The Soccer PhenomGaga Slonina
It was late December, and Gaga Slonina needed to start packing. In just a few days, the 18-year-old former Chicago Fire goalkeeper would trade his childhood bedroom in Addison for an apartment in London. He was set to join English Premier League giant Chelsea, which had agreed to pay up to $15 million to his old club to sign Slonina to a six-year deal.
The Conscientious CartoonistBianca Pastel
Artist Bianca Pastel has already collaborated with the likes of Nike, Disney, and the Chicago Bears. She’s illustrated a children’s book. But she has even bigger ambitions. “I want to be the Walt Disney or Miyazaki of my world and bring Black animation to life,” Pastel, 30, says. “These are my dreams, and I am fully capable of them.”
The Stage SavantOmer Abbas Salem
On a frigid Sunday morning in December, the Goodman Theatre had a full house for a staged reading of Modern Women, a work in progress by actor-turned-playwright Omer Abbas Salem. The piece is a riff on Steel Magnolias, with the setting transferred from Louisiana to Skokie, and Southern belle archetypes remade into Arab and Indian aunties.
The New RestaurateursVinod Kalathil and
Thattu, the restaurant that Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil are in the midst of opening on Rockwell Street in Avondale, is an Indian spot like nothing Chicago has seen: a market, a lounge, a bar, a place for a quick lunch or a full dinner. Above all, it’s an exploration of the food and coastal vibe of Kalathil’s native Kerala.
The Hospitality InnovatorDavid Mor
For bartender David Mor, 28, the hospitality industry is about more than just good food and drinks. “I love getting people to relax,” he says. “I want people to feel seen and noticed.” But he is also conscious of the less rosy side of the business. “There’s virtually no support from anyone bigger than us. The money is not trickling down to those who need it.” So he set out to create a support network for the industry himself.
The In-Demand DancerKia Smith
Kia Smith is running a half-million-dollar organization out of her closet. In 2017, she started South Chicago Dance Theatre with a few dancers, a whole lot of grit, and a 75-year plan taped to the walls of a walk-in closet in her Hyde Park studio apartment. Now? The 35-year-old choreographer has grown SCDT from a scrappy troupe to a major player in Chicago’s dance scene.
The Gen Z LegislatorNabeela Syed
Last spring, during her campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives, Nabeela Syed was knocking on doors when she passed out in front of a potential constituent. “It was Ramadan, and I was fasting,” Syed, a devout Muslim, recalls. “I fainted on someone’s doorstep!”
The ShowmanLiam Kazar
“Everybody’s asking me, ‘What you gonna do, gonna be?’ ” Liam Kazar sings on his mind-blowingly good 2021 debut album, Due North. “I couldn’t tell you if I tried; I’m just a poem with an open line.”
The Wellness WonderStephanie Morimoto
Stephanie Morimoto is about to get on a plane to New York City, where she’ll appear live on QVC selling pain relief spray and cream. “The only other times I did this were over Skype,” she says. “I can’t believe I’m actually going to be in the studio.”
The Political ConnectorJorge Neri
“When I was in high school, my mom was incarcerated, and my family lost everything,” says Jorge Neri, choking back tears. “I had to quit sports and get a job.” Just a decade later, he landed a role in the Obama administration as the primary liaison to the Latino community. “I went from the lowest point in my life to working in the most powerful building in the world.”
The Debut NovelistToya Wolfe
On a winter evening, writer Toya Wolfe is at Soho House, sipping a glass of club soda and laughing heartily as she relaxes on a red velvet chair. She breaks out an upper-crust British accent to match the tony atmosphere. Perhaps it’s no surprise that she’s a former pastor; Wolfe, 42, possesses the requisite charisma to enthrall a congregation.
The Altruistic AdmanSam Shepherd
The old saying about advertising is that it’s where artists go to sell out. So it’s a little odd to hear Sam Shepherd, global executive creative director of Leo Burnett, talk about advertising as a place where creative people can advocate for human rights. “If you’re talented,” he says, “why wouldn’t you use those talents for something good?”