These innovators are leading the charge, powering us all forward to level up San Diego.
PHOTO BY VALERIE PICKS
Executive chef, Herb & Sea, herbandsea.com
A protégée of celebrity chef Brian Malarkey, executive chef Sara Harris is leading the charge at Encinitas’ Herb & Sea. Opened in 2019, the seafood-forward eatery is one of the shining crown jewels in the Puffer Malarkey Collective of restaurants, which includes Downtown San Diego’s Animae and Little Italy’s Herb & Wood. “Opening Herb & Sea has been my pride and joy,” says Harris. “I got to have my hands in almost every piece of getting the restaurant off the ground and I’m very proud of the outcome.” That hands-on approach includes hiring all back-of-house team members and guiding the next generation of rising chefs. “I’ve mentored dishwashers to become line cooks and line cooks to becoming sous-chefs,” shares Harris. “When young kids ask me to autograph a menu I wrote—from a restaurant I helped open—that has to be one of the greatest feelings.” Here, the new mom shares what she’s cooking up next.
We know you as an innovator in the restaurant industry. What sparked your passion for your field? I grew up in the kitchen with my parents cooking and entertaining; our lives revolved around food. I have always been drawn to the way food brings people together. Food evokes emotion and I love being the person that makes people feel that, whether it be feeling happy, nostalgic, celebratory or festive.
To you, what does it mean to be an innovator? The most innovative thing I have done was to create the kind of kitchen I would want to work in. In my kitchen, we have a lot of personalities. We like supporting each other’s individuality and interests. I allow the prep team to play rock music I personally loathe; we have a line cook who shares his numerology pre-shift ; some of them bring in produce from their garden; and they all take turns creating specials. We celebrate each other’s quirks.
How do you feel you’ve changed the landscape of your industry in our community? Being a woman, being a mother, and running a kitchen; that’s a rare combination. I felt quite accomplished working until nine months pregnant and, for the most part, keeping up! Butchering a fish at 33 weeks is no joke. I hope that everyone I meet feels my warmth and love, whether that is through the food I cook for them or the things I’ve taught them.
PHOTO BY BRIDGET FARHAT
Founder, Blenders Eyewear, blenderseyewear.com
In under 10 years, San Diego’s Chase Fisher has gone from selling sunglasses out of his backpack on the beach to manning an eyewear business valued at a cool $90 million. Recently acquired by Italy’s Safilo Group, Blenders Eyewear is the culmination of Fisher’s know-how as a savvy marketer and sponsored surfer. By tapping DJs and fellow sports junkies to don his sunglasses, plastering stickers of his burgeoning brand across San Diego and utilizing Instagram advertising in the early days of his business, the San Diego State University graduate has built a company composed of more than 60 employees. Up next, Blenders will expand its North Beach flagship store with three more brick-and-mortar locations. The eyes have it, indeed.
We know you as an innovator in the eyewear industry. What sparked your passion for your field? I grew up as a competitive surfer so I fell in love with a lot of brands at a young age. I thought surf brands were supercool, admired everything they embodied and valued the culture that they represented.
What have been your biggest career highlights thus far? Being acquired by the Safilo Group was one of my greatest achievements yet. It’s what many founders dream of and I’m extremely proud of that accomplishment. I was also asked to give the 2020 San Diego State University commencement speech, which was humbling yet awesome at the same time.
How do you feel you’ve changed the landscape of your industry in our community? I feel we’ve done a fantastic job and represent San Diego loud and proud. Blenders, at its core, is derived from the vibrant and active lifestyle of our community, and our products truly represent that.
What’s next? We’re expanding our retail fleet with three new locations; our second location is opening in Encinitas, followed by Houston and Santa Monica. We’re also continuing our international presence focused around Australia and Canada. On top of that, we’re exploring new athlete partnerships and further expanding our product category. Everything is looking extra spicy!
PHOTO BY DAVID CAMPBELL IMAGERY
Executive general manager, San Diego Legion, sdlegion.com
Founded in 2017 and inaugurated in 2018, Major League Rugby continues to expand throughout the United States, with 12 of its 13 teams grown on American soil. Among those teams is the San Diego Legion, now led by executive general manager David Haigh, who joined the organization in 2021. After leading the Sydney University Rugby Club—the oldest of its kind outside the United Kingdom—as a player, coach and executive general manager, Haigh is enthusiastic about making San Diego’s program one of the best. “Rugby is more than a game; rugby’s core values transcend sport,” says the husband and father of three. “I will achieve success if I can instill these values in San Diego Legion players, staff and community—discipline, integrity, passion, solidarity, respect, mateship and family.” Here, the go-getter sounds off on his winning game plan.
We know you as an innovator in athletics. What sparked your passion for your field? Throughout my life, I have had firsthand experience of the benefits of sports, and rugby, in particular, to unify people and provide a community, while also teaching the values of respect, hard work and fair play. My passion is to provide the opportunity to lead young men and women to achieve their potential, both on and off the rugby field.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? I hope to guide the San Diego Legion to win the Major League Rugby Championship; as any sports executive will tell you, the goal is always to win silverware. We want to make San Diegans proud! San Diego has a young but storied history in Major League Rugby, and has yet to lift the Major League Rugby Championship Shield. It is my aim to provide the program and resources so the coaches and players can focus simply on winning games. Running in tandem with this is to ensure the San Diego Legion is ready to launch into our new 2023 home, Snapdragon Stadium. We want to put San Diego in the international spotlight and showcase the rise of rugby.
Who inspires you? My wife, Kate, and three kids, William, 8, Matilda, 5, and Olive, 2. They have made the journey with me to California from the other side of the world from Australia because they believe in my passion to foster and continue to grow the rugby community in San Diego. Their support, resilience and generosity are values that provide me with the strength to face the challenges each day provides.
PHOTO BY VAL DOSTALEK
A San Diego resident by way of Slovakia, artist Stefan Talian is painting the town with his acrylic paintings, drawings and murals that range from abstract depictions of emotion and nature to animals and people. Recently picked up by the esteemed Winn Slavin Fine Art gallery in Beverly Hills, Talian’s star continues to rise. “I still consider myself an emerging artist. I learn new things every day and I still have a lot left to learn. That said, I try to give back to the community in the same way the community has supported me,” says Talian, who cites artist Hyacinthe Kuller Baron as one of his biggest inspirations. “I share my experiences, techniques and resources with other artists the same way they were shared with me. I’ve enjoyed working on several collaborations with local artists. I believe that when you lift one of us up, you lift all of us up.” Now, that’s art and soul.
We know you as an innovator in the arts. What sparked your passion for your field? I was struggling with my identity aft er first coming to the United States. I was learning a new language and how to navigate a foreign culture while trying to survive. I was unable to express myself well through language and writing. A friend, who knew about my artistic side, suggested that I try painting to help put my emotions somewhere outside of myself. I tried it and it just clicked on something in me. I haven’t stopped painting since.
What have been your biggest career highlights thus far? My first taste of validation was being juried into a group exhibition at the Museum of the Living Artist in San Diego; that was a confidence booster. On the heels of that, I joined The Studio Door, a collective of local studio artists under the mentorship of Patric Stillman. There I’ve learned the value of being around other artists and sharing ideas, techniques and resources. During the pandemic, I began a series of paintings titled Captured Emotions, working with the guidance of master artist Sir Daniel Winn. That collection was exhibited at Winn Slavin Fine Art in Beverly Hills.
To you, what does it mean to be an innovator? Innovation in art is freedom. It is expressing my true self without pretense or fear of judgment. It is trusting my inspiration and just doing it without getting caught up in what others think or if it will sell fast. I paint to share my soul and to bring those unseen, new things into the world.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NEW CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
CEO and executive director, The New Children’s Museum, thinkplaycreate.org
Following more than a yearlong search to find a successor for The New Children’s Museum’s former CEO and executive director, Judy Forrester—who relocated to Farragut, Tenn., with her family—Elizabeth Yang-Hellewell has taken the reins of the beloved museum as of January 2022. “We believe that Elizabeth will have a powerful impact on our organization and lead us into a bright future,” says president of the board Caroline Perry. “Not only does she have solid experience in museum management, strategic planning and philanthropy, she brings a genuine passion for contemporary art and our mission.” A local resident, who calls San Diego home with her wife and two children, Yang-Hellewell most recently served as the chief advancement officer of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), a place where she held various positions for more than 11 years—with a three-year stint at the University of California San Diego along the way. Here, the art aficionado looks ahead to her bright future.
We know you as an innovator in the arts. What sparked your passion for your field? Museums are naturally spaces for innovation, and I’ve felt this deeply—first as a young museum patron, and later as an artist-educator and museum professional. Museums have always been places of inspiration, respite and affirmation. As I was beginning my career, I wanted to be a part of the community of museum professionals that create, maintain and program these spaces.
What have been your biggest career highlights thus far? In 2008, I worked with artist Ann Hamilton on a teen program at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego that turned into a performance connected to her installation for Human/Nature: Artists Respond to a Changing Planet. It was a pivotal professional and creative experience for me as a 20-something museum educator. More recently, being a part of the team that worked on MCASD’s phenomenal expansion project in La Jolla was a highlight for me. I’m looking forward to experiencing the space as a visitor!
How do you feel you’ve changed the landscape of your industry in our community? I am a multiracial, queer woman of color in an executive director and CEO role at a museum in San Diego. In so many ways, just being who I am, and representing the communities I represent, is changing the landscape of the museum industry in our community. I’m proud to represent these communities in my role at The New Children’s Museum!