13 Fort Worthians to Watch in 2019

Look out, world. These locals have some moving and shaking to do 2019.

Brandom Gengelbach

Executive Vice President of Economic Development, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce
The future of Fort Worth does not lie in the hands of a single person, but there are people whose hands help push it along. Brandom Gengelbach is one of these people. Now in his third year as executive vice president of economic development at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Gengelbach has been involved with the chamber’s four-year plan to transform itself into an economic development powerhouse called Fortify.

“In order for Fort Worth to remain competitive, the chamber is focusing on four key components: transportation, education, workforce training and perception. After a major fundraising effort, we now can focus on marketing and getting Fort Worth’s name out there. We are working on a ‘quality of place’ agenda to make our community an attractive place to visit, live and work,” Gengelbach says.

Along with marketing, he is busy developing a talent pool trained with the skills required to fill industry needs. “We are the chief facilitator between educational institutions and the industry sector,” he says.

“We also have a new mission statement — Economic Prosperity for All,” Gengelbach says. That requires addressing poverty head on. “While we have about 17 percent of our residents living in poverty, about 35 percent of our population does not earn a living wage. This reality is not unique to other large urban areas, but by focusing on providing things like affordable and quality housing and child care, Fort Worth can help all citizens both contribute to and benefit from our economy.”
- Courtney Dabney

Callie Salls
Chef Proprietor, Meyer & Sage

“I’m a citrus addict,” confesses Callie Salls. “And a fresh herb addict.” Meyer lemons and silver-green sage are the chef’s favorite ingredients, as well as the inspiration behind her catering business’s new storefront, Meyer & Sage. Salls’ culinary calling cards are color, creativity and conscious eating. Her cheese and charcuterie “grazing boards” are Instagram gold, imaginative whirlwinds of edible flowers and technicolor fruits arranged with an artist’s eye.

Salls’ new “culinary studio” is situated off Carroll Street amidst the electric energy of The Foundry District. With a focus on local and sustainable ingredients, Meyer & Sage is both a grab-and-go food shop and a sit-and-nibble hangout. It’s also one of the few places that uses all organic chicken, wild-caught fish and humanely raised beef, lamb and pork. You’ll find colorful salads and green chile pimiento cheese, plus oven-ready meals like barbacoa enchiladas and citrus-sage brined turkey. Pick up a work-of-art party platter and cute foodie gifts.

Up next for Salls: in-store culinary workshops and chef demos. Meyer & Sage will also provide gourmet bites, including grazing boards, marinated olives and honey rosemary nuts to its next-door neighbor, Blackland Distilling, when the tasting room/cocktail bar opens in 2019.
- Shilo Urban

Hayden Blackburn
Executive Director, TechFW

While Fort Worth isn’t regarded as a hub of technological innovation — or even fostering a tech-savvy workforce — Hayden Blackburn has a vision of taking the city far beyond its Cowtown roots. The executive director at TechFW, which focuses on helping new technology startups get off the ground, helps build relationships within the community by offering mentoring and coaching to inventors in tech industries.

With a large and diverse portfolio of local startups, the incubator project has been changing the face of tech in Fort Worth for the past 20 years. A founding director of IDEA Works FW, Blackburn’s been with TechFW for only two years but quickly rose to become the company’s executive director in September of 2018.

“Tech startups have all the same challenges as any other enterprise, plus the added years it often takes to navigate the FDA approval process, especially with regard to medical devices,” Blackburn says. “Sometimes, you might have the right technology, but at the wrong time,” he says. So, much of Blackburn’s expertise is focused on evaluating that timing and in finding the right audience for the technology. He also facilitates angel investors to back the entrepreneur.

In 2019 TechFW is planning to expand its offerings with the addition of satellite locations. “We will also be opening up our Think Lab accelerator program in February to all technology-based companies, not just to companies that currently hold a patent,” Blackburn says.
- Courtney Dabney

Cary Moon
Entrepreneur, Fort Worth City Council

Cary Moon, whose Fort Worth City Council district cuts a big L-shaped swath from the Heritage neighborhood where he lives in far north Fort Worth into the city center and east through Woodhaven, is an unusual sight on the council dais for his strong entrepreneurial background in finance, real estate, restaurants and entertainment. Moon’s wasted no time in putting that work for the city, looking at the city’s revenue policies, ranging from how the city invests to user fees. “The tax rate should not be the first place we look for revenue.”

Moon chaired the city’s audit committee, which unearthed, among other things, $135,000 in savings from unused mobile devices and $27,000 from unused land lines. He’s pledged to bring more business to East Fort Worth, using money from a tax increment finance district as incentives. The International Leadership of Texas brought a charter school to Woodhaven. “It’s just fun to do stuff,” Moon says. He wants to bring $100 million in development to the east side of his district; so far, $30 million has come. “We’ve got $50 million in the pipeline.”

Moon’s name surfaces  among potential contenders for mayor, should Mayor Betsy Price step down in a few years. Moon says he’s not aware of the speculation. Asked if he wants to be mayor, he says, “It’d be an honor to be mayor, but I think Mayor Price is doing a great job.”
- Scott Nishimura

Elyse Dickerson
CEO, Eosera

Eosera, a Fort Worth biotech company founded by ex-Alcon vets Elyse Dickerson and Joe Griffin, has had a strong launch. The company, a leader on Fort Worth’s life sciences scene, put its first product — Earwax MD, eardrops for impacted wax — on Amazon in spring 2017 and followed that up quickly. Its Earwax MD, Ear Pain MD and Ear Pain MD For Kids are in CVS stores nationally. In 2019, the company is to launch its Ear Itch MD at CVS, and its Wax Blaster MD, a kit that includes a large dispensing bottle in a smaller number of CVS stores. “We’re talking to them about 2,000 stores,” Elyse Dickerson, Eosera’s CEO, says. Earwax MD has helped revive the category at CVS, which gave Eosera its Rising Star Award. “It was a huge surprise to us,” Dickerson says. The CVS buyer was an early believer in Earwax MD — “he took a risk on us, and it paid off for him” — and that’s helped open the door to other retailers for Eosera.

In early 2018, the company launched its products in 700 of 4,000 of Target stores’ largest locations. Eosera expects to launch in RiteAid in 2019. “We’re waiting to hear which stores.” The company has gone to everyday manufacturing at its offices off of University Drive and West Sixth Street, up from two days a week. It has 20 employees, including a new team lead who has a manufacturing background (neither she nor Griffin has previous manufacturing background) and is seeking to more employees who can work full time.
- Scott Nishimura

Jay Wilkinson
Painter, Photographer and Sculptor

Co-founder of the artist collective Art Tooth, Jay Wilkinson’s presence in Fort Worth’s creative underground community is rising to the collective consciousness. You’ll often find his works on display at Fort Works Art, including a current double exhibition with artist Austin Fields: “Chameleon” (showing through Jan. 26).

Based on surreal images of bohemian party photos, many taken in Fort Worth, Wilkinson’s new series feels intimately alien. Each social scene captures the familiar distance between humans despite their shared spaces. “It’s almost like you’re an astronaut,” he explains, “like you’re looking at it through a piece of glass, and you can’t touch it. Which is the way the world can feel a lot of times.”

While his recent focus has been painting and photography, Wilkinson has also worked on several large-scale projects in the past, including murals in Fort Worth’s Inspiration Alley and Magnolia Avenue. He plans to return to larger, more experiential sculptures in 2019 “that invade people’s spaces a little bit more.” With no formal training or high-places connections, Wilkinson hopes that his success will inspire other artists. “There’s nothing in your way.”
- Shilo Urban

Melvin Roberson
Owner, Dough Boy Donuts

There’s a doughnut revolution taking place in Fort Worth, and Melvin Roberson’s Dough Boy Donuts is leading the charge.

From a charming new storefront on the historic Camp Bowie bricks, Roberson is bringing a new type of treat to the neighborhood: a doughnut that not only tastes different, but that’s also made different. The Dough Boy doughnut is denser and cakier than regular rings and comes sprinkled with toppings ranging from Oreo cookies and Lucky Charms to a savory strip of candied bacon and Sriracha sauce. The doughnuts are also made to order so they are hot and fresh rather than pulled cold from a case.

Roberson created his original recipe — and tested the market for it — by launching the Dough Boy Donuts food truck back in 2015. Despite its success, brick-and-mortar was always the goal. He achieved it last August by transforming a just-closed bakery into a cozy space with a counter for take-away and an inviting area complete with a fireplace and comfy seating for those wishing to stay. Now, Roberson has a new set of goals: expanding the menu (cinnamon rolls and doughnut bread pudding, anyone?), expanding special events (chef dinners and beer and doughnut pairings) and maybe even an actual expansion, all designed to make the Dough Boy experience even sweeter.
- Jenny B. Davis

Michael Crain
Connector, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Identifying what Michael Crain does for purposes of our headline wasn’t easy. Crain, a lawyer and former official for the George W. Bush administration who capped his service as chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, returned to Fort Worth (he grew up at Eagle Mountain Lake) in 2014 with his wife and young children. A connector by nature, Crain served on the executive committee for SteerFW, an organization of young leaders formed by Mayor Betsy Price. He transplanted Foodie Philanthropy, a nonprofit he created while living in Beijing, to Fort Worth, annually raising money for a nonprofit (2019 is the Hope Center for Autism) by recruiting popular chefs to donate tables of 10. Proceeds of seat sales go to the charity.

When City Councilman Brian Byrd won election to his first term serving the far West Side, Crain came aboard as district administrator. Crain’s a Realtor for Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International. His Fort Worth opening of a franchise restaurant for MidiCi  The Neapolitan Pizza Co. failed; the distressed chain fell into bankruptcy in September. Late in 2018, Crain successfully pitched an idea for a job as chief of operations at Leadership Fort Worth, where he’s tackled an examination of the organization’s programs and how they work together.

At 46, Crain is interested in issues like what the city’s leadership looks like in the future, workforce development and early education. One lesson from the restaurant experience: our tight labor supply. “We have a workforce problem. I saw it firsthand.”
- Scott Nishimura

Paul Dorman
CEO, DFB Pharmaceuticals, NanOlogy

Paul Dorman’s in a race to kill cancer. The 82-year-old Fort Worth biotech entrepreneur, who’s built and sold a series of companies and taken in about $2 billion in proceeds, founded NanOlogy in 2015 to develop targeted ways to deliver chemo drugs in high concentrations. What NanOlogy’s found: Local treatment may be significantly more effective in killing cancer and stimulating the immune system.

“We’re developing some very interesting delivery technology; we’re seeing some very positive and surprising results,” Dorman told us in 2018. NanOlogy was granted a patent for its nanoparticles, unique in shape, size and surface area. As it pushes toward FDA approval, much of NanOlogy’s research involves injecting nanoparticles made of chemo drugs into tumors. NanOlogy also is studying administration by inhalation or topical for certain cancers.

In 2017, NanOlogy began to see administration by inhalation for lung cancer was killing cells over a protracted period and stimulating the immune system. NanOlogy has found the immune response preclinically in several cancers. In 2018, NanOlogy completed a human clinical trial in prostate cancer; “progressed” trials in pancreatic and ovarian cancers; completed a clinical trial in a precancerous skin condition with a topical; and progressed a clinical trial for cutaneous metastized cancer. The FDA authorized the company to begin a human clinical trial in bladder cancer. Coming 2019: clinical trial in renal cancer and possibly a clinical trial for administration by inhalation.
- Scott Nishimura

Rambo Elliott
Artist, Filmmaker, Photographer

Multimedia artist Rambo Elliott is on the hunt for a new set of answers. The questions are many, but mostly it can be distilled down to this: What’s next?

Early in her career, her challenges skewed existential: What do I want to say? What do I want to represent? How can I push limits of my craft and my creative expression? Now, with a portfolio of international work ranging from short films, to Vogue-published photographic images, to fashion campaigns and chart-topping album covers, she’s an artist in command of both a signature aesthetic and a successful career, which explains why she’s shifted her focus to determining the new and the next.

Rambo’s goal is storytelling. She wants to create images and experiences that tell a story in a voice that’s authentic, alternative and true. She’s already doing that with her latest project, a short film tentatively titled “Internal Thread.” Commissioned by Fort Worth’s M2G Ventures, it’s intended to raise awareness of mental health issues. Rambo wrote the script and cast the actors, and she and her team will start shooting soon.

What project comes next, however, is an open question. But if it involved artistic freedom, adventure and perhaps a bias-cut silk gown, it would be just the answer she’s looking for.
- Jenny B. Davis

Susan Alanis
Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth

Susan Alanis, a longtime Fort Worth assistant city manager, seemingly has been assigned all of the city’s hard cases, ranging from the city’s pension, to budget and finance, and, most recently, transportation and public works (TPW). The TPW portfolio, among other things, includes how best to address Fort Worth’s gap in public transportation infrastructure.

The city is paying for a study that will establish priorities in the Trinity Metro master plan that the agency reached in 2015. Those priorities will include an examination of what next to do with the TEXRail line, which launched in early January from T&P Station on the Near Southside to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, bringing rail into the airport for the first time. Trinity Metro has submitted an a la carte TEXRail menu to the city that includes projected station-by-station costs for an extended TEXRail from T&P to the Medical District, TCU at Eighth Avenue and Berry Street, Granbury Road and Interstate 20 and Summer Creek in the Chisholm Trail corridor.

No matter the results of the study, “at the end of the day, we’ve got to figure out what we can pay for,” Alanis told the magazine last fall. City officials have also begun discussing whether to bring Trinity Metro in as a city department.
- Scott Nishimura

Zelia Baugh
Executive Vice President of Behavioral Health, John Peter Smith Hospital

Zelia Baugh joined John Peter Smith Hospital, one of the main providers of mental health care in the area, in May 2018 — just before the city’s $800 million bond package to improve mental health care passed in November. With the passage of the bond comes a community-wide commitment to mental health, and Baugh will be part of the leadership team responsible for upgrading mental health services in Tarrant County.

“Fort Worth is unique,” Baugh says. “With a community of collaboration and the willingness to back up their concerns with the financing to improve mental health care — I came at a great time.
“The needs of the community had already been identified.”

Baugh will begin 2019 by “pulling together community leaders and stakeholders to identify how to be smart and strategic with our money — to get the most bang for our buck,” she says.

Specific areas she plans to address include increasing JPS’ points of access and capacity. “The issue has been the number of people we are able to serve,” she says. She also wants to better utilize resources, and even though there is a nationwide shortage of mental health providers, Baugh wants to expand care by nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide better care for the community.
- Courtney Dabney

Abraham Alexander
Musician and Singer

Don’t call him the next Leon Bridges. Abraham Alexander forges a profoundly personal connection through his soulful music and his satin vocals. Born in Greece, Alexander arrived in the U.S. at age 12, unable to speak a word of English. Now he crafts impactful lyrics and musical poetry that’s inspired by his Christian faith and a hope for the future. His debut single “America” was a response to the killing of five Dallas police officers at a black rights rally, a touchpoint song that captured the moment’s sadness, frustration and passion.

Alexander is currently working on his first collective project, which he is “out of this world excited about,” he shares. “Sonically, it’s so unique. I’m blending so many different elements that I love into one thing, like jazz and pop, in a sense, and blues, and bands that I find inspiration from.” His band may not have a name yet, but they’ll be playing at SXSW and releasing an EP on the U.K. label Mahogany sometime in 2019.

“I’m stretching myself to discover what’s buried within that I hadn’t even noticed and to expand and leave room for growth. I just can’t wait for the ride that’s about to happen. It’s going to be fun.”
- Shilo Urban