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Our Team

Grant Achatz


Chef Grant Achatz is one of the most awarded and recognized chefs in the world. Known for his innovative, emotional, and modernist style of cuisine, he has been named Best Chef in the United States by the James Beard Foundation, honored by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and has given talks and lectures on gastronomy and design at conferences and universities around the world.

Grant began working in restaurants as soon as he could walk. His parents owned a diner in Michigan, and he spent his childhood years working alongside his family.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at age 21, Grant spent a short time at Charlie Trotter’s before finding his mentor in chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. Grant worked for a total of 5 years at the French Laundry, eventually rising to sous chef. During his time in California, he also spent a year working at La Jota vineyards. A short stage at elBulli in Roses, Spain was exceptionally influential and led Grant to seek out his first executive chef position at Trio in Evanston, IL. It was there that his creativity and desire to innovate flourished. In 2002 and 2003, respectively, Grant was recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the nation’s Best New Chefs and named the Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation.

In 2004, Grant partnered with restaurant neophyte, Nick Kokonas, to build his dream restaurant: Alinea. Together, they sought to redefine fine dining in America, questioning not only culinary concepts but also the guest experience, tableware design, and restaurant bookings.

Since its opening, Alinea has been named the Best Restaurant in the World by Elite Traveler, the Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet Magazine, and has twice been awarded the Best Restaurant in North America by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Alinea holds 3 stars from the venerable Michelin Guide, held by only 14 restaurants in the United States, and 5 stars from Forbes Travel Guide. Grant and Alinea have won James Beard Awards for: Best Chef, Great Lakes (2007); Outstanding Chef (2008); Outstanding Service (2010); Who’s Who in Food & Beverage (2012); and Outstanding Restaurant (2016). In 2009, the Alinea cookbook won the James Beard Book Award for Cooking from a Professional Point of View.

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Nick Kokonas


Nick Kokonas is the co-owner and co-founder of The Alinea Group. He manages the business development, marketing, and strategy for all current and future operations.

He never expected to be involved in the restaurant industry, despite his Greek last name.

Nick studied Philosophy at Colgate University and nearly attended law school at the urging of his professors. His interests remained, however, in business and entrepreneurship.

Nick spent over a decade as a proprietary trader in equities and currencies, and made markets in futures contracts, forwards, and ETF’s. In 1999, his firm – Third Moment Trading – merged with a New York firm and the enterprise grew to over 70 employees on exchanges from San Francisco to New York. He left the firm in 2002, having achieved his initial goals and seeking to diversify his experience and interests in business.

In 2002, Nick and his wife dined at Trio for the first time, where Nick met chef Achatz. They had a brief conversation after an astounding meal which led to a quick collaboration to build what would become Alinea. In 2011, Nick and chef Achatz opened Next Restaurant, which won a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the US in 2012. The Aviary and The Office helped redefine modern cocktail culture and won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program in the US in 2013. Roister followed in 2016.

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Stephen Bernacki

Chief Financial Officer

Steve studied business administration and art history at The University of Michigan. After graduating in 2006, he moved to Chicago to join Bain & Company as a management consultant. During his third year at Bain, he took advantage of the externship program to work for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City. At USHG, he fell in love with the hospitality business.

Steve emailed Nick Kokonas, co-owner of The Alinea Group. At that time, The Alinea Group was just Alinea and had no need for a business team. But Nick told Steve to keep in touch, and Steve routinely followed up with Nick.

Eventually, Steve wore Nick down. In 2009, he joined The Alinea Group as its first business team member. Steve quickly found that construction management was interesting, and Nick found that Steve’s attention to detail was invaluable.

Since then, Steve has built The Alinea Group’s business team to 16 members. He is now a partner in The Alinea Group and serves as the CFO for both The Alinea Group and Tock.

When Steve is not in the office, you can find him cooking, dining out, or playing sports in leagues around the city.

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Lucy Chelebian

Human Resources Manager

Lucy graduated from California State University, Northridge with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in HR Management. Prior to joining The Alinea Group, she worked in the Human Resources Department for companies such as CBS Corporation and the Motion Picture Association of America. She focused on recruiting and training and development.

Her hobbies include making all kinds of bread and taking photos with her 35mm camera.

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Alex Hayes

Business Development Manager

Before joining The Alinea Group, Alex Hayes worked at Booz & Co. as a management consultant. His favorite projects focused on operations and food and beverage. Alex attended Northwestern University where he received a degree in Economics. When not at work, Alex is usually found riding his bike or cooking. His favorite dish to make is sous vide BBQ brisket.

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Alex Kleiman

General Counsel

Before joining The Alinea Group, Alex was Counsel at Chicago-based venture capital fund Sandbox Industries. She began her legal career at Cooley New York and Katten Chicago. Before law school, Alex co-founded artisan food subscription box Samplrs and stays involved with the CPG space through the Good Food Accelerator, mentoring food startups. Alex graduated from NYU School of Law and NYU College of Arts & Sciences where she studied art history. Outside of the office, you can find Alex training to be a sommelier, eating at Korean grocery store restaurants or visiting galleries.

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Anil Thapa

Business Information Manager

Anil received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Illinois State University. After graduation, he completed a six-month internship at The Alinea Group before joining the team full time. When he’s not working, Anil enjoys trying new restaurants and traveling. His favorite meal is lox and an everything bagel, but his favorite dish to make is Spaghetti Carbonara.

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Allen Hemberger

Director of Media and Publishing

Back in 2005, while working as a visual effects artist in New Zealand, Allen met a girl he thought was cute named Sarah. He asked her on a date to an unusual restaurant that had recently opened in Chicago: Alinea. After being flabbergasted by their meal, Sarah bought Allen a cookbook released by the restaurant. Allen was so struck by the book that he decided to try making a dish from it.

He ended up getting hooked, and cooking every recipe in the book. This project took him nearly 6 years. When he was finished, he and Sarah wrote, designed, and self-published a book about the experience. They sent their first copies to Chef Achatz and Nick. The next day, Allen got a call from Nick inviting him and Sarah to come work with the Alinea Group.

Allen spends most of his time at work trying to learn as much as humanly possible from everyone around him, and searching for interesting ways to intersect his skills with those of the rest of the team.

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Sarah Hemberger

Director of Media and Publishing

Before moving to Chicago to join the Alinea Group, Sarah held a myriad of creative positions. She worked as a designer and illustrator for studios in NYC and San Francisco before discovering visual effects and convincing Weta Digital, in New Zealand, to hire her as a texture artist. She and her husband, Allen, lived in New Zealand for five years together, working on films, before moving to the Bay Area, where Sarah took a position at Industrial Light & Magic.

Sarah discovered the Alinea Group through Allen’s cooking project. She always regarded herself as a curious bystander to his hobby, until Nick and Chef Achatz approached her for some design work.

Sarah spends her time outside of the office adventuring with her toddler. Occasionally she gets an hour to herself and rides her bike. She dreams of illustrating a children’s book.

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