John RiversJohn Rivers of 4Rivers and The COOP

John Rivers’ diverse career experience spans two decades and ranges from managing a billion-dollar pharmaceutical distribution operation to opening one of fastest-growing new restaurants in the southeast with his Texas-inspired 4Rivers Smokehouses in Winter Park, Winter Garden and Longwood, Jacksonville, and Gainesville, Florida. His second restaurant concept The COOP will open in Winter Park in March 2014.

Rivers ended a 20-year career in Healthcare as the President of CuraScript Specialty Distribution where he managed a $1.4 billion pharmaceutical operation. Positions leading up this included leading strategic growth and business development efforts with Johnson & Johnson and American Home Products subsidiary, Sherwood Medical each fine-tuning his experience in business modeling, strategic plan development and leadership skills.

Rivers’ experiences parlayed into the business strategies for his new company, 4R Restaurant Group LLC, the parent company of 4R Smokehouse that operates 5 Smokehouse restaurants in Florida and, 4R Signature Products that manufactures and distributes the 4R line of sauces, rubs and smoked brisket throughout the United States. Brand awareness for 4 Rivers began with the launch of the “BBQ Ministry” in 2004 when Rivers hosted a BBQ fundraiser to support a local family facing the increasing medical bills of their young daughter’s battle with cancer. A dedication to supporting local schools, churches and charitable organizations resulted from this one event that has remained at the core of the 4R companies.

Rivers’ concept immediately garnered recognition resulting in the invitation to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City and four consecutive invitations to present at the 2011-2014 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Rivers has released his first cookbook, “The Southern Cowboy” and has appeared on NBC and FOX morning shows as well as The Good Life Network. Among others, Rivers has been celebrated nationally on Food&, and in Cigar Aficionado, Restaurant Business, FOOD Magazine, Cooking Light Magazine the Paula Deen Magazine and was most recently named as a finalist for the 2014 Earnest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Rivers is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Business. He serves on the boards of numerous school and community-based charitable organizations and resides in Winter Park, Fla., with his wife Monica and two children, Jared and Cameron


haripulapakaINTChef Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant 

Hari Pulapaka is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of the highly acclaimed Cress Restaurant in DeLand FL. Hari is also a full-time tenured Associative Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Stetson University. Hari lives a full life driven by two full-time professions.

As a chef, Hari received a classical culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, has trained at Canoe in Toronto and opened Cress in 2008 with his wife Dr. Jenneffer Pulapaka, who is a podiatric surgeon with her own private practice The DeLand Foot and Leg Center. Jenneffer is also co-owner of Cress and is its Wine Director and General Manager. Cress was recently rated the #1 restaurant in the Greater Orlando area by ZAGAT for 2013. Hari is a three-time (2014, 2013, 2011) semifinalist for The James Beard Award for Best Chef South and a two-time (2013, 2012) nominee for Food & Wine Magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef. Hari attended the first official James Beard Foundation Boot Camp in Louisville for Policy and Action as one of only 15 chefs nationwide and now serves on the advisory board of CAN (The Chef Action Network) which is supported by the James Beard Foundation. Hari has cooked at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City on multiple occasions and has been invited to cook there again in June 2014.  Hari is also a 2013 participant on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force. Hari and Jenneffer actively support a wide variety of philanthropic endeavours all across Central Florida and help raise thousands of dollars every year for a variety of food and health related causes. Since the inception and more so now, Hari is passionate about finding ways to improve the regional food system of Central Florida in particular, and the nation, as a whole. Cress Restaurant recently successfully hosted a “Lesser Florida Fish Dinner” and continues to champion sustainability issues in Central Florida including maintaining an active Food Waste Program. Hari is also a Certified Executive Chef of The American Culinary Federation.

As a mathematician, Hari received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from The University of Florida in 1995 under the direction of Professor Andrew Vince, an M.S. in Mathematics under the supervision of Professor James Lawrence at George Mason University, and a B.Sc. in Mathematics from St. Xavier’s College at the University of Mumbai. Hari is has published several papers in graph theory, number theory, and problem solving. After holding academic positions at Valdosta State University and a visiting position at Georgia Tech, Hari has been at Stetson University since 2000.


Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty SpoonkathleenCloseUp

Iowa native, Kathleen Blake, started cooking at an early age in her grandmother’s kitchen where she helped prepare Sunday suppers for her large extended family. Staying true to her path, Blake worked in restaurants during high school, and then moved out West to attend the Community College of San Francisco’s Culinary Apprenticeship Program.

After working in several restaurants, Blake landed at Square One, where her mentor, Joyce Goldstein, taught her the importance of focusing on quality ingredients, prepared simply. Goldstein also mentored Blake on the art of building personal relationships with purveyors. This strong foundation served her well as she worked her way through several smaller restaurants around the country before accepting a position with Drew Nieporent’s, The Steelhead Grill, in Pittsburgh, PA.

In 2001, Blake accepted the position as Sous Chef at Restaurant Nora, in Washington DC, the first certified organic restaurant in the US. She was quickly promoted to Chef de Cuisine. In 2003, Blake was recruited as Chef de Cuisine, opening Melissa Kelly’s Primo in Orlando at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. She began working with local farmers, organizing a cooperative that eventually grew to support many of the restaurants in Orlando.

Together with her husband, William, Blake built and maintained the organic garden at Primo Orlando until 2011. As strong life
and business partners, the couple went out on their own to open Orlando’s favorite restaurant Downtown, The Rusty Spoon. Earning 7 Silver Spoon awards in 2014 after being open only 3 years, The Rusty Spoon was voted the ‘best farm to table,’ hands down, and critics even blame Blake for being famous for that ‘farm to table’ tagline, long before it was cool. The Blake’s focus continues to be locally sourced food, simply prepared, in a comfortable environment. A very beloved chef among the locals, Blake is also a 2013 James Beard Award Nominee, Best Chef South, 2013 Best Chefs America South, and she is recognized by the renowned women’s culinary organization, WCR, as one of the elite among the “Women Who Inspire.”