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Honoring Black History Month With America's Industry Professionals

These movers and shakers are making innovative moves in numerous industries every day.

February is Black History Month. In addition to honoring Black History with our series touring Civil Rights Movement locations throughout the United States, we’re celebrating some of today’s movers and shakers who are making their mark on the industry.

Honoring Black History Month With Today's Industry Professionals

Chef Darryl Bell, Jr., Founder of Stateline Road BBQ

Chef Darryl Bell, Jr. is no stranger to BBQ. With roots in Kansas City, Missouri and plenty of experience in big cities and culinary hotspots, he took his love of hometown flavors and created Stateline Road BBQ. His sauces are such a hit that world-famous chef Thomas Keller uses them on his menus aboard Seabourn Cruise Line, while Chef Daniel Boulud has said the sauces are “Beautiful, with lots of beautiful spices.”

WT: What inspired Stateline Road BBQ?
Bell: Stateline Road BBQ was inspired by the Rafiki Foundation. I was donating to them when I first moved out to California, and I needed to create something that could self-generate donations regardless of where I was working. I already had the BBQ recipe from my home of Kansas City, so I combined that with my culinary training to create a chef-driven sauce that I am now proud to share.

WT: Can you tell us about your career start and background?
Bell: My career started off in Kansas City, Missouri. The desire to cook found me as an 8-year-old boy. I would regularly cook meals for my family of six, and I knew I wanted to be a chef by the age of 14. I went to culinary school and, after graduation, moved to France to continue cooking. Upon returning to the US, I worked for chef Thomas Keller for seven years before becoming an Executive Chef in San Francisco. Currently, I am the CDC at PRESS in St. Helena and will be opening my first Stateline Road BBQ restaurant in Napa this year.

WT: What sets Stateline Road BBQ apart from other companies?
Bell: What sets Stateline Road BBQ apart from other companies is our core purpose. While other companies wait to see profits or get established and then possibly begin to donate, we created ONLY so we could donate. I was making $8.25/hour living in Napa when this company was created, and although we definitely could’ve used the extra money for us, it was more important to give back. What sets us apart in terms of flavor is the culinary knowledge behind the products and my traditional roots of BBQ in Kansas City. This recipe was tweaked several times before I was proud to bottle and sell it.

WT: What challenges did you face when starting your company?
Bell: When starting Stateline Road BBQ, my challenges were those relating to time. I was working a full-time (70+ hours a week) job. My desire to do demos and tastings on my days off caused me the biggest challenge at the time. The biggest thing that I challenge myself with NOW is getting as many people to try and know about Stateline Road as possible. Those that taste it will quickly see that our sauce is on another level!

WT: What do you hope to see for the future of Stateline Road BBQ?
Bell: For the future of Stateline Road BBQ, I hope to see a wide customer base with large brand recognition. I ultimately want every house to have a jar of our sauce or a different product of ours.

Chef Darryl Bell, Jr. of Stateline Road BBQ | WhereTraveler
Chef Darryl Bell, Jr. (Courtesy Stateline Road BBQ)

Melissa “Dot” Desrameaux, Venue Manager of StarBase Las Vegas

At the head of the new innovative event space, StarBase Las Vegas, is Melissa “Dot” Desrameaux. Her 12 years of experience in various related industries has put her on teams at Life is Beautiful, CornerBar Management Wendoh Media. As Venue Manager, she’s taken her significant experiences with her and now develops the brilliant ideas and designs that have put StarBase on the map. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry? 
Desrameaux: My start in the industry began in college, where I earned my BS in Mass Communications, Public Relations with a Hospitality Management Certification of Tourism Marketing Communications. During my freshman year, I lived in the dorms at Florida International University on the Biscayne Bay Campus. I wanted to network and get involved with campus activities. In discovering the Student Programming Council, I helped organize welcome week, homecoming, spring concerts, comedy shows, and more. Being a part of bringing people together brought me a sense of belonging, and contributing to the atmosphere helped me realize I can make a difference. I started off as a general member, became a committee chair, then vice president, and by my senior year, I was elected president. 

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement? 
Desrameaux: My favorite personal achievement was moving to Las Vegas in 2010, alone, and only a couple of months after graduating college. I was dead set on leaving South Florida to experience more of what life had to offer outside of my hometown, meanwhile getting hands-on experience in event production. With Las Vegas being the entertainment capital of the world, it seemed like a great place to start. I didn’t know anyone, nor had I previously visited, but I purchased a one-way ticket and told my mom that I’d let her know when it was time to come visit.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way? 
Desrameaux: The bulk of my challenges were very personal. I had to overcome being nervous around executives whom I admire and look up to, building confidence as it pertains to my creativity, standing up for my beliefs, and voicing my values. But the biggest challenge truly arose during COVID. I built my entire career around events, and I didn’t know if or when the industry would come back, so I had to lean into my faith and trust that regardless of what was transpiring, everything would work out for the best. 

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Desrameaux: I hope that the future holds more creative roles for me and my career. I am a poet by nature, with aspirations of being a published author, podcast host, and philanthropist with tentacles in technology, green energy, mental health, and emotional wellness. There’s no denying that I love working in this industry, but it has also helped me become certain of how else I want to spend my finite amount of time here. 

Melissa Desrameaux of StarBase Las Vegas | WhereTraveler
Melissa Desrameaux of StarBase Las Vegas (©T. Rose Photos)

Don Peebles, Founder of The Peebles Corporation and Owner of The Bath Club Miami Beach

Being the first Black member of The Bath Club in Miami Beach (its oldest private members club) was a significant milestone for Don Peebles and The Bath Club, but he didn’t stop there. After joining in 1996, Peebles purchased the club in 2000 and has spent over two decades redefining private clubs and making The Bath Club an “exclusively inclusive” destination that welcomes people from all walks of life. Peebles has ventures in major cities all over the country as the founder of The Peebles Corporation, the nation’s largest black-owned real estate development company. 

WT: Can you tell us how you got your start?
Peebles: I was first exposed to the real estate business by my mother when I was eight years old after she got a divorce and switched careers to become a real estate agent. From that point on, I watched how passionate my mother was about her job, and real estate became a huge interest of my own and a big part of my life.

WT: What personal challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Peebles: We all confront personal and business challenges, and most of us meet and overcome them with courage, determination, hard work, and a little luck. I think my biggest challenge was starting a career in real estate as a 19-year-old college dropout. I was able to persevere through it with the support and guidance from my mother, several mentors, and friends that wouldn’t let me give up on myself. That commitment to success and excellence that I felt from the most important people around me lit a fire within me and inspired an unwillingness to quit.

Eventually, I felt no business objective was impossible to achieve and no business problem unsolvable. I had big dreams and felt that I had the opportunity to realize them. This approach to problem-solving led me to start my own appraisal and consulting company at 23 years old and to start my first development project at 26 years old. All of that work has led me to build the company I own today that has $5 billion worth of development in the pipeline. 

WT: What does the future hold for you?
Peebles: Personally, I hope the future holds lots of grandchildren! Along with continuing life with my wife, who has been and is the love of my life.

In business, I would like to change the environment in the real estate industry to unlock and open the doors of meaningful opportunities for women and African Americans, so we can close the wealth and income gaps and solve many of the systemic challenges those minority groups confront every day. While doing this, I would like to build the Affirmation Tower in New York City, which is slated to be the tallest building in the western hemisphere. Eventually, I would also potentially like to serve in political office to serve my community and country.

WT: Of which accomplishment are you most proud?
Peebles: Personally, I am most proud of being a husband and father who is close to his family in a way that I did not experience growing up.

In business, I am most proud of the very first building I made - 2100 Martin Luther King Avenue in Washington, DC because that is where my career really started. I’m also extremely proud of The Residences at The Bath Club because it broke barriers and became the best condominium building in Miami Beach.

Don Peebles | WhereTraveler
(Courtesy Don Peebles)

Ronnie Rainwater, Director of Culinary Operations, Delmonico Steakhouse & Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House

With over two decades of experience working in Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants from coast to coast, Ronnie Rainwater took over the Las Vegas Director of Culinary Operations title in 2020. He continuously brings culinary dining experiences to life at the Las Vegas restaurants, from an in-house dry-aging program to nightly tasting menus that delight diners from all over the world. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Rainwater: I was born and raised in Southern California outside of Los Angeles, where I grew up in the kitchen, shadowing my Southern grandmother at the stove, anxious to taste anything I could get my hands on. I attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, and obtained a culinary arts degree in 1999. One of my early jobs in the industry was an internship in the kitchen at The Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, where I helped prepare dinners and private events for guests. In June 1999, I was offered a position as a cook at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian and moved to Las Vegas. In 2007, I was promoted to executive sous chef at the restaurant and in 2011, promoted to be the Chef de Cuisine. After working with Emeril for 20 years at his restaurants in Las Vegas and on the East coast, I was tapped to become the next Director of Culinary Operations for all Las Vegas Emeril restaurant concepts and have been doing that ever since.

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Rainwater: When I started working at Delmonico in 1999, my ultimate goal was to eventually become the chef de cuisine, and I was able to accomplish that. Being able to help build and develop the restaurant over the years, as well as be a part of the continued success all while starting a family, has by far been my favorite personal achievement.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way?
Rainwater: I’ll honestly say, the last two years have been the most challenging. I originally got into the restaurant industry because I felt like I’d always have a job and could rely on the industry to be booming. In March of 2020, it was the first time ever that I said, wow, I might not have a job. For a city like Las Vegas to completely shut down the way it did, I never thought I’d ever see something quite like that, and it was a scary time for a lot of people in the industry to not know what the future would look like. Now even two years later, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic with supply chain issues, products being back-ordered, shipping delays and the cost of some ingredients have skyrocketed. I expected the hard work, the long hours, and having to stay competitive within the industry but to have that all taken away in the blink of an eye was something I hope I never experience again.

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Rainwater: The one thing I’ve asked for throughout my career is to have the opportunity to progress and move up no matter where I am. I am someone who will put in the work as long as the opportunities continue to be available to me. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be promoted from chef de cuisine to the director of culinary operations. Now my goal is to give back to those who helped me get there by being a mentor and teaching those in my previous positions to do the same. The goal is to put in the work that allows my entire team to excel. For me, focusing on cultivating new chefs and managers, continuing to be relevant in the market, and growing in the community is my top priority. I’m always asking, "how can we impact the market?"

Ronnie Rainwater of Delmonico Steakhouse & Emeril's New Orleans Fish HouseLas Vegas | WhereTraveler
Ronnie Rainwater of Delmonico Steakhouse & Emeril's New Orleans Fish House (Courtesy Emeril's Restaurants)

Tyneese Thompson, Spa Director of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles

With almost ten years of industry experience, Tyneese Thompson is revolutionizing the spa experience at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles. Working her way up from spa concierge to spa director, she’s enhanced the spa experience for numerous celebrity clients at the carefully curated 8,000 square foot space. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Thompson: I began my Spa journey ten years ago at The Ritz-Carlton, Denver. As a young adult, I had always been an advocate of health and wellness and eventually looked into ways to expand on my spa knowledge and build a career in the industry, which brought me into the hospitality and spa world.

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Thompson: My absolute favorite personal achievement is raising three incredible human beings that are loving, kind, inspirational alongside my husband. When I look at the men they have become, I say, “Yes, I did that.”

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way? 
Thompson: There are many obstacles and challenges that might come in our daily activities in both a professional and personal sense. However, when I feel a task or situation might be challenging in any area of my life, I think about the following: I am alive and healthy, my family is alive and healthy, and I can make adjustments and come up with solutions for various challenging times or moments. Anything can be accomplished with the right attitude and the right people by your side.

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Thompson: I look forward to mentoring the next generation of spa and hospitality professionals and creating positive changes in the industry. In addition to this, I hope to complete additional health and wellness classes to expand upon my current knowledge and build upon the personalized service and luxurious amenities of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles.

Tyneese Thompson of The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles | WhereTraveler
Tyneese Thompson (Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles)

Stephanie Barnes & Morria Winn, Co-Owners of Contour Body Studio

Maintaining friendships can be difficult enough, but owning a business together is another feat entirely. Best friends Stephanie Barnes and Morria Winn have done both since opening their business, Contour Body Studio in Philadelphia. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Barnes & Winn: Morria Winn Found non-invasive services online, but they were only offered in Atlanta and not in Philadelphia. So she brought the idea to a friend, Stephanie Barnes. Who initially was a disbeliever in the effectiveness of non-invasive fat reduction treatments. After much research, we realized that these services are, in fact, FDA approved, effective, and have been around for years. We went through extensive training, and the rest is history! 

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Barnes & Winn: Being able to stay in business for almost five years in a competitive market and expanding our brand.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way? 
Barnes & Winn: Staying relevant in the fast-changing beauty industry and keeping up with the trends. 

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Barnes & Winn: We hope to franchise our brand and expand across the US and possibly internationally.

Stephanie Barnes & Morria Winn of Contour Body Studio Philadelphia | WhereTraveler
Stephanie Barnes & Morria Winn (Courtesy Contour Body Studio)

Felix St. Fort, Artist at Mural Arts Philadelphia

A Philadelphia native, Felix St. Fort attended The University of the Arts in 2002, receiving his BFA in Illustration. He’s spent over a decade working with Mural Arts Philadelphia working on projects like the Philly Painting Project as lead artist. He recently completed the “Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters” mural with artist Gabe Tiberino. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Fort: A friend recommended Mural Arts Philadelphia as a good landing point for me. 

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement? 
Fort: With Mural Arts Philadelphia, it’s the things that don’t get on the news that are the best achievements for me. The relationships that are developed that lead to partnerships that turn into lifelong friendships. In between those things, real work gets done that lasts longer than paint on a wall. 

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way?
Fort: Collaboration with other artists can be challenging by itself, but then when you have that collaboration – the Community and other organizations like Freedom Fighters for the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters Mural – it all works together. It can become a challenge to keep everyone in the mix in a way to make sure their inputs are clearly valued and present in the work. 

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career? 
Fort: I have ideas for projects that push the concept of traditional mural-making toward mixed media that I hope I get to explore soon. We will see. 

“Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters” Press Conference Philadelphia | WhereTraveler
“Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters” Press Conference (Courtesy Mural Arts Philadelphia)