Chatter 20 Under 40

Chatter 20 Under 40

June 6th, 2016 by Jennifer Bardoner in Chatter

Power to the people

We don't tell many people this, but we're going to let you behind the curtain: We at Chatter are a super PAC. And this year's 20 Under 40 delegates are a doozy. Don't worry, they only have Chattanooga's best interests at heart. Which is why we don't mind introducing you to them. These movers and shakers are getting things done in a big way. You might say they're campaigning for our city, and we all stand to benefit.


Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Randy Steele

"Yes We Banjo!" Flatt/Scruggs 2016

Age: 38

Qualifications: Fire Captain – Chattanooga Engine 5; Co-Owner – Mango's Decor and Co.; Banjo/Guitar/Songwriter – Slim Pickins Bluegrass, TJG and the 423's, and Magic Birds; Husband – Kristy; Father – Anne and Charlie; Owner – Rosie the slobbery Blood Hound; Advocate – Soundcorps and the Folk School of Chattanooga.

Life-changing moment: April 1, 2013. I was part of a team that rescued two children from a structure fire. One child lived and one passed away. The bravery I witnessed that day from some of the Chattanooga Fire Department's finest is an experience that will forever be imprinted on me. Every person on the team understood and executed their roles with perfect efficiency. All the training and experiences we had weathered as a unit over the years came together and we were able to save a life.

Proudest professional moment: Fire-fighting, see above. Musically speaking, I had the opportunity to record a solo album in January at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. It was amazing and humbling to be creative in a space that holds so much American music history. The album is due for release this fall.

Cabinet: Earl Scruggs. He came up with an entirely new style which became the quintessential banjo sound most of us are used to hearing today (and it just so happens to be the style that I play). It must have taken an incredible amount of guts and ingenuity to stick to what he was doing despite it being a shift in the norm. It is true Americana, an instrument influenced by all the early American immigrants and transformed by one young fella in North Carolina. He was a truly amazing person.

Hidden talent: Honestly it is more of an obsession: wooden boat building. Last year, I built a 14-foot McKenzie River Drift Boat from a set of plans from the 1940s, primarily used for fly fishing. It took me about 8 months to finish.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: My wife and children, who are willing to put up with 24-hour shifts, late-night shows and rehearsals, and listening to me play banjo relentlessly around the house. They are the foundation that makes it possible for me to put in the work required to acquire my vision of success.

Jennifer Holder

Holder Closer Tiny Voters

Age: 30

Qualifications: Communications & Special Projects Manager – Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise; Co-Founder/Executive Director – The Chattery; Member – Improv Chattanooga; Staff Writer – Wise Bread.

Secret to success: At the spring Brunch Collective, Ayesha Reynolds (from The Girlfriend Manifesto) talked about keeping your heart and brain in balance. I've now heard it over and over. No matter how you think your life is, you're the only one who can control how you feel about it. Don't let your brain get in the way of your heart.

Life-changing moment: When I lived in New Zealand, I worked for Wellington City Council, which completely changed my world. I worked for the director of Property & Housing and became passionate about basic human rights (specifically shelter) for all, which led me to CNE when I came to Chattanooga.

Little-known fact: Larry David once asked me, "Do you think Ricky [Gervais] would mind if I talked to him for a minute?"

I'm never without: Sarcasm and hair ties.

Childhood aspirations: When I was younger, I wanted to be a Red Food Store bag boy. My first job was at a grocery store. Beyond that, I was desperate to be on Saturday Night Live. We used to improvise our own sketches in high school and tape them. My friend from high school mysteriously "lost" the tape when YouTube came around.

Cabinet: Amy Poehler has it on lock. Not only does she advocate for girls to have fun and be confident, she's also the funniest person in the entire world and probably the best friend I will never have.

Worst job: When I was in college I worked at a Subway over summer break. The owners accused me in front of customers of stealing. When they found the money later, they called me and told me it was my fault because I should have said I didn't steal. I went in the next day, collected my last paycheck and quit. Don't ever let someone else ruin your reputation. Only you can do that.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Josh Jolley

Brick by Brick

Age: 29

Qualifiers: CPA – Henderson, Hutcherson & McCullough; Church Treasurer; Father of 3.

Platform: I will change the way we educate our kids. As mine begin school it's terrifying to think I'm sending them to beat tests and go to job training schools. I want them to learn to be life learners.

Cabinet: My parents and grandparents for the values they taught me. My dad for teaching me to work hard, mom for showing me how to always put others before self.

Hidden talent: I can win the peg board game at Cracker Barrel to no one's amazement but my own.

Childhood aspirations: If you asked me as a 5-year-old I probably would have said to be a train engineer. As an older kid, I wanted to play for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

Little-known fact: My wife has a boutique clothing business which keeps me up late a couple nights a week packaging women's clothing.

Life-changing moment: If one hasn't been outside these 50 States, I would encourage them to do so. Traveling overseas opened my worldview and was both rewarding and sobering.

Secret to success: Make no distinction between work and leisure. Do both with excellence and you'll never have to determine which is which.

Worst job: I've never had a worst job — I've enjoyed them all, from bagging groceries as a teenager to spending my college nights working at Chick-fil-A.

Proudest professional moment: Passing the CPA exam on the first round. It was more than an accomplishment, it gave me the sense I belonged in the profession.

Goals: I want to run every day for a year. I want to teach my kids (and myself) how to fly a kite.

I love Chattanooga because: It's the biggest "little town" one has ever been to. People make a city great, and Chattanooga has the best. They do a pretty good job making food as well.

Running mate: Peanut butter. I could rattle off the reasons why, but I would sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump.

Lucky Ramsey

Vegetables and bike rides for all.

Age: 28

Qualifications: Executive Producer/Co-Owner – Pathfinder Films.

Little-known fact: I make excellent pies and I'm an Army kid. What's more American than that?

Life-changing moment: Earlier this year I got the chance to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with a group of close friends. It took us 5 days to reach the top of the mountain, struggling up through the ever-thinning air. Standing on top of that mountain with the best adventurers a girl could ask for was exhilarating.

Running mate: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Chattanooga itself was the thing that set me on my current path. It's here that I met my husband and business partner Leif, who inspires and encourages me every day. It was also here that while working at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce I got my first taste of what it's like to do work that improves your city. This city and its people have been so good to me; it's a joy to be building a company here and giving back in a new way as a business owner.

Hidden talent: The art of travel hacking. Hotel and airline points have allowed us to have some really cool international experiences.

Secret to success: Leaders are readers. Reading voraciously has taught me just as much, if not more, than I learned in university. I just finished Lee Iacocca's biography and had my mind blown.

Cabinet: Entrepreneurs and leaders who didn't take no for an answer, then wrote a book about it for people like me to read. Authors like Sheryl Sandberg, Ramit Sethi and Ben Horowitz will always be on my bookshelf. I also got to take part in YPAC's leadership program, Protege, this year and was able to hear firsthand from leaders in the community about instances where they followed their gut. I hope they all write books one day soon.

Platform: I'd love to see smoking erased forever. Any time I see a young person with a cigarette, I want to snatch it out of their fingers and replace it with a carrot.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

John Wiygul

Working Hard For You

Age: 26

Qualifications: Partner/General Manager – High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Running mates: My wonderful wife Molly, as well as my running and climbing shoes.

Goals: Opening High Point Climbing and Fitness Birmingham in the fall of 2016.

Worst job: Cleaning my father's horse barn.

Childhood aspirations: Travel and rock climbing.

Life-changing moment: Running my first 50k trail race at 16 years old.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Maturing at a young age and becoming competitive at whatever I'm involved with.

Hidden talent: Triathlete who competed in the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

Secret to success: Work with the best people.

Cabinet: Johnny O'Brien, partner at High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Little-known fact: I played the violin as a child.

Stump songs: Bob Marley & The Wailers' All In One (Cordovan Remix).

I'm never without: A spirit of entrepreneurship.

Platform: I will make cyclists more important on roads.

I love Chattanooga because: The people, businesses and outdoors.

Seija Ojanpera

Truth and Love

Age: 33

Qualifications: Owner/Operator – The Dwell Hotel, Terra Mae Restaurant and Matilda Midnight.

Secret to success: Do the boring, dirty work, always tell the truth, and don't settle for mediocre.

Cabinet: My business partner and best friend, Allan Davis, and my super-supportive parents who taught me to go for it and stand on my own two feet.

Life-changing moment: Siting alone, full of parasites and feverish in India, a light went on: I don't have to travel to the other side of the planet to change the world. It starts at home, it starts with me.

Proudest professional moment: May 2016, the month I opened the doors to the hotel from my dreams.

Childhood aspirations: Aside from wanting to be a general surgeon and saving all the orphans in the world, I have always been infatuated with hotels. I carefully drew and cut out a small, three-floor hotel at the age of 10. It was to be in the middle of a city where people would want to have a glass of wine after work in the lobby.

I'm never without: A pack of smokes and a corkscrew.

Hidden talent: I can make Excel do things that would blow your mind.

Goals: I have BIG dreams for Chattanooga's hospitality industry, but daily I want to be a good employer, a catalyst for growth and change, and live each day to the fullest.

Stump songs: Nancy Sinatra.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: A willingness to start anywhere and for nothing with an intrinsic desire to learn and do my best.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Chris Dortch

Yes, I'll Hold

Age: 34

Qualifications: Founder/Executive Director/Lead Programmer – Chattanooga Film Festival.

Goals: CFF has been called the "Sundance of the South" and — ha, ha — now the "Cannes of Appalachia." These are big, lofty compliments that I'd love to see us living up to. I want this festival and this film community to be among the best anywhere in the world, and through CFF and Cine-Rama, I think we can make a good run at it. This is a movie town.

Running mates: Horror movies. Seriously cathartic.

Cabinet: Iggy Pop, Kurt Vonnegut, Sam Fuller and Wes Craven.

Secret to success: I would say thus far, idealism and authenticity with just a touch of nerdy passion and pure honest-to-God naivety have been our secret weapons.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: A city full of movie fans that weren't afraid to come out and represent when we set out to try something big.

Proudest professional moment: So far, it's either badly losing a MoonPie eating contest to Elijah Wood or getting to introduce Clint Howard and a 35mm print of The Wraith — a movie I rented roughly 46,000 times in my childhood — to an audience of appreciative local cinephiles.

Stump songs: I've been torturing anyone in my proximity with a rotating mix of ELO (the Xanadu soundtrack is fantastic), Slayer and Nas. Last week it was a Bad Brains/Steely Dan thing. Music is an important part of every day at CFF headquarters.

I love Chattanooga because: The open-mindedness and endlessly cool tastes of Chattanooga audiences is something we're thankful for. We've never once had to pull any punches or not play a film because it was too strange or too unique. Our audiences are THE BEST.

I'm never without: Altoids, which I'm pretty obsessed with, and at least one book, graphic novel or screenplay that I've never read before. I don't ever let myself get bored.

Tommy Travers


Age: 36

Qualifications: Owner/Marketing Director/Field Liner/Coffee Maker – Chattanooga Sports Leagues.

Goals: Expand into additional cities, enter the restaurant and bar business and dabble in commercial real estate development.

Cabinet: It sounds cliché, but my parents, for allowing me to make countless mistakes and not pressuring me into a "normal" career path.

Worst job: My worst job, which also probably coincides with my rock-bottom point, was when I had just started working for a catering company and, about that same time, fractured my foot yet couldn't afford medical care because I was without insurance. I recall working catered functions — in a borrowed foot cast — surrounded by successful business professionals and thinking how disappointed I was in myself for not living up to my potential. That was what finally lit the proverbial fire in me and circuitously brought me to this point.

Life-changing moment: I was in the process of pursuing a degree in physical therapy, all while working on a startup business as a side project. After a year and a half of doing both, it became clear that I had a bifurcated path and would have to choose one over the other. Less than a week later, I had dropped out of school, taken the remainder of my student loans and gone all-in on the startup with no Plan B or game plan for making money. My friends called it a blind leap of faith. Looking back, it was probably more accurately called blind stupidity, but nonetheless, I had what I thought was a good idea. And so far, it is working out.

Platform: This is probably the most unsexy thing I've ever said, but I wish more businesses had weekend office hours so I could shrink my Monday to-do list. Of course, the kid in me wants to instantly smack the back of my head for even mentioning such a blasphemous thought.

Secret to success: 1) Approaching every day like someone is trying to take away what I've built. 2) Not stressing over the small stuff. 3) Not taking life or myself too seriously. 4) Having a positive attitude.

Stump songs: I typically relish the quiet, but when I'm in a music mood I like the Empire of the Sun station on Pandora.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Mandy Shearer

Adopt, Don't Shop.

Age: 35

Qualifiers: Dentist/Owner – Soddy Daisy Smiles; Fundraiser/Supporter – Emily's Power for a Cure; Supporter – Chattanooga Oral Cancer Awareness Walk.

Childhood aspirations: As a child, I always wanted to be a veterinarian.

Little-known fact: I have 4 rescue dogs: 2 retired racing Greyhounds and 2 Maltese mixes.

Platform: Every year, tens of thousands of racing Greyhounds are euthanized when their racing career is over. I would like to make everyone aware of what amazing companions these beautiful and gentle animals are so that every dog has the opportunity for a loving home and well-deserved retirement.

Goals: Travel more. My husband and I have a rule: We don't repeat vacations. There is so much in the world to see.

Stump songs: My current go-to song is River by Bishop. I am a fan of alternative rock.

Hidden talent: I am a fairly decent whistler.

Life-changing moment: I am a Chattanooga native, so when I made the move across the country to attend dental school in Southern California, it moved me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to relate to people from different cultures and backgrounds than I was accustomed to.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: I believe that you have to be willing to take a risk and move outside of your comfort zone, otherwise you will never know what could have been.

Cabinet: My grandfather. He was an entrepreneur. He started and ran his own bakery. One of the earliest lessons I learned from him was that hard work was the beginning to success.

Proudest professional moment: Probably the proudest and scariest day was the day I signed the loan papers for my dental practice.

Secret to success: Every person who walks through the front door of my business deserves the absolute best care I can provide, and that starts by listening to their story.

Jasmine Clark

You have the power to create a life you love!

Age: 25

Qualifications: Owner/Brand Strategist – JMC Marketing; Founder/Enthusiast – From Passion to Paycheck.

Secret to success: Get to know who you are, your value-add, your strengths and your weaknesses. But don't worry about improving your professional weaknesses. Outsource those and work on further building your areas of strength.

Cabinet: Oprah, Danielle LaPorte, life-learned lessons from previous mistakes.

Proudest professional moment: I recently finished my first spring university tour for my newest venture, From Passion to Paycheck. I conducted workshops at Cornell University, Columbia University, NYU, UCLA and University of Tennessee - Chattanooga. Super-proud of this mark and looking forward to the opportunities to come!

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Being self-aware, strong faith in my abilities and God, a great like-minded tribe and relationships; good people who saw something in me and went out of their way to encourage me and help me along the way.

Goals: Extending From Passion to Paycheck's services and reach to be able to alter how students, academic institutions and corporations view life after school.

I'm never without: My daily planner and colored Precise V5 pens to write in it. I write my to-do list only in color to avoid feelings of drab; I never use black or red ink.

Childhood aspirations: I wanted to be a pediatrician at first but then realized you had to not be scared at the sight of blood, so those hopes were thrown out.

Hidden talent: Breakdancing. I'm a mean pop-and-locker!

Platform: I will provide more monetary resources to the people and groups providing positive activities for many minority youth in Chattanooga. They often get overlooked when we hear news of violence and crime. I know many amazing youth in underserved neighborhoods who are driven and just need opportunities to flourish.

Stump songs: Beyoncé's Lemonade album.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Mary Howard Ade

Create in Chattanooga.

Age: 30

Qualifiers: Music Marketing Manager – Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Platform: I encourage the community to pay musicians every time they play, and get rid of the notion of free gigs. It's the way they make their living and we should support them because they add so much value to our community.

Stump songs: Prince, of course. I bought the Purple Rain vinyl a few years ago and have been paying tribute to him while I work in my yard. Prince makes for great Saturday afternoon music.

Goals: I'd like to see more musicians move to Chattanooga as an alternate destination to bigger cities like Nashville and Austin. I think our close proximity to Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta and Knoxville works in our favor, and we generally offer a more affordable lifestyle. Plus, it's easier to make a name for yourself here since we're a smaller community and the community is doing a great job at embracing our music scene.

Proudest professional moment: I think I'm most proud of my decision to move from New York back to Chattanooga. Although it was more of a personal decision, it led to a great professional opportunity here.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: I always try to listen to my gut, even when it's inconvenient.

I love Chattanooga because: I like the size of Chattanooga. After living in NY for a while, I was looking for a city that has beauty, accessibility to the outdoors, affordability and an interesting arts and culture scene. Chattanooga has all of those.

Secret to success: Balance and staying present.

Cabinet: I've been lucky to have supportive parents, incredible teachers and hardworking mentors throughout my education and career. In general, I tend to be influenced by people who remain calm under pressure, work smartly and prioritize their non-work life.

Childhood aspirations: When I was a little girl, I thought I was going to be a professional soccer player. Yeah

Hidden talent: I'm a skilled badminton player.

Erik Niel

Just 'cause it's easy doesn't mean it's good.

Age: 38

Qualifications: Chef/Owner – Easy Bistro & Bar; Chef/Owner – Main Street Meats.

Life-changing moment: Opening Easy Bistro on May 16, 2005.

Worst job: I ran a jackhammer — in the middle of summer in Texas. Pretty brutal.

Proudest professional moment: Being named a 2016 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast.

I'm never without: A Laguiole wine tool that Jason Lett from Eyrie Vineyards gave me.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Every person who has ever worked at Easy Bistro and Main Street Meats.

Cabinet: Polly Niel, my grandmother and culinary inspiration; New Orleans, a culinary city like no other; and the South, the greatest melting pot of heritage and cuisine imaginable.

Secret to success: Trust, but verify.

Little-known fact: I chose to be adopted by the man who raised me, Greg Niel, when I was 18 years old.

Childhood aspirations: To go fishing every day, no matter what.

Platform: Work less, but accomplish more.

I love Chattanooga because: It has limitless untapped potential, both in its people and natural resources.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Michael Brooks Jr.

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.

Age: 29

Qualifications: Co-Founder/Chief Product Officer – Spire.

Hidden talent: I can still do the splits, and I can freestyle, though only in the shower or when nobody else is listening.

Goals: I'm always looking at ways to make an impact on other people's lives. Spire is dedicated to helping others live a happier and healthier life. I hope to continue that journey, but looking beyond that, I want to always be in a place where I can give back to others. Along my journey I've had some amazing mentors and friendships, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. My hope is to continue to make a positive impact on the people around me and be an inspiration to others.

Cabinet: My family. My mom and dad taught me to never give up. Ever. They gave me the opportunity to chase my dreams and helped guide me along every step of the way. My grandparents owned a photography business when I was younger, and I got a chance to see what it was like to run your own company and the amount of work that went into it, not just on the surface, but everything behind the scenes. My dream was to work as hard as I could every single day, the way my parents always taught me to, and one day I would have an opportunity to be like my grandpa!

Proudest professional moment: We've had some really cool things happen at Spire, but I think I'm most proud when I hear our team talk about how much they like working at our company. I've always wanted to build a culture that people want to be a part of, something they are proud of. These past couple of years have been amazing and I couldn't be more proud of our team and what we've been able to accomplish.

Secret to success: Hire great people and trust them to do great things. My favorite part about my job is getting a chance to work with such talented individuals.

Jamie Ann Phillips


Age: 30

Qualifications: Operations Director – Papercut Interactive; Board Member – Velo Vixens; Swimmer – COWS; Mentee – Protégé Chattanooga; Contender (and finisher!) – Ironman Florida.

Life-changing moment: I'd have to say that moving to Chattanooga was one of my biggest life-changing moments. This town has taught me how to be myself, explore the things I want in life and to not be afraid of what others think.

Childhood aspirations: As a kid, I really thought being an astronaut would be the coolest job, so I wanted to be that. And an Olympic swimmer, of course.

Secret to success: Daily habits. Lately, I've really been thinking about daily habits and how they affect our lives. What you do every day ultimately leads to your success. Whether it's 5 minutes of quiet time or making your bed every morning, these things add up to who you are every day. For me, going to bed at a decent time, getting exercise every day and maintaining a clean home are important to my days.

Platform: Humidity is such a pain.

Cabinet: My friends and family. You are who you surround yourself with, right? I'm lucky to be surrounded by pretty awesome folks and friends that I've had since childhood. I don't know who I'd be without those from my hometown. My friends in Chattanooga are pretty great, too.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: One of my friends has this quote she lives by: "Keep moving forward, and embrace the journey." Sometimes when I'm doing something I don't want to do, I just remember to keep moving forward. It helps me get through tough days and times. Also, being kind is something I'm learning to really strive for consistently. Being kind to others even when they don't deserve it can really help someone else's day, and maybe even your own. It'll all come back around.

Worst job: I worked at a sub sandwich shop once. I think I quit after a month when they wouldn't let me off work for my high school graduation.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Sarah Quattrochi

America: A place to celebrate everyone's potential.

Age: 37

Qualifications: Associate Director – Tennessee River Gorge Trust; Co-Youth Director (with my husband) – First Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Board Member – CSLA Fund; Wife – Sam; Mom – Zeke (10), Della (6) and Ruby (4).

I'm never without: Joy and gratitude.

Running mates: My community of faith at First Cumberland Pres. These people help provide a place where my family can come — as we are — and do life together. The good, the gritty, the mistakes, the sad, the hard and the joyful; it's all a part of life, and it's nice to have friends to share in that. The grace of my faith informs my decisions and choices in life.

Secret to success: Build trust, maintain integrity and communicate well. In the nonprofit world, accomplishing any mission requires a willingness to break down territorial silos, whether driven by mission, competition for dollars or desire for notoriety. When people can put these things aside and come together with a sincere desire to solve problems, good things happen for our community.

Life-changing moment: The day I realized my husband has no idea what I am thinking. Like, really NO idea. Zeke was 4 and Della was an infant. It was a tiring time. I got upset about something — he had no clue — and I had an epiphany. After years of marriage, I FINALLY got it: Sam cannot read Sarah's mind. Sarah must express her opinions out loud in order for Sam to understand Sarah's point of view.

This was actually a turning point in the way I communicate professionally as well. I realized that I am my own best advocate. No one else can represent what I bring to the table as an employee, volunteer or mentor. That lesson is one of the best I have learned in my adult life. When my kids are upset, I'm always saying, "Use your words." It's amazing how much easier life can be when we learn how to do this seemingly simple thing.

Little-known fact: I hate vegetables, especially green ones. If you ever attend a luncheon with me, you can totally have my salad. I'm working to improve, though. I can now tolerate green beans and asparagus. We have a small garden. Maybe if I grow lettuce I will learn to appreciate it more.

Hidden talent: According to my 6-year-old, I make excellent banana bread muffins. She is learning to bake, too, which makes our kitchen so much more fun, and a lot more messy.

Adam Kinsey

Putting Chattanooga on the Right Track

Age: 36

Qualifiers: President – Chattanooga Choo Choo; Co-Founder/Partner – Track 29 and Revelry Room; Partner – Kinsey Probasco Hays.

Cabinet: My father Jon Kinsey and Ken Hays, Ben Probasco and Tim Hennen.

Proudest professional moment: Seeing the crowd at the first sold-out show at Track 29.

Goals: To make the Chattanooga Choo Choo an iconic Southern destination and an exciting community asset, continue to bring great music to the city, and to finally renovate our house.

Stump songs: I listen to a lot of different things to see what is new, but my go-to right now is Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist, My Morning Jacket, Alt-J and Phish.

Childhood aspirations: I think every kid wanted to be Michael Jordon when they grew up. Unfortunately, I was the shortest kid through most of school.

Life-changing moment: Meeting my wife Monica.

Hidden talent: My wife says I make the best steak in Chattanooga.

Little-known fact: I'm really good at video games.

Secret to success: Take an honest listen to criticism, hire great people to do a great job, and it's also OK to make a mistake, but it is more important to bring a solution to the table than just a problem.

Platform: I'd like for everyone to be able to walk the streets, sleep in their own bed and make a living without worrying about their and their family's safety.

I love Chattanooga because: Chattanooga is a special place where working together works, private-public partnerships benefit the community and there are great people and foundations moving the city forward.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Perseverance, patience and listening.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Shawanda Mason-Moore

Cocktails first. Questions later.

Age: 33

Qualifiers: Freelance Digital Marketing Strategist/Blogger – Eat.Drink.Frolic; Co-Founder/Board Chair – The Chattery; Creator – The Brunch Collective; Contributor –; Community Advisory Board Member – WTCI; Wife – John.

Life-changing moment: This may sound cliché but it was definitely when I got married. A lot of people told me marriage wouldn't really change anything about our relationship, but it does. Immediately after we said "I do," I instantly felt more in love than I ever had. It was truly a life-changing moment.

Cabinet: My dad and Chrissy Teigen. That's weird, right? My dad taught me what it really means to be humble and how to ask for help when needed. And though I've never met Chrissy Teigen, I love how unapologetic she is about herself as a woman. She's written an awesome cookbook, which I hope to do soon, and she's also married to someone named John, like me!

Childhood aspirations: I wanted to be an attorney and a dance choreographer. Not sure how that was going to work out.

Hidden talent: I know all the ballet moves! I was a ballerina from ages 4-20.

I'm never without: Lipstick and resolve.

Platform: Real equality instead of conditional equality.

Secret to success: Always listen to your intuition. That's where all your answers reside.

Proudest professional moment: Launching The Chattery with Jennifer Holder in 2014 after months of planning, and landing a PR gig with Big Boi's (Outkast) record label when I lived in Atlanta.

Worst job: When I was 19 I worked at Nine West for a little less than 3 weeks. I could never find the shoes quick enough for customers and I wasn't good at the register either. I only applied to get discounts on shoes.

I love Chattanooga because: The promise of the growth. In the three years I've lived here, I've seen tremendous growth in the small-business and startup scenes and it's inspiring to see people live out their dreams. Chattanooga has a long way to go, but the people of this city who I've been lucky enough to come in contact with make the journey worthwhile.

Brad Emendorfer

Let's fix the problems, not the blame.

Age: 37

Qualifiers: Owner/Operator – TOC LLC and TOC2 LLC (Taziki's Mediterranean Café).

Goals: To continue to grow Taziki's in the community and then diversify by introducing other great concepts to Chattanooga. Ultimately it is to establish a hospitality group known for having many great options to choose from in this market. We prefer to grow within the community as opposed to stretching too far geographically.

Proudest professional moment: When two of our team members were recognized on the cover of the Chamber magazine for leadership because a guest mistakenly left an extra 20$ bill that was stuck under another bill as a tip. These ladies chased him down across the street to let him know that it appeared he mistakenly did this. He came back to me the following day to present a letter to me explaining how impressed he was with the honesty they had shown. Knowing that our team is made up of individuals like this, and then being recognized for it, was a special moment.

Childhood aspirations: To be a professional athlete and then an anchor on SportsCenter.

Life-changing moment: Every stage in life brings a life-changing moment. Choosing to sign a tennis scholarship with Clemson instead of UT was my first life-changing moment, which led to many great relationships with mentors, friends and, most importantly, my wife Kristi. Then of course, having our children — John (11), George (8) and Mae (6) — is by far the biggest life-changing moment, and the most fulfilling moment I can imagine ever going through.

Cabinet: My grandfather, Bill Emendorfer, has always been my idol. He was a straightforward, hardworking, honest man who treated everyone he interacted with fair. By fair, I mean he was always honest. Sometimes honest feedback isn't what we want to hear, but what we need to hear to better ourselves. My parents have also played a major part in instilling values that keep life in perspective. Keeping your priorities in line is a key to being successful. My college tennis coach has played a major part in my life by teaching us that giving up is never an option. He was instrumental in growing me as a leader, and still is a mentor today.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Peterson Hostetler

Excuses are for losers.

Age: 32

Qualifications: Financial Advisor – Morgan Stanley; Treasurer – Leadership Chattanooga Alumni Association; Board Member – Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga; Past President – Southside Council Chattanooga Chamber; Partner – Tennessee Floating Dock Systems.

Life-changing moment: Choosing to leave home and enroll at McCallie as a boarding student. I met some of my best friends and found a community that reinforced an ethical and moral structure that will stay with me forever.

Little-known fact: Most kids ask for a car for graduation. I took 90 days and sailed from St. Maarten to Trinidad when I was 18.

Hidden talent: Sailing. I used to race competitively and was a U.S. Sailing Level 3-certified instructor.

I'm never without: Pocket knife, phone and business cards.

Proudest professional moment: After three intense years at the firm of licensing and training trying to build my business, I remember opening the door to the hotel room on my honeymoon to find a bottle of Champagne with a note that read, "Drink a toast to our shared future successes." The note was from my now-partner, Scott Mattice, who has been in the business over 37 years.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Being able to connect with people in a genuine way and to stay positive despite setbacks. If you can be an effective communicator and stay optimistic, you can get anything done.

Worst job: I worked for a company that sustainably cleaned commercial HVAC units. You would not believe how gross the air systems are in hotels and hospitals in Florida.

I love Chattanooga because: We can really have it all living here: the lake, the mountains, great local food and music. But the community is what makes this city great: the mixture of old Southern ideals and a younger counterculture.

Secret to success: 1) Always treat people better than they deserve. 2) If you help enough people get what they want, you will always get what you want.

Brittany Alcala

Yes She Can! Yes, she can love. Yes, she can have children. Yes, she can be an entrepreneur. Yes, she can be a model citizen. Does it require sacrifice? Yes! But she can because God can!

Age: 33

Qualifications: Co-owner (with my husband) – RocBeach Hospitality (Foxhole Bar, Miami; Embargo '62, and MadLove, Chattanooga; Ceniza, Ooltewah); Conductor – Alcala Family Household.

Cabinet: My husband, my parents, Linda Cannon, and of course, Beyonce!

Life-changing moment: Hands-down, the day I met my husband at the Chattanooga Airport. We both were flying to Miami and had the same flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta and Atlanta to Miami. He spoke to me in Miami and we have been together 7 years strong!

Little-known fact: I have 5 children and a granddaughter on the way.

I wouldn't be where I am today without: Love. So many people who love me have shaped me throughout my journey. Hard work and dedication were taught early on through the love of my parents and grandparents. Being the executive assistant to Linda Cannon for 4 years taught me how to manage and operate a successful multi-million dollar business while still being a dedicated wife and loving mother. And all of my recent success is attributed to my husband. Our love, drive and commitment to one another keep me grounded and ready for new challenges.

Proudest professional moment: Owning my own business. Growing up, I used to tell my parents that I wanted to own my own company, and to see it come to fruition is such a blessing.

Secret to success: Placing God first to lead the way and working hard for everyone and every opportunity he brings me.

Goals: Lead by example, work hard for all that is put before us, and love while doing it. We want to continue to bring new and exciting gastronomical experiences to the Chattanooga area.

I'm never without: I carry my flip-flops everywhere I go!

I love Chattanooga because: The people. Growing up in East Tennessee, I didn't think I would be back after high school. After traveling for several years, living in many metropolitan cities, I am SO happy and blessed that we can raise our children, grow our vision and invest in Chattanooga.