Quick Take:

From the likes of chef Jessica Yarr to the arepas of Pana Food Truck, natural wines at the Apéro Club and market-style events of Collective Santa Cruz, Lily Belli has the scoop on this year’s NEXTies honorees.

This story was originally featured in this week’s Lily Belli on Food newsletter. Be first the first to hear about food and drink news in Santa Cruz County — sign up for Lily’s email newsletter here and text alerts here.

One of Santa Cruz County’s premier awards events, the NEXTies, is back after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. On March 31 at Woodhouse Blending & Brewing, the NEXTies will celebrate more than 20 local honorees in categories such as Musician of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year and Community Builder of the Year. This year for the first time, Lookout Santa Cruz is co-hosting the event with Event Santa Cruz, which has organized the NEXTies since 2012.

I’m proud to have been the inaugural NEXTies honoree for Writer of the Year in 2017, and this year, I lent my voice to the selection process for local food and beverage influencers.

Foodie of the Year chef Jessica Yarr brought plant-forward Eastern European comfort food into our lives through her pop-up Chicken Foot, through which she raised money for Ukraine war relief. She also launched a second project, the Brunch Shift, and is set to open her first café in her hometown of Felton in a few weeks.

While Pana Food Truck was founded in 2019, 2022 was the year many discovered owners German and Gaby Sierra’s loaded Venezuelan arepas. With two food trucks and a new location inside the Octagon building in downtown Santa Cruz, Pana earned the award for Food Biz of the Year.

New Biz of the Year Collective Santa Cruz started as a clothing company at the end of 2021, and within a single year founders Jalen Horne and Kendall Denike built off that initial idea to create a series of market-style events focused on promoting local artists, makers and food and beverage pop-ups.

Aran and Hannah Healy bring energy, passion and wine expertise to the Apéro Club, their little jewel box of a wine bar and bottle shop on Santa Cruz’s Westside. It was chosen as Best In Booze of the Year for its curated list of natural wines, being the site of hip pop-ups like Yakitori Toriman and Jayne Dough, as well as the host of some of the best after-hours dance parties.

Woodhouse Brewing also had an influential 2022 when it added comedy nights, networking events and Afrobeats nights to its lineup of craft beer. The deejayed dance parties, led by DJ Monk Earl — also a winner, for Performing Artist of the Year — and fueled by Woodhouse’s house-brewed ales, sours and barrel-aged blends earned it the award for Hip Hang Out of the Year.

View the full list of NEXTis honorees and purchase tickets for the awards ceremony March 31 at eventsantacruz.com.

Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...