Business People of the Year

The “Great Eight,” these leaders are taking on our coastline, our waistline, and everything in between. this year, Biz New Orleans celebrates our second-ever business people of the Year — individuals that are taking their companies and industries to new markets and new frontiers in efforts that are gaining them recognition not just at home, but on the National stage.


Jay McLellan

Vice President, Energy Management, Controls and Automation for Leviton

A fourth generation New Orleanian, Jay McLellan has been called a “father of the home automation” industry thanks to his founding of Home Automation, Inc. Back in 1985, the company produced a product that offered the ability to control a home’s temperature, security and lighting from the then-new Motorola bag phone.

Home Automation, Inc. grew into a global home and business automation company that was acquired by Leviton Manufacturing in 2012. Based in Melville, New York, Leviton is a 111-year old company that holds over 1,000 patents and manufactures 2.5 million parts related to electrical wiring devices, networking and automation every day.

In July 2014, Leviton opened its Experience Center at 334 Carondelet St. in New Orleans, joining similar centers in San Francisco and Anaheim. The centers invite people to see for themselves how the company’s security and automation, lighting and energy solutions operate in real life business and residential settings.  

In September 2017, Leviton opened an Innovation Center at 865 Fulton St. McLellan leads the center’s team, which is already a recognized leader in the Internet of Things — defined as the interconnection, via the internet, of any device with an on and off switch.

The Innovation Center works on product marketing, development and support, including electronic design, cloud services, apps and embedded firmware. The company has developed strategic partnerships with Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung to develop products that work specifically with their voice controls and smartphones, among other things.

In 2017 alone, Leviton received more than 16 “smart” awards from home builders, engineering societies, architects, third-party review sites and retailers. The company was 2017’s Home Depot’s Electrical Supplier Partner of the Year.

After more than 30 years spent selling to high-end clients, home automation is finally available to everyone.  

“Now, $40 smart switches and dimmers sell at Home Depot, Amazon and other major retailers, which creates a larger customer base for our NOLA-based products,” McLellan said. “Voice control is the No. 1 driving factor right now, with a majority of our customers using the My Leviton app along with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant devices.”

McLellan says the fact that the company now sells to end users requires Leviton to be a consumer-facing company. “We’re focusing on ‘Excellence in Customer Experience’ initiatives moving forward.”



Erik Frank

CEO of Your Nutrition Delivered

The brainchild of former American Powerlifting national champion and certified personal trainer Erik Frank, Your Nutrition Delivered provides fresh, healthy meals and snack options to businesses, hospitals and casinos, as well as rewards platforms to incentivize healthy eating.

Since winning the 2013 “Big Idea” competition by Idea Village, Frank’s company has really taken off, most notably over the past two years.

In 2016, Frank became the director of sales and innovation for Refreshment Solutions, the largest full-service vending, coffee and micro-market provider in the state of Louisiana. The company is dedicated to creating healthier workforces by providing healthy eating options for company break rooms.

“An office break room used to mean stale coffee and honey buns,” said Frank in an interview with Biz New Orleans for the June 2017 issue, “but today, with micro-market technology, it can mean a chai tea latte and Greek salad with chicken and a honey balsamic dressing.”

Clients currently include Laitram, Ochnser and LCMC.

Alongside Ochsner, Frank and Refreshment Solutions have also been working with the Ochsner Eat Fit NOLA program, which encourages local chefs to create more healthy dining options. The partnership is helping to put Eat Fit options into company vending machines.

In addition to serving on the board of the Entrepreneurs Organization, Frank also serves as a committee chair for Humana’s health advisory board. The insurance company has created a Bold Goal program with the aim of making New Orleans 20 percent healthier by 2020. 

Frank’s committee is tackling diabetes in the workplace by running pilot programs around positive food choices at work. The first programs have been put in place at Laitram and Harrah’s Biloxi.

At these locations, employees targeted as pre-diabetic are encouraged to purchase healthy food options from their company’s micro-market machines using a payroll deduction program. If the employee makes a set amount of healthy purchases, the company will reimburse them for part of the cost of the purchased food.

“Other incentives could include things like added vacation time or some form of recognition,” added Frank. “Our plan is to add more companies as time goes on.”



Marty Mayer

CEO of Stirling Properties

Celebrated as the “coastal crusader” that he is, Marty Mayer, CEO of Stirling Properties, was the cover feature for Biz New Orleans’ August 2017 issue, just two months after the Louisiana legislature passed the $50 billion 2017 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan.

Declared a federal emergency by both the state and federal government, Louisiana’s land loss is severe — 2,006 square miles of coast between 1932 and 2016 according to a U.S. Geological survey.

Spurred by a problem that affects business just as much as everyone else, Mayer said it was during a conversation with Michael Hecht and Robin Barnes — president and CEO, and executive vice president and COO of Greater New Orleans, Inc. — that the importance of raising awareness of coastal issues in business came up. The idea of creating a business group was raised.

“We felt we could help in two ways,” said Mayer. “First, we can spread the word. Our goal has been to use our voices and connections in a way that will hopefully protect funding that has already been earmarked for coastal restoration; for example GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) gives us royalties from offshore oil and BP fines. Second, we are in a position to advocate for other legislative policy issues that may end up expediting the permitting process of these projects that are designed to help.”

The Coalition for Coastal Resilience and Economy (CCRE) was formed in 2014. Chaired by Mayer, it represents a diverse group of leaders that range from banking and finance, to hospitality, manufacturing, law and energy.

Following the passage of the master plan — of which the CCRE was a fervent supporting force — the group has turned its attention to finding creative ways to help secure long-term sustainable financing for the projects included in the plan.

“Right now the funding has a lifespan of about 15 years,” said Mayer, “but these projects are going to go on a lot longer than that.”

The CCRE has also created an education task force, with the goals of partnering with schools and children’s organizations to educate the next generation about Louisiana’s coastal situation, as well as coordinate curriculum for the jobs that will be created by the master plan’s projects.

“It’s a whole new industry for South Louisiana,” he said. 



Stephen Cali, Chris Audler & Aaron Vogel

Co-owners of District Donuts. Sliders. Brew

One month before the first issue of Biz New Orleans was published in October 2014, one of our bloggers wrote a little profile on a new company that had just been formed the previous year by three local men — childhood friends Aaron Vogel, Chris Audler and Stephen Cali.

All three had experience working in the restaurant business — Vogel and Audler were executives at New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co. — and had decided to team up and create their own venture. The result was District Donuts. Sliders. Brew.

Instead of creating a concept and then looking for a place to put it, the three men went about things the opposite way — falling for a 1,700-square-foot shop in the Lower Garden District next to Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street and then asking themselves what it was that particular area was missing.

Apparently it was missing more than 200 varieties of specialty donuts served all day and created completely from scratch (even the sprinkles), as well as sandwiches, sliders and coffee.

It turns out, this was a gap waiting to be filled in a lot of neighborhoods.

Just a year after opening, District Donuts opened a second location further up the same street, a less-than-200-square-foot spot in Uptown New Orleans on the corner of Arabella and Magazine. Less than two years later, in 2016, the company expanded again with the opening of another location, this time in Lakeview.

District Donuts’ most aggressive growth, however, came in 2017 with the opening of two new locations, including its first out of New Orleans. In February the company opened at Elmwood Shopping Center, adding craft beer to the menu — a first for any of their stores. In May, the most recent addition to their brand was made in Baton Rouge’s Towne Center.

Along the way, the company has racked up a fair share of local and national attention, topping must-try lists from The Food Network, New York Post, Huffington Post, MSN and Travel & Leisure Magazine, who proclaimed District to be on a short list of America’s best donut shops, specifically calling out their Vietnamese Iced Coffee donut.

The most recent accolade is from the Foodable Network, which, based on consumer data, proclaimed District Donuts home of the “Best Donut in the Nation.”

What’s next for these donut dynamos?

According to Cali, it’s more expansion even further from home.

“Right now we are focused on growing out of state,” he said.



Cathy Deano & Renee Maloney

Owners of Painting With a Twist

Not many people can claim they created awhole new industry, but Renee Maloney and Cathy Deano have done just that.

These two Mandeville residents were friends and fellow PTA moms back in 2007 when they went looking for a way to stay busy and give back to their community in the post-Katrina landscape.

What they came up with was a fun way to hang out with friends, have some wine, and create a painting you can take home with you. From that idea, the first Painting With a Twist was born in Mandeville in 2007.

The 10 years since have been one expansion after another. In 2017, the now-successful franchisor opened five more studios throughout California, bringing the company to a grand total of 349 studios across 39 states. It was the most significant expansion in California since the first studio was added in 2013. In 2017, the company also opened its first studios in Wisconsin, New Mexico and Arizona.

Last year was a game changer that started right out of the gate in January with Maloney’s appearance on the CBS hit television series, “Undercover Boss.”

In addition to providing Maloney and Deano with an opportunity to get an undercover look at their own rapidly growing company — something that Maloney said in an interview in the February 2017 issue of Biz New Orleans led to the implementation of “a lot of changes” — the show also served to spread awareness of the brand throughout the country.

January also marked another prestigious recognition: For the fourth year in a row, Entrepreneur Magazine rated Painting with a Twist the No. 1 paint-and-sip studio in the country — a fitting honor since it’s an industry they created. The magazine also named the company “Fastest-Growing Franchise.”

The first ladies of fun art are showing no signs of slowing down. According to Maloney, the company’s goal is to someday reach 700 stores nationwide. There’s even thought of going international.