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Our Team

Grant Achatz

Co-owner

Chef Grant Achatz is one of the most awarded and recognized chefs in the world. Known for his innovative, emotional, and modernist style of cuisine, he has been named Best Chef in the United States by the James Beard Foundation, honored by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and has given talks and lectures on gastronomy and design at conferences and universities around the world.

Grant began working in restaurants as soon as he could walk. His parents owned a diner in Michigan, and he spent his childhood years working alongside his family.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at age 21, Grant spent a short time at Charlie Trotter’s before finding his mentor in chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. Grant worked for a total of 5 years at the French Laundry, eventually rising to sous chef. During his time in California, he also spent a year working at La Jota vineyards.

A short stage at elBulli in Roses, Spain was exceptionally influential and led Grant to seek out his first executive chef position at Trio in Evanston, IL. It was there that his creativity and desire to innovate flourished. In 2002 and 2003, respectively, Grant was recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the nation’s Best New Chefs and named the Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation.

In 2004, Grant partnered with restaurant neophyte, Nick Kokonas, to build his dream restaurant: Alinea. Together, they sought to redefine fine dining in America, questioning not only culinary concepts but also the guest experience, tableware design, and restaurant bookings.

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Nick Kokonas

Co-owner

Nick Kokonas is the co-owner and co-founder of The Alinea Group. He manages the business development, marketing, and strategy for all current and future operations.

He never expected to be involved in the restaurant industry, despite his Greek last name.

Nick studied Philosophy at Colgate University and nearly attended law school at the urging of his professors. His interests remained, however, in business and entrepreneurship.

Nick spent over a decade as a proprietary trader in equities and currencies, and made markets in futures contracts, forwards, and ETF’s. In 1999, his firm – Third Moment Trading – merged with a New York firm and the enterprise grew to over 70 employees on exchanges from San Francisco to New York. He left the firm in 2002, having achieved his initial goals and seeking to diversify his experience and interests in business.

In 2002, Nick and his wife dined at Trio for the first time, where Nick met chef Achatz. They had a brief conversation after an astounding meal which led to a quick collaboration to build what would become Alinea. In 2011, Nick and chef Achatz opened Next Restaurant, which won a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the US in 2012. The Aviary and The Office helped redefine modern cocktail culture and won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program in the US in 2013. Roister followed in 2016.

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Stephen Bernacki

Chief Financial Officer

Steve studied business administration and art history at The University of Michigan. After graduating in 2006, he moved to Chicago to join Bain & Company as a management consultant. During his third year at Bain, he took advantage of the externship program to work for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City. At USHG, he fell in love with the hospitality business.

Steve emailed Nick Kokonas, co-owner of The Alinea Group. At that time, The Alinea Group was just Alinea and had no need for a business team. But Nick told Steve to keep in touch, and Steve routinely followed up with Nick.

Eventually, Steve wore Nick down. In 2009, he joined The Alinea Group as its first business team member. Steve quickly found that construction management was interesting, and Nick found that Steve’s attention to detail was invaluable.

Since then, Steve has built The Alinea Group’s business team to 16 members. He is now a partner in The Alinea Group and serves as the CFO for both The Alinea Group and Tock.

When Steve is not in the office, you can find him cooking, dining out, or playing sports in leagues around the city.

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Caroline Andrews

Human Resources Manager

Caroline graduated from The University of Michigan and completed culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, Austin. She cooked abroad at Noma (Copenhagen), Joel Robuchon (Paris), Glass (Rome), and Le Case (Macerata). Her front of house management experience includes Director of Service at Vellum (Ann Arbor) and Floor Manager at Lula Cafe (Chicago).

Caroline embarks on food, wine, and cocktail adventures with her husband, Luke. She also enjoys reading up on global culinary traditions when away from the office.

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Alex Hayes

Business Development Manager

Before joining The Alinea Group, Alex Hayes worked at Booz & Co. as a management consultant. His favorite projects focused on operations and food and beverage. Alex attended Northwestern University where he received a degree in Economics. When not at work, Alex is usually found riding his bike or cooking. His favorite dish to make is sous vide BBQ brisket.

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Emily Groden

General Counsel

Emily graduated from Yale College in 2009 and began working at Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm in Boston. After three years at the firm, Emily left to attend Harvard Law School. Upon graduating in 2015, she returned home to Chicago and joined Kirkland & Ellis as a corporate associate. While there, Emily began studying for her certification as a sommelier and realized that her love of food and wine was too strong not to pursue! Outside of the office, you can find Emily training for marathons or Ironman triathlons.

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Tanner Nebbia

Business Operations Manager

Tanner received both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Accounting from Loyola University Chicago. After graduating, Tanner received his CPA and spent two years working in the International Tax group at Deloitte before joining The Alinea Group. His favorite hobbies include playing soccer (he played in college) and traveling. Tanner's favorite food is barbecue, especially from Char Bar in Kansas City.

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Anil Thapa

Business Information Manager

Anil received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Illinois State University. After graduation, he completed a six-month internship at The Alinea Group before joining the team full time. When he’s not working, Anil enjoys trying new restaurants and traveling. His favorite meal is lox and an everything bagel, but his favorite dish to make is Spaghetti Carbonara.

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Allen Hemberger

Director of Media and Publishing

Back in 2005, while working as a visual effects artist in New Zealand, Allen met a girl he thought was cute named Sarah. He asked her on a date to an unusual restaurant that had recently opened in Chicago: Alinea. After being flabbergasted by their meal, Sarah bought Allen a cookbook released by the restaurant. Allen was so struck by the book that he decided to try making a dish from it.

He ended up getting hooked, and cooking every recipe in the book. This project took him nearly 6 years. When he was finished, he and Sarah wrote, designed, and self-published a book about the experience. They sent their first copies to Chef Achatz and Nick. The next day, Allen got a call from Nick inviting him and Sarah to come work with the Alinea Group.

Allen spends most of his time at work trying to learn as much as humanly possible from everyone around him, and searching for interesting ways to intersect his skills with those of the rest of the team.

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Sarah Hemberger

Director of Media and Publishing

Before moving to Chicago to join the Alinea Group, Sarah held a myriad of creative positions. She worked as a designer and illustrator for studios in NYC and San Francisco before discovering visual effects and convincing Weta Digital, in New Zealand, to hire her as a texture artist. She and her husband, Allen, lived in New Zealand for five years together, working on films, before moving to the Bay Area, where Sarah took a position at Industrial Light & Magic.

Sarah discovered the Alinea Group through Allen’s cooking project. She always regarded herself as a curious bystander to his hobby, until Nick and Chef Achatz approached her for some design work.

Sarah spends her time outside of the office adventuring with her toddler. Occasionally she gets an hour to herself and rides her bike. She dreams of illustrating a children’s book.

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