’s one of the reasons they opened a second restaurant and continue to expand. “Our employees were asking us, ‘What’s next?’ ” she recalls. And as she and Thad were working alongside people who desired to take on more responsibility, the couple wanted to provide them opportunity. “We have great people who see our vision and understand what we’re trying to do,” she says.

Though the parents of four children vow to grow the business, they caution that it will be a slow and strategic process. As they are preparing to open restaurants in Indianapolis, they added a training manager and purchased software to help streamline recipes.

“We’re trying to build something here,” she says. “We invested in infrastructure. We understand that sometimes you have to take a step back in order take two steps forward.”

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Finalists

Troy Allen, Founder and Chief Entertainment Officer, Rise Brands

A brand, design and strategy expert, Troy Allen created Rise Brands in 2013. The focus of the organization is on creating new brands and bringing them to market.

Since its launch, Rise Brands has successfully launched 16-Bit Bar + Arcade, Pins Mechanical Co. and No Soliciting, all in the Columbus area.

Before starting Rise, Allen led transformative creative campaigns at marketing and communications agency Fahlgren Mortine across a variety of industries and companies including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Pier Foods, Oil of Olay and Pringles.

And Rise Brands is not Allen’s first foray into entrepreneurship. In 2009, he founded ELEVATE Thinking—a brand strategy firm focused on creating deeper consumer engagement for its clients. ELEVATE ultimately evolved to become Rise Brands. The company has since been placed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies. Allen lives in Dublin, where he serves on the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. He attended both the Columbus College of Art & Design and Kent State University.

Greg Ubert, Founder & President, Crimson Cup

Greg Ubert has been in the coffee business for a long time. In 1991, a love of both the drink and entrepreneurship led him to start Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea in Columbus. Crimson Cup has grown to employ more than 60 individuals, distributes coffee in 37 states, Guam and Bangladesh through coffee shops, restaurants, food service operations, college campuses and specialty grocers, and roasts 500,000 pounds of coffee each year. There are also Crimson Cup Coffee Houses in Clintonville, Upper Arlington and Tallmadge, Ohio, and a coffee bar in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Each year, Ubert and his employees travel over 45,000 miles to both source coffee and to build relationships with growers. In 2016, Crimson Cup was named Roast magazine’s Macro Roaster of the Year. Ubert’s book, Seven Steps to Success: A Common Sense Guide to Succeed in Specialty Coffee, and a program by the same name have helped others launch successful independent coffee shops. Ubert is on the board of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. He graduated from Harvard University.

Darci Congrove, Managing Director, GBQ

Darci Congrove has been with GBQ’s Columbus office since 1998—but not always as its managing director. Five years after beginning with the accounting firm, she was made partner, and then in 2010 elected to her current position.

Beyond leading GBQ, Congrove is an active member of the Columbus community. She serves on the Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority board as chair; she is also a board member for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and a past board chair for the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.

In 2003, Congrove graduated from the Leadership Columbus program. Congrove also was chosen as one of the 12 outstanding leaders by the Women for Economic and Leadership Development in 2010 and received the 2010 United Way of Central Ohio’s Robert S. Crane Jr. Young Philanthropist Award. In 2015, she was awarded the Frank Fetch Award from the German Village Society. This award, considered its highest honor, recognizes the service and contributions of someone who exemplifies the dedication and commitment demonstrated by German Village pioneer Frank Fetch.