The Hot 20: Meet the 2017 Cast of Perennial Bay Area Innovators
From left: Kimberly Ellis; Katina and Kyle Connaughton; and Andress Guerrero. (Photography by Sothear Noun)

The Hot 20: Meet the 2017 Cast of Perennial Bay Area Innovators


For more than a decade, 7x7's annual Hot 20 has honored the Bay Area's best and brightest people in every field—arts and letters, gastronomy, technology, politics, science, philanthropy, sports, goes on.

Our 2017 feature benefits from a bit of refresh thanks to our co-curator Gina Pell, the content chief at TheWhat whose recently coined term Perennials has been making a global splash. This year's Perennials edition promises you'll meet intriguing new people, and celebrates innovators of literally all ages. Get to know an extraordinary 15-year-old artist-activist, and get reacquainted with a legendary chef who, at 74 years young, just opened his second restaurant. But first, find out what it means to be a Perennial. Take it away, Gina.


In October 2016, I published an article, "Meet The Perennials", introducing a term I had coined to describe a mindset of ever-blooming, curious people of all ages who have an insatiable thirst for learning, defy stereotype, constantly push up against their growing edge, and never let their age limit their behavior, interests, or social groups. Perennials don't define themselves by their year of birth, they focus on what interests and excites them. We live in a time that allows us to transcend linear thinking in the same way hyperlinks broke us out of a prescribed narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. We're capable of more than simply following the social script from birth to death, punctuated by milestones of school, work, marriage, children, and retirement. Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers: These classifications are a failed way to categorize people. Perennials march to the beat of their own drum and find connections between themselves and the world around them, based on interest not age.

When Chloe Hennen, 7x7s editor-in-chief, asked me to help curate the Hot 20: Perennials Edition, I thought of Bay Area people who exemplified this spirit of creativity, independence, compassion, intelligence, and innovation. The result is a list of people of all ages—some you may already know, others who may be under the radar—who will pique your curiosity no matter how old you are. —Gina Pell

The Lens Crafter: Tabitha Soren

(Photo courtesy of Lou Noble)

If you remember when MTV still aired music videos (aka the '90s), then you'll remember Tabitha Soren, the on-air reporter beloved for her on-point interviews with such famous folks as Hillary Clinton and Tupac.

But don't put Baby in a corner. Soren long ago established herself as a masterful fine art photographer, a second career that, in some ways, isn't so different from her first: The Berkeley-based pop culture icon still aims to expose the nuances of her subjects, be they ocean waves or minor league baseball players (she published a book on the latter in 2002), by seeking out their imperfections.

Her recent monograph, Fantasy Life, published by Aperture with a short story by Dave Eggers, delves more deeply into America's favorite pastime; a show of the same title, on view at San Francisco City Hall through February 2018, features nearly 200 photographs of the San Francisco Giants.

Her work also resides in the collections of Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and other prestigious acronyms. Look for her upcoming series As Far As You Know, a three-dimensional take on photography that promises yet another delightful departure. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm curious about how everyone navigates the difficult twists and turns of everyday living. The act of photographing is a response to how I attempt to consciously manage the uncontrollable possibilities that exist in life. When I'm shooting, I'm not just accepting of imperfection—I'm looking for it. Everything that moves or captivates me can be found in the place where things go wrong or fall short. I just spent 15 years photographing 21 baseball players who were drafted by the MLB. Five out of the 21 made it to the majors. That means 19 of them fell short."

What challenges you?

"I think how people are feeling really took over the election. Feelings decided who people voted for. It wasn't about which candidate had better policies. My art is isn't protest art, but it is about feeling and analyzing and visualizing psychological states. I'd like to create solidarity with the work—not make statements about right or wrong behavior. We are all just trying to stay afloat and our negative emotions—anxiety, dread, fear, doubt, depression, anger, loneliness—are not individual experiences…even if we're not in the same political party."

What inspires you?

"Other female artists inspire me. Way back in 1985, the Guggenheim had zero solo shows by women artists. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had zero. The Whitney? Also zero. SFMOMA? Also zero. The Museum of Modern Art (in New York) had two. In 2015, the Guggenheim had one solo show by a woman artist. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had one. In 2015, 30 long years later, the Whitney also had one. The Museum of Modern Art (in New York) had two. SFMOMA didn't have any that year, either. They did give solo shows to Julia Margaret Cameron, Eve Hesse, Lee Miller, Diane Arbus (twice), Francesca Woodman, Cindy Sherman and Frida Kahlo, but over the period of 19 years. You get the idea. So, yes, I take a huge amount of inspiration from female artists who solider on despite being creative, often juggling children and working in an art world that on balance, doesn't give them the recognition they deserve. And yes, I can't believe we're still talking about this either."

The Cultivators: Katina and Kyle Connaughton

(Roman Cho)

There are themes that Northern California gourmands know all too well—seasonal, farm-to-table, precious multi-hundred-dollar tasting menus abound here in the most golden part of the state—so when a new fine restaurant/farm/inn opened in Wine Country touting all the usual, it should have been easy for most of us to simply shrug our shoulders and make a mental note to eat there, someday, maybe.

But "writing off SingleThread would be a mistake" as The New York Times said this summer; and of course, that's not what happened anyway. Katina and Kyle Connaughton's high-minded undertaking turns out to be uniquely lovely—not just the biggest thing to happen in Healdsburg lately, but actually the most important restaurant to open in any NorCal zip code in the past year, bar none—Vogue called it the most anticipated new restaurant in America (emphasis ours). Still in it's first year, the restaurant has already earned two shiny Michelin stars.

Each of SingleThread's many components are mesmerizingly complex: Under Katina's care, the five-acre sustainable Russian River Valley farm raises everything from cattle to heritage Japanese produce; the dining room—outfitted with creamy banquettes, walnut-and-brushed-metal tables, modern lanterns and minimalist flowering branches—is both perfectly inviting and worthy of the $293 meal ticket; the exquisite 11 courses of impossibly fresh Japanese-inflected Wine Country fare from Kyle's fully exposed kitchen is served in handcrafted donabe pottery; and a handful of modern, meditative guest rooms secure the promise of a completely lavish night out. But there is just one common thread that brings all this together: the Connaughtons' devotion to omotenashi (the next-level Japanese concept of selfless hospitality), and to each other, is apparent in every bite and moment. //

What are you curious about?

Kyle: "I'm always curious about the underlying science of cooking and better understanding it to cook better food, but my primary curiosities now revolve more around things that we can do or not do to affect the experience of the guest and make it more enjoyable. How do things such as light, sound, floral, interactions with our team all impact their enjoyment?"

Katina: "I'm curious about everything, however nature is always at the height of it. I'm intrigued with melding ancient and contemporary farming techniques and applying them to see how they differ from crop to crop throughout the seasons. I'm curious about growing rare Japanese varietals here in our California climate. I'm curious about the form and function of natural materials and how to best translate their beauty from the natural world into our dining room and guest rooms."

Describe the moment you found your calling.

Kyle: "Oh wow, that is easy and vivid! After a trip to Japan, my Dad took me for sushi when I was nine years old. I sat in front of the chef and watched everything he did and loved everything he made. We tried piece after piece. That was it. I told my Dad right then that, whatever it was he was doing, that was what I wanted to do. Thirty-two years later, I still feel the exact same way."

Katina: "I don't think for me there was one specific moment where I felt I had found my calling. My calling surfaced slowly in waves throughout the years of traveling, aging, and discovery."

Who are your heroes?

Kyle: "So many. A great mentor, Kyoto Kaiseki. Chef Yoshihiro Murata. My other two chefs and mentors Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal. There are too many...this article couldn't be long enough to fit them all in."

Katina: "My heroes are those around me who live and work with integrity, follow their heart, and continue to strive to make a difference in the world. I'm so fortunate to have built my life around my heroes."

The greatest joy in life is _____.

Kyle: "Working side by side with my wife and our daughters. Watching my wife's hard work translate as vegetables that come into our kitchen and floral in our restaurant. Anything that is delivered from my wife's farm to our kitchen fills me with the same happiness."

Katina: "I'm going to have to echo Kyle's sentiment here. Nothing brings me more joy than to share my days and nights with Kyle and our girls. Kyle's creativity and innate sensibilities inspire me to no end."

Your last meal would be...

Kyle: "A meal with my wife and daughters gathered around a simmering donabe hot pot."

Katina: "If Kyle's preparing it and our daughters are present, I'd die a happy woman."

The Curator: Andres Guerrero

(Sothear Nuon)

Andres Guerrero's Bayview gallery benefits from a dramatic entrance: Once you've wandered through the lush and leafy maze of giant palms, fountains and exotic garden architecture at the adjacent Living Green Design, you might actually forget where you're going.

But then, when you round the corner into the manifestation of stark contrast, Guerrero's white walls hung with the vibrant, diverse works of both local and international artists feels like a discovery—even if you've been here before. The man himself is an equally pleasant surprise, with all the humility and curiosity of one new to the game and the insights of an expert with more than a decade at his trade. Now through December 9th, cut through the jungle to discover Umar Rashid's The Free Radicals and Tosha Stimage's These Are Not Isolated Events. //

What are you curious about?
"As the director of a physical art gallery in these shifting digital times, I guess I'm always curious about how a contemporary art gallery functions in contemporary San Francisco. How can the gallery function as an inclusive community-rooted space, how do materially based forms of art-making (painting and sculpture) speak to and impact our increasingly virtual lives, and how can Guerrero Gallery work to better enrich the lives and culture of the Bay Area as a whole?"

Describe a moment when you felt you had failed.
"I feel that failure is a daily routine, whether it's an interaction, a string of words that don't resonate, or a missed connection with another human. It's the daily notion of failure and personal learning and growth that excites me."

What inspires you?
"I'm excited by artists, and find my relationships with wide networks of artists and creative people to be what sustains me both literally and figuratively. I'm inspired by artist's critical perspectives, untraditional approaches to not only making but a variety of life's problems, and the unwavering confidence in oneself and creative vision that tends to follow these individuals."

The Flasher: Brittany Newell

(Marissa Leitman)

Brittany Newell is cooler than us—and if you ran into the 21-year-old first-time author and drag queen wearing "fuck-me pumps and a toddler's T-shirt" outside Aunt Charlie's Lounge, you would think she knows it, too.

But the often topless and spangled party monster also known as Britney Smearz is also a Stanford gradwith an incisive pen that seems mostly pointed at exposing her own awkwardness (and other deep shit) in the dark-meets-quirky literary tradition of Mary Gaitskill and Flannery O'Connor.

Admittedly shy, she fears touching, and the honest answers to her own life's FAQs often escape her when questioned off guard: Are you a real girl? "I'm your worst nightmare, DAH-LING!" Highly self-aware of her controversial fauxness in the drag world, she's demure in the face of "more dignified" divas who've slayed it before her. And she's "bad" at being a girl, which is of course her allure—she has all the straight talk, long legs, scary/sultry makeup, grit and glamour that make her either a hot mess or one bad bitch.

Don't miss her debut novel, Oola, "a story about sex, privilege, desire, and creativity in the post-college years." Nylon called it the "Millennial Lolita." //

What are you curious about?

"I am curious about what people do when alone in their rooms. This space of solitude, perversion, rest, and/or experimentation is off-limits to all but a select few. Never forget what a privilege it is to be invited into someone's room."

What's your superpower?
"I think I'm pretty good at picking one to three words to very accurately describe a person or situation. So maybe my superpower is pithiness? I'm also good at Victorian role-playing, making playlists, and never doing laundry."

What inspires you?

"As a writer, I am constantly inspired and obsessed by the notion of absorption, i.e. how to absorb someone in a world/space/experience that feels totally surround-sound and realer-than-real. I am always chasing after the total-body experience and thus have major musician envy. Nothing sweeps you up quite as comprehensively as a song (like "Under the Bridge" by Mazzy Star, which I am currently playing on manic repeat). A gorgeous drag number can also absorb you in a realer-than-real fantasy. Mary Gaitskill, Laurie Anderson, ANOHNI, and Dario Argento are current inspirations on this front."

The Renaissance Man: Matt Gonzalez

(John Patrick Kenny)

Never judge a book by its cover. Such could be the mantra of Matt Gonzalez, whom you likely recognize as the public defender currently representing Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, the illegal immigrant who allegedly shot Katie Steinle along the Embarcadero in 2015.

But there's more to the Stanford-educated San Francisco Chief Attorney than you know. Yes, if you've been in SF long enough, you may recognize him as the Green Party cohort of Jello Biafra; the former mayoral candidate who gave Gavin Newsom a run for his money; and as Ralph Nader's Vice Presidential running mate. But that's just politics.

Art lovers will know Gonzalez as a fine artist, represented by Dolby Chadwick Gallery, whose found-paper collages seem to try to break the boundaries of linear confines (and sell for upwards of $7,500). In 2017, his work appeared in group shows at Chicago's Connect Gallery and at SF's Gallery Rocking Horse, Museum of Friends, and Dolby Chadwick. //,

What are you curious about?
"I'm curious about creativity and how art trends happen and how certain artists catapult ahead of other equally deserving artists."

Tell us about a time that you failed.
"That time I thought my rock band was going to be as big as the Clash. Or that mayor's race I lost 14 years ago."

What is your idea of happiness?
"The rent paid and some books to read."

The Funny Girl: Sarah Cooper

(Scott R. Kline)

When we first came across the graphic article of comedian and writer Sarah Cooper poking fun at both San Francisco and New York City by drawing out their differences (each of them terribly, laughably dead on), we became instant stalkers of The Cooper Review.

The satirical blog of the NYC to SF transplant is a laughternoon break goldmine for corporate cogs, stocked with original articles, videos and cartoons mostly inspired by the office—we like "9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women" and "How to Get to Know Your Coworkers Without Talking to Them." While we'd like to take credit for having discovered Cooper ourselves, turns out the former Googler was already a thing: Check out her recent book debut, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm curious about people. Why they say what they say, what they really mean, what they're thinking but not saying. I love observing how people interact with each other, and even watching how I interact with people, to see the small observations or connections I can make that give me insight into what people are going through, or who they're trying to impress or what they're hiding. I guess a lot of it is about secrets, but silly secrets like she ate a bite of salad and said "mmm" even though she hated it, or he only said that to impress his boss. I also love observing mannerisms in people and trying to figure out where those mannerisms came from. A lot of what I write about is observational, so my best ideas come from just watching people."

What's not funny?

"Anything that makes fun of the little guy or someone who doesn't deserve to be made fun of. Anything that's trying too hard to be funny, is usually not funny. Anything that's described as funny is often not funny as well."

SF or NYC?

"I moved to SF from New York in 2015 and was surprised at how different the two cities are. I created a series of cartoons comparing the two cities for my blog, and they really took off. Ironically everything I was getting annoyed with about NYC is exactly what I ended up missing about it. For example, NYC is so busy all the time—the always-on nature of the city was starting to get overwhelming. But now that I'm in SF I'm like, where is everybody? Why aren't things open all night? SF is beautiful, but I think I'm an NYC girl at heart."

The Connector: Zem Joaquin

(Sothear Noun)

Gina Pell calls Zem Joaquin "one of the most undercover influential people in the Bay Area." Fair enough.

While longtime planet-loving Bay Areans may know Joaquin for having founded the style-meets-sustainability blog Ecofabulous or as the beaming emerald-clad society host of Global Green's local Gorgeous & Green soiree, it is Joaquin's third, well zillionth act (she's also a founding board member of The Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute and a strategy adviser for husband James Joaquin's high-minded Obvious Ventures) that's really making things shake. Launched in 2016, Joaquin's Near Future Summit is the new TED—a smart and actually fun gathering of "brilliant and concerned ass-kickers tackling serious challenges without taking ourselves too seriously." The idea: to actually get shit done. //

What are you curious about?

"I am an unbelievably curious person, so it is hard for me to narrow this down. That's precisely why I started a conference that allows me to delve into the most compelling solutions to the world's trickiest problems. But I'm probably most curious, as well as excited about, how we will clean up the great garbage patches choking our oceans. I know we will soon find ways to turn this travesty into an asset."

What's your superpower?

"My superpower is creating connections. I'm addicted to facilitating collaborations, from marriages to mega-partnerships or investments."

What inspires you?

"Inventor Dean Kamen constantly inspires me. From creating everyday life-saving essentials (like portable kidney dialysis machines, wearable insulin pumps and heart defibrillators) to water filtration systems, he is tireless. But not too tired to build and show up for First, the world's largest robotic competition. First inspires and mentors kids of all ages to get as excited about engineering as sports, so they can land good paying jobs in fields that actually need them."

The Shiny Happy People: Flavia Cassani & Michael Steinmetz

You know those people who just seem to have a weird light around them? They're interesting and interested, adventurous and chill, whip-smart, creative, well-paired, carefree, and even speak with a cool accent. We hate those people. Well, we would anyway if they weren't so damn likable.

Flavia Cassani and Michael Steinmetz, founders of Flow Kana, are those people. Both fast-talking Venezuelans, she's the artistic filmmaking party girl to his engineer-slash-entrepreneur. Together, in just a few years, they have turned their boutique, craft cannabis delivery brand into one of the biggest players in the field with the opening of the Flow Cannabis Institute, the world's first central processing facility for marijuana, in Mendocino's Redwood Valley. There they are working to unify the Emerald Triangle's small sustainable farmers and give them the tools necessary to compete when Big Weed does arrive. That is, when they aren't busy hosting Burning Man-style campouts on their lawn. //

What are you curious about?
"The evolution of life on the planet, and outside of it, and how humankind can sustainably coexist with other species."

What do you wish for the next generation?
"That they inherit a planet where everyone understands the importance of us rather than I.

Cannabis is...
"One of the most versatile and generous plants the universe has given us. The last crop that could potentially solve the problems caused by industrial agriculture, leading us back to the land and respect for our planet."

What is your greatest joy?


The Dark Horse: Kimberly Ellis

(Clayton J. Mitchell)

Nobody expected Kimberly Ellis, a behind-the-scenes political organizer based in Richmond, to win her 2017 bid to chair the California Democratic Party; most bet on a landslide victory for her opponent, longtime party insider Eric Bauman of Los Angeles. Ellis didn't win, of course. She lost by the razor-thin margin of just 57 votes.

Now, Ellis is famous, controversial even, in California both for her grassroots brand of political activism and for refusing to concede the election to no avail. But having spent nearly a decade as the executive director of Emerge California—the nonprofit organization that mentors a diverse group of Democratic women to run for office with a success rate of nearly 75 percent—something tells us she'll be primed for the next race.

What are you curious about?

"I'm curious about how we can leverage the collective power of the feminine divine to revolutionize politics so we use it to do good and to help others."

Your hero/ine is....

"Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, the first black candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination."

You do what you do because...

"I do what I do because those whose voices are underrepresented at decision-making tables deserve a champion who will fight for fairness and justice and equity for all people. I'm a truth seeker, a justice warrior, a freedom fighter. And like Shirley Chisholm, I'm unbought and unbossed."

The Prodigy: Kyle Trefny

(Courtesy of Sasha Cravis)

We believe this child is the future.

At first glance, 15-year-old Kyle Trefny is a skinny, bespectacled teen. Enrolled at Ruth Asawa SOTA, he's the sustainability director for his school's student government, a cofounder of SOTA's environmental club, and has a special knack for painting that he has shared with ArtSpan Open Studios-goers for the past two years. An above-average teen, you might say. But then you would watch a YouTube interview with Trefny or, even better, have a conversation with him, and it would begin to sink in: The kid is extraordinary.

His earnest love of nature and wildlife has motivated Trefny to become a voice for Planet Earth, and at a ripe young age, he discovered the key that many adults struggle to find—that is, how to do what you love and also save the world. In paintings that often depict dreamlike adventures of children and animals, especially his beloved snow leopard, Trefny channels his talents as an artist to raise awareness and funding for animal conservation efforts, donating 100 percent of his sales ($5,000 so far) to related causes. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm curious if my grandchildren will ever see a living snow leopard. A rhino. A mission blue butterfly. I'm curious if the skies will still be clear enough to show my grandchildren the constellations. Will they play in nature like I did? As they grow up, will there be any nature left? Or will I be reading my grandkids Dr. Suess' The Lorax and have to admit to them that the last Truffula Tree was already chopped. Maybe our digital age and the years young people spend on screens will erase memories of what's outside. That's not the world I want to live in, and not the world any future generation deserves to inherit. As I'm growing up in San Francisco, I've been fortunate to have parenting and education that highlighted time outdoors among sand, trees and trails. I've gotten to have my breath taken by brown bears at the zoo and fireflies in the woods. Those early experiences heavily influence my inspiration today. My concerns fuel my motivation. I use that inspiration and motivation to make artwork that captures childhood, bridging reality and dreams. Our system needs us to remember childhood, when we asked "how?" and "why?" Those questions are essential to progress and change. In my artwork, I portray endangered species and children together. I paint young people to represent the future. I hope to inspire people with my work. For those who might see my pieces, or who received one of the greeting cards I make, I hope my artwork is a calling. A summoning to get outside into nature, open the mind and invite in connections to the wilderness, to childhood and to change. I hope I can feed an ambition to search for and to plant those final Truffula seeds and grow a forest for nature and for all the grandchildren to come."

Who are your heroes?

"My heroes are local, inside my home, at my school, my neighborhood and the Bay area. My mom is a special ed teacher and my dad is in public radio; both inspire me to want to do something good for the world. My happy and fun side comes from my twin sister Erin. I gain confidence and courage from my grandmothers, the strongest women I know. Up the block, artists Eric and Annie of 3 Fish Studios are like a second family to me, so generous and empowering, playing a special role in my journey and helping me and my cause. At my high school, Ruth Asawa SOTA, my close friend Grace leads the Environmental Club with me and constantly inspires me with her passion. I will always look up to my Student Government teacher Aliya for determination and creativity. North in Sonoma, Rodney and Darla of the Snow Leopard Conservancy motivate me with their lifelong devotion to a cause and a purpose. All these wonderful human beings make the places and people they touch better, and I'm so grateful for them. Cheers to the ones spreading happiness through San Francisco, and on Earth!"

What's your advice to those who want to change the world?

"My advice to people who want to change the world is to believe that it's never too soon or too late to begin. If you don't know where to start, take a deep breath. Go outside. Read new books. Read new books outside! Keep your eyes open and you'll find like-minded ideas and people who want to make positive change, for we're always stronger together. It wasn't easy for me to start a PawArtWorks site on Etsy, make greeting cards for snow leopards, or begin environmental clubs at my schools. But I love it, so I stuck to it, and with the help of those around me, those passions are stoking change. Find a cause or a mission you love, commit to it, and you'll never tire. There's two sayings I'd like to share for those who want to change the world. The first is classic yet relevant, and has been spoken many times by many people. It reads, 'If not us, who? If not now, when?' It relates to a Hopi Elder saying: 'We are the ones we have been waiting for.' Change, it's up to us. Lace up your shoes, forget expectations or rules, and for the sake of the past, the present and the future, let's be difference-makers and begin."

The Bibliophile: Kristina Kearns

Kearns at the Royal Cuckoo.

(Pete Lee)

Kristina Kearns is the bookish type.

After a brief stint running an international bookshop in Greece, she returned to the States with a librarian's know-how and, in 2011, founded Ourshelves, an impeccably curated lending library at the back of Valencia Street's now-closed Viracocha boutique. With favorite pages lent by the likes of author Michael Chabon, One City One Book and McSweeney's, the sweet little library quickly expanded to offer free books in various local shelters, safe houses, and student centers. The public library space shuttered in 2014, but continued on as the Sequel Project; establishing nearly a dozen shelter libraries before Kearns moved into publishing.

She joined beloved indie press McSweeney's in 2016 as Development Director with a mission to champion new writing and challenge conventional expectations about art—where it's found, how it looks, and who participates.Earlier this year, she became Executive & Editorial Director and is busy as ever. She just celebrated the relaunch (and 50th issue) of their award-winning literary journal, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern; is in the midst of the next issue centered around refugees and immigrants; and is working on a new series of small books on cultural issues—stories that bridge divides. Kearny also continues to provide free books to distressed communities; taking part in restocking efforts after the fires up north, as well as Puerto Rico. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm fascinated with the idea that humans are a social species consisting of individuals that cannot function or even make it into adulthood without at least some help from others, yet we seem to spend a great deal of collective/cultural/social energy into forcing people we don't know, or don't yet know to trust, into the role of other. I want to publish stories that would be hard for any reader to finish and say, 'Yes, this is exactly what happened to me,' yet leaves them feeling more curious about who they would be or what they would have done if they experienced the same."

Your hero/ine in literature?

"McSweeney's has a book coming out late next year, Hannah Versus the Tree, by Leland de la Durantaye, whose title character is my new literary heroine. Hannah is a fiercely intelligent young women who comes from a very wealthy family, and whose black sheep father teaches her to question who has been, is, and will be damaged in business deals to protect and maintain their dynasty. A devastating wrong is done to her when she tries to stand up against a family scheme, and her response is a battle cry no one can ignore. Hannah is unlike any other character I've read or met before and, though I'm absolutely nothing like her and have no taste for vengeance, I still think about her and try to summon her courage every day."

What makes you laugh?

"My colleagues. I get to work with some of the most talented, funny, creative people in publishing and it's a goddamn dream. I walked into the room the other day and one of my co-workers was literally rolling on the ground laughing. I didn't know that could ever be a real thing."

The Ambassador: Yoshi Tome

After 30-plus years in Sausalito, it would be more than fair to call Sushi Ran a legend among Bay Area restaurants and its owner, Yoshi Tome, a culinary pioneer—Tome has groomed many of the Bay Area's star sushi chefs (ahem, Kusakabe) and, in turn, has made us all totally sushi-obsessed. And, the man remains as relevant as ever.

This year alone, Sushi Ran was awarded Michelin's Bib Gourmand, a slot among the San Francisco Chronicle's annual Top 100, and a nod from TimeOut as one of the 20 best Japanese restaurants in America. At the age of 62, Tome could easily retire and rest comfortably on his laurels forever. But instead, late last year the tireless restaurateur at last opened his sophomore project: the already beloved and excellent Nomica, known for its $100 chicken, on Upper Market. //,

What are you curious about?

"Japanese food culture is ever-changing. I think of myself as a Japanese food and culture ambassador and I love sharing insights with my guests. More and more, I'm curious about how to creatively share my knowledge with with a greater audience."

The height of misery is...

"Having to turn people away on a busy night."

What's your spirit animal?

"Definitely it would be a swan on the lake: On the surface, it is very graceful and calm; but beneath the surface, it is pedaling like crazy!"

The Green Chemist: Etosha Cave

(Sothear Nuon)

What if the emissions of the world's largest industries never reached the air? Dr. Etosha Cave is on a mission to make it happen.

From her headquarters at the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, chief science officer Cave and two of her former Stanford classmates-cum-Opus 12-cofounders have been, since 2015, working to develop an industrial-scale reactor that has the power of 37,000 trees to upcycle carbon dioxide waste. By adding water and electricity to CO2, the team Opus 12 can turn an environmental hazard into useful (and profitable) fuels, chemicals, and plastics that are typically generated from petroleum.

In the past two years, Cave has appeared on the TEDx stage and Opus 12 has garnered accolades including an Echoing Green Fellowship, a Forbes Change the World award, and sponsorship from NASA. //

What are you curious about?
"Opus 12 is developing technology to recycle CO2 and thus reduce emissions. I am curious what impact this technology can make at scale."

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
"I love the thought of looking out over the Bay on my way to work. I also love the people I work with—they make the day go by quickly."

What's your idea of happiness?

"I am on the path to minimalism. The more I simplify my life and reduce my stuff, the happier I have become. Happiness is when I accept that what I have and who I am is enough."

The Voice: Darrow Hornik

(Sothear Nuon)

It takes a lot for a teenage girl to admit that she struggles with mental illness. But for her to stand up on a TEDx stage and tell the world her "shameful secret" in the name of smashing an age-old stigma—that is a laudable act of boldness to be sure.

But such are the guts of high school junior Darrow Hornik, who, in the spring of 2016, stood on a Palo Alto High School stage, for all her peers and family to see, and declared, "I have OCD." As she revealed the irritating ways that obsessive-compulsive disorder disrupts her daily life (homework takes her five times as long as the average kid, for example), she made the case for curbing the colloquialism, I'm being so OCD right now, out of sensitivity for people who actually suffer.

The soccer-playing activist isn't just giving voice to her personal cause; this spring, Hornik launched a GoFundMe campaign to create wristbands for solidarity with high school victims of sexual assault. She is also active in the friendship program Best Buddies and Bring Change to Mind. //

What are you curious about?

"I spend a lot of time thinking about the prison system in America and how it needs to be drastically changed. And when I'm not thinking about our messed-up justice system, I'm working on how teenagers can help destigmatize mental illness."

What motivates you?

"The future will be more fair. My generation is more accepting of all people, of all backgrounds, of all races, of all sexual orientations. When my generation takes over, the world will be a brighter place."

What's your superpower?

"No fear of being the squeaky wheel."

The Mystery Man: Gabe Smedresman

(Sothear Nuon)

Every now and then, you find yourself cringing as you ask a Bay Area stranger, almost against your own will, the tritest question ever: What do you do? And while you're half-listening for them to tell you they work at a startup that's invented X to change the world, every now and then, the stranger takes you by surprise.

Oh, I design those really beautiful woodcut maps you've seen in 7x7.

I'm starting the first-ever Immersive Design Summit in San Francisco.

Actually, I just launched this really wild immersive mystery travel experience in the Marin Headlands that was covered quite flatteringly by The New York Times.

And I'm also helping Obamacare and other government services build functional and beautiful websites and APIs.

"Oh, you're that guy!" you would exclaim with delight upon meeting tech-geek-meets-creative-shapeshifter Gabe Smedresman, because you already know and love those woodcut maps; you've been to a game he's run; and you're dyyyyying to try the Headlands Gamble. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm most curious about the natural world around us—so full of wondrous complexity, understanding of which is a never-ending mission. But I'd also say I believe in curiosity as a state of mind, regardless of its object. Most things reward curiosity. One reason I enjoy creating our trips is that they provide a topic on which to deeply learn: creation as exploration, for the purpose of encouraging further exploration. And one core value of our trips is to, in turn, reward curiosity. You'll get more out of them the more you investigate and engage. We try to cultivate that attitude in our travelers."

What's the key to creating the perfect mystery?
"The ideal mystery is one in which you, the detective, emerge somehow personally enriched from your experience. More connected, more humble, more wise, more sensitive, more perceptive—it's totally dependent on the traveler's state of mind going in. So achieving this is hard and infrequent, but those times when we do make it all worth it. The most important thing is to nail every small detail on logistics and planning. Secondly, we need to design for all play styles. Some travelers will grill every actor for clues; others will sit back and let things play out; others will enthusiastically play-act. Our experience needs to respond to and reward all these styles. There are a million ingredients, but a final one I'll add for now is consistent momentum towards a satisfying ending — that's all in the writing, and the reason it takes so long for us to write new trips."

If you weren't _____, you be ______.
"If I weren't hawking immersive narrative travel experiences, I'd probably be exploring the synthesis of technology and art from another direction. An architect specializing in generative form-making? Designing game-like simulations of the natural world somehow? On the other hand, as much as I love fictions and intellectual exploration, there's a very real story happening in the world that needs all of our urgent attention. I'd be, as I am, constantly considering what else I can do to heal our country and the world."

The Matriarch: Susie Tompkins Buell

Everybody knows Susie Tompkins Buell. Whether you wore the bright colors and prints of Esprit, the clothing company with a social conscious founded and co-owned by Buell from 1990 to 1996, or you have a yen for the histories (and gossip) of San Francisco's society families, 74-year-old Buell is a longtime boldface name in Bay Area lore.

She's also the real deal: When the philanthropist left Esprit de Corps, she took its charitable foundation with her, eventually rebranding it in her own name. The Susie Tompkins Buell Foundation still aims to inspire women and youth to environmental activism, and also helps support women in the political arena. Bay Area beneficiaries of her work include California Academy of Sciences and Jennifer Siebel Newsom's Representation Project.

Of course, Buell is most noted time and again as the powerhouse Democratic fundraiser and close friend of Hillary Clinton, and she post regular political updates alongside hopeful news and ways to give back in her newsletter, The Rising. Buell also organized this summer's Joyous Persistance Conference, which drew speakers including Senator Elizabeth Warren. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm always curious about the future. Looking ahead to a vast sea of possibilities—whether it's building something completely new from imagination, making improvements to what's already in place, fixing and strengthening what's been destroyed—is always exciting to me. I wonder about what's coming, how to keep going, what solutions can be put in place to address existing or worsening problems, and how I can participate and be of service in the process."

What is your greatest accomplishment?

"I consider being really happy with my life at this age one of my greatest accomplishments. Having an understanding of the cliché what doesn't kill you makes you stronger teaches you not to be a victim. Troubles come our way. To approach hardship with the lens of a survivor is far more empowering than to be a victim overcome with fear. When you have Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive mentality, you're better positioned to rise, dance and love fully and effectively."

If you weren't ____, you'd be ____.

"If I weren't human, I'd be a porpoise, a hawk or a baby elephant–they're symbols of the magical wonders of nature."

What is your favorite quality in people?

"I love people who aren't afraid of being an individual, who aren't afraid to stand out. It's such an attractive quality to me, especially when most people conform to a cookie cutter image. I also appreciate those who are fun, kind and selfless. People with these qualities are comforting and centering. They give us a sense that despite how crazy things get, there's still more good than bad in the world."

The Character Builder: Sawyer Steele

(Marla Aufmuth)

If you participated in one of 130,000 events in 150 countries on Character Day (Sept. 13th this year), then your world has been touched by Sawyer Steele.

Cofounder of theannual event that sparks a global conversation around building character with the likes of Moby and the Dalai Lama, the Oakland-based senior producer of Let It Ripple may not get as much attention as his filmmaking cofounder, former 7x7 Hot 20 honoree Tiffany Shlain, but he's received enough accolades to prove his work is legit.

Focused on mobile filmmaking with collaborators around the world, Steele has written and produced several award-winning films including the Sundance film Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death, and Technology, andThe Adaptable Mind;A Declaration of Interdependence. He also produced and co-wrote Shlain's Emmy-nominated AOL Original series The Future Starts Here; in episode 5, titled "TransBoom," he shared his experience as a trans man.

The team's most recent film, the 11-minute 30,000 Days, explores the age-old question of how to live a life of meaning and purpose. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm always curious about how other people experience the world, about how other people think, and what they're thinking about in any given moment. When I was a kid, I was very quiet (shocking to people now), but I remember sitting quietly and observing. Observing everything and everyone, writing stories in my head about what people were thinking about, why people were doing what they were doing, what it might mean for their future. For our future. Fast-forward 30 years, and I think we need that more than ever, to observe and listen to others, [to hear] not just what they're saying, but what they're really thinking and why."

What's your superpower?

"Being transgender. I'm certainly not saying this is true for every trans person, but for me the experience of having walked through the world perceived as so many different genders—girl, tomboy, woman, butch, genderqueer, and now a tall, bearded man—and experiencing so many different sides of privilege has given me a particular sense of perspective, empathy, and perseverance that shapes everything I do."

Describe your creative process.

"So I have an imaginary train that comes along with me for the whole creative process. The whole goal is to create a piece—a film, a piece of writing, whatever it is—where you hop on the train at the start, and you're 100 percent on the ride the whole time. Nothing distracts you. You don't get bored or confused or take a wrong turn. You're on the train, enjoying the ride, wanting it to keep going until the exact right moment it should stop. And to create that smooth magical train ride that seems effortless [requires] a whole lot of breakthroughs and failures, letting go and compromising, and extreme meticulousness (I'm a proud Virgo). Every single frame of a film makes a difference. If a music bed slides a few frames, you can get thrown off the train without even realizing it, and never really get back on. It then becomes like detective work to figure out what word, what idea, what transition it was, and figure out how to get it back on track. I love the whole process."

The Brewmasters: Ron Silberstein and Dave McLean

Ron Silberstein (left) and Dave McLean, founders of Admiral Maltings.

(Sothear Noun)

Hear ye, beer devotees: Meet thy masters.

That is, if you haven't already—Dave McLean and Ron Silberstein brew some pretty damn popular suds in San Francisco; you will know them from Magnolia Brewing Co. and Thirsty Bear, respectively.

While they may have been competitors, the local brewmasters are also kindred spirits: They've teamed up this year to launch Admiral Maltings, the first craft malt producer of its kind in California, based in the 1944 Alameda Naval Air Station. The plan: to produce a more sustainable, local alternative to the industrial malt used by the Bay Area's breweries and distilleries.

Want a taste? Look for the opening of their new adjacent pub, The Rake, which will serve beers brewed with the bounty. //

What are you curious about?
Ron Silberstein: "I am curious about life. I am curious about people, what they think, why they think it, what motivates them. I am curious about the waves of history and how they affect the present. I am curious about the history of beer, the ingredients that make up beer and where they come from."

Dave McLean: "Everything! One of the things that draws some people toward brewing, not to mention cooking and other culinary endeavors, is an inquisitiveness that makes one wonder how something comes to be, how it is made, why it tastes a certain way. That's what got me hooked many years ago. And that curiosity is pretty universal and relentless, whether focused on beer, malt, food, music, architecture, technology, you name it. I used to love taking things apart as a kid, just to see how they were made (unfortunately, it was awhile longer before I learned how to put them back together)."

Why malt?

RS: "Malt is the soul of beer. No malt, no beer. Barley, which is what most malt used in beer is made from, is a historic, drought-tolerant crop that grows well in California. Our region naturally invites us to grow the grains used for beer."

DM: "Malt is the foundation of beer. We've come to know beer for millennia as a fermented barley beverage and converting raw barley from the farmer's field into brewers' malt is a critical step on the path to brewing beer. I blame Dr. Michael Lewis at U.C. Davis in the best possible way. He placed so much emphasis on this in the early weeks of the brewing science program there that it has forever after been a guiding principle in how I think about beer and brewing."

The hardest thing about your job is...
RS: "Having enough time in the day to do half of what I want to do."

The greatest joy in life is...
RS: My children. My community of brewers and maltsters. And when I can be outside taking in the natural wonders of the world.

DM: "Watching my daughter grow up sits at the very top, but the list is long after that. The common thread, though, whether with family, friends, coworkers, peers, collaborators, neighbors or total strangers, is just seeing how we all do great things in our own ways and contribute to our communities and the world at large. And then, maybe stopping now and again to reflect on that joy over a beer or sharing a meal with someone."

Give us your best toast.
RS: "Arriba, abajo, al centro y adentro."

The Lady Toker: Pamela Hadfield

(Story Hadfield)

Pamela Hadfield cringes at the word weed. But we're guessing it didn't bother her (too much) when Rolling Stone's recent story "Weed Warriors" named her one of six women shaping the cannabis industry.

The mother, Marinite and woman of style is as far removed from weed culture as Cheech and Chong were from mainstream anything—a down-to-earth UX designer who values wellness and discretion. "We call it cannabis now," says Hadfield, whose years-long battle with migraines and addictive painkillers led her on a greener path to recovery. She founded HelloMD with a health-first approach to cannabis, starting as an online platform to procure doctors' recommendations and expanding into a full-fledged resource portal stocked with original articles, videos and Q&As.

Of course, in the ever-widening field of cannabis, it's all about the product. With hundreds of curated cannabis goods sourced through retail partners around the state (and soon the nation), Hadfield's startup seems poised to become the Amazon marketplace of weed cannabis. //

What are you curious about?

"I'm always curious about finding my own 'true north.' I think there is something magical about turning 40. At least in my case, this was when I started to think more about how I want to live my life authentically to what I wanted/needed and less about what others thought. In letting go of identifying and matching my world with others' perception of what is right and more so with who I want to be, my world began to open up in a way that allowed me to activate myself more fully. Becoming a cannabis advocate is a perfect example. When I shifted from a more traditional career into the cannabis industry, many people pulled me aside and gave me advice that perhaps I should think better of it. Some mentioned that it may not be the best choice considering I am a parent of three young girls. It gave me pause at the time, but I decided to stay true to myself, and follow who I really wanted to be. It's worked out well for me as I now find myself in the position of being passionate about what I do every day."

What are you doing to change the world?

"Every day I publicly advocate for the use of cannabis as a tool for health and wellness. For 25 years I suffered from debilitating migraines and, after trying every traditional pharmaceutical available, I found myself taking copious amounts of Vicodin. I knew I was on a fast path to addiction and my condition also seemed to be getting worse. Out of options, I decided to see if cannabis could work for me. Within a short time, I was managing my pain and had stopped taking Vicodin. Within six months I was preventing migraines from occurring altogether. I have not had a migraine in years. This experience led me and my co-founder to start HelloMD. If I could get off of opioids with cannabis and solve a personal health crisis, we believed others could as well."

Who are your heroes?

"I tend to be attracted to and admire powerful women who are independent thinkers, especially in the face of adversity, and affect change in their own way. I have great admiration for Michelle Obama—for her endless well of inspiration, wisdom and indomitable strength. Also, I have great respect for the journalist Megyn Kelly, who I may not always agree with, but who never shies away from what she believes is the truth and is not afraid to be controversial or have her voice heard. Lastly, I admire my good friend Lisa Suennen, who currently heads up GE Ventures. She takes on the world on her own terms and is fearless. She is hysterically funny, too."

The Woman's Woman: Sophia Yen


Medical doctor. Master of public health. Woman. Mother. Founder. This year, Sophia Yen picked up another title for her resume when she was named one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2017 at Goldman Sachs' Builders + Innovators Summit.

Yen's startup, Pandia Health, is based on one simple belief: Every woman who wants birth control should have access to birth control without having to jump through hoops. Pandia provides $39 online doctor consults free—yes, free!—home delivery of the pill, patch, ring and emergency contraceptives. That means no more waiting in line at the 24-hour Walgreens.

Need birth control? Surf over to Pandia and enter the code 7x7 for $5 off. We have another title for Yen: angel. //

What are you curious about?

"What will it take to make women equal in this country and then the world? Reproductive rights, bodily autonomy—what will it take to keep government out of women's uteri, and out of people's bedrooms? What will it take to leave personal health decisions to those who are affected by them? My uterus, my decision; your uterus, your decision. No uterus? Then no decision on the uterus for you. [What will it take to get] equal pay for equal work, equal representation on corporate boards, at leadership levels in academia, in government. Preventing campus sexual assault and making sure that rapists get at least what Martha Stewart got—one year in prison versus what Judge Persky gave Brock Turner (six months)."

Your greatest challenge is…

"Raising money for a birth control startup as a 45-year-old mother-doctor. The older male investors ask, "Is this really a problem? How hard is it to go to the pharmacy? Don't women enjoy going there?" Yes, it's a problem. It's one of the top three reasons women don't take their birth control: They didn't have it on hand. It's hard to run to the pharmacy when you have a job, two jobs, or kids and other things to juggle. Few people enjoy going to the pharmacy, waiting in line, and wasting what we calculate to be 10 weeks of their lives at the pharmacy getting their birth control.

Investors somehow feel that a 23-year-old fresh college grad is better than a 45-year-old. They are judging him on his potential. They are judging me on my accomplishments, or they think I can't do as much.

As a mother, they think I have family duties that will distract from work.

As a doctor, they think 'what does she know about running a business?' Again, what does the 23-year-old know? I come from a family of entrepreneurs—my grandparents and my parents, who have lived the Silicon Valley American dream....I can do whatever is necessary."

What is your favorite quality in humans?

"The want to do good. Empathy. I just went to Goldman Sachs' Builders and Innovators conference. They had so many impressive stories of entrepreneurship, but the doing good aspect of two speakers (Gordon Gund of "The Illumination" and Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible Labs) was what brought me to tears.

PS if you have any friends on the birth control pill, patch, ring, please send them my way!—Never run out of birth control again.If you are on the birth control pill/patch/ring and living in CA, please check out this company founded by Dr. Sophia Yen, reproductive health specialist? Pandia Health provides a year's supply of birth control, free delivery to your mailbox, automatic renewal. They take almost all insurances except for Kaiser. If you have a prescription, the delivery service is free. If you need a prescription, they can provide an MD consult for $39.
Enter referral code Sophia at signup and check out to get $5 off your telemedicine visit, if needed.

It's the only women-founded/led, practicing reproductive health doctor founded/led company in the space.


Related Articles
Now Playing at SF Symphony
View this profile on Instagram

7x7 (@7x7bayarea) • Instagram photos and videos

From Our Partners