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Career Day Keynote Speaker Andrew Gruel '98: The Path to Happiness is the Path to Success
Sara Courtney

This year’s Career Day featured an engaging keynote speech from Chef Andrew Gruel '98 and an auditorium filled with ambitious juniors and seniors. Mr. Gruel, a food entrepreneur and television personality, shared insights from his professional journey before students attended their choice of three breakout sessions from among 16 different industry panels and their 66 alumni panelists–including 40 alumni who were first-time Career Day participants. Judging by the wide range of questions asked by students, and the thought provoking answers the panelists gave, the day was a rousing success.


Mr. Gruel was an inspired choice for keynote speaker. He emphasized the values he learned at Pingry–perseverance, empathy, humor, and honesty–are what propelled him to the success and happiness he enjoys today. After his graduation from Pingry, he attended Bates College, where he ran cross country and committed himself to being number one at just about everything he devoted himself to. He had a job working in a restaurant kitchen, just as he had done in high school, and he found himself spending more and more time developing his culinary skills. The happiness he found working in kitchens left him conflicted—it seemed incompatible with his drive to stay on a set path of ensured success. “I thought I was supposed to know what I wanted to do,” he said, “but I didn’t, and it created a ton of pressure.” All that pressure led to burnout until Mr. Gruel was honest with himself about the thing that made him happiest–working in kitchens–and decided he would create a path to success for himself.

He left Bates College and made his way out West, where he took an apprenticeship that led to his first job as executive sous chef. He continued to lean into what made him happy, opening a food truck which led to a brick and mortar restaurant and, eventually, appearances on television. He became the founder of Slapfish Restaurant Group and is currently the founder and CEO of American Gravy Restaurant Group. When the pandemic hit and many restaurants went under, Mr. Gruel became a community leader, fundraising for out-of-work restaurant employees and providing meals for those in need. He and his wife Lauren Gruel were named Pandemic Heroes by Restaurant Business Magazine for their efforts.

Mr. Gruel encouraged the students to focus on what makes them happy, even if it means stepping off a set path, and trust that Pingry has given them the skills to follow their happiness and achieve success.

And if stepping off a set path sounds uncomfortable? Mr. Gruel wants them to understand they will figure it out. “I can assure you, being uncomfortable is a good thing,” he told the audience. “Lean into yourself internally and ask yourself, what makes you happy?” For the future graduates of Pingry, they will soon be stepping out into the unknown, buoyed by assurances from Pingry alumni that they have the skills to achieve their dreams.

Watch Mr. Gruel’s Keynote Address


Thank You to all of our Career Day Speakers:

Benjamin Rosenthal '05 – Associate at David Smotrich & Partners LLP
Catherine Yatrakis '96 – Director of Operations, Interiors at HOK
Brian Hirsch '97 – Owner and CEO of Hirsch Design Group

Eric Klawitter '14 – Software Engineer at Citadel
Dr. Dean Christakos '92 – Principal Data Scientist at Prudential Financial
Emma Engel '15 – Senior VDC Engineer at VIATechnik
Charles Papandreou '17 – Aladdin Product Group Analyst at BlackRock

Andrew Gruel '98 — Founder and CEO of American Gravy Restaurant Group (KEYNOTE SPEAKER)
Evan Shore '02 – Senior Director of Product Management, Health and Wellness at Walmart
Ali Clarke '04 – Host, Culinary Producer, Recipe Developer and Food Stylist

Laura Hunt '98 – Executive Director at Mitsui Bussan Commodities Ltd
Lauren Tanenbaum '05 – Managing Director at The Carlyle Group
Abhiram Karuppur '15 – Private Equity Associate at Ara Partners
Christina Daquila '09 – Director, Investment Banking Business Management at Barclays
Cara Hayes '13 – Senior Associate at KSL Capital Partners
Briehan Burke '09 – General Partner at Keen Venture Partners
Barbara Coffey '82 – Finance Research Librarian at Princeton University
Doug Bookbinder '98 – Managing Director, Head of Investor Relations at Lighthouse Investment Partners, LLC

Hon. William G. Mennen, J.S.C. '85 – Judge, New Jersey Superior Court, Family Division
Marcella B. Marucci, Esq.'00 – Associate Attorney at Sonia Col & Associates, P.C.
Amy Gopinathan '10 – Associate at WilmerHale
Kate Goldstein Legge '97 – Managing Member of Legge Law, LLC
Shermona Mapp Akotia '99 — Senior Counsel at Cigna Corporation
Jamil McClintock '04 – Assistant General Counsel at Deloitte LLP (US)
Sam Adriance '07 – Privacy Counsel Lead at Square
Colleen Roberts '11 – Associate at Ropes & Gray LLP

Management Consulting & Professional Services:
Genevieve Fraser '07 – Consultant, Financial Services at Russell Reynolds Associates
Christin Willis '03 – Senior Consultant at Slalom
Erin Butrico '14 – Project Manager of Operations at New York-Presbyterian

Marketing & Advertising:
Katherine Thomas '13 – Associate Brand Manager, Dove at Unilever
Madeline Higgins '12 – Marketing Manager, Betting & Gaming at NBC Sports
Maynard Pond '09 – Realtor Associate at KP Edgestone Realty
Elana Drell-Szyfer '87 – CEO of ReVive Skincare

Media & Communications:
Ted Smith '00 – Head of Communications at PGIM
Nicole Blum '13 – Media Rights at HarperCollins Publishers
Myles Ezra Bristow '10 – Event and Communications Coordinator at the University of California, Berkeley
Roxanne Feitel '12 – Associate Producer at CBS News

Dr. Darren Blumberg '88 – Partner at Atlantic Gastroenterology
Dr. David Salz '03 – Physician at The Eye Specialists
Dr. Blake Vessa '10 – Chief Resident Physician at Rutgers Health/Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center
Dr. Ian Alexander '72 – Facility Medical Director, Orthopaedics, TeamHealth at Genesis Healthcare System
Dr. Connor McLaughlin '12 – Resident Physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Dr. Marc S. Feldstein '82 – Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg Medical School

Non-Profit & Education:
Michelle Jarney Jacobs '89 – Executive Director, Learning & Strategy at The Leadership Academy
Graham Macmillan '93 – President of the Visa Foundation
Shelby Bartlett '08 – Dean of Students, Middle School at Geffen Academy at UCLA
Annelise Kinney '15 – Advancement Associate at Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton

Performing Arts:
Andrew Horowitz '01 – Artist, Music Producer, CEO at Calm and Collected Music Group
Dr. Ashley Jackson '04 – Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Music Department at Hunter College
Dana Zolli '03 – Line Producer, Production Manager at Disney/20th Television
Rachel Davis '14 – Senior Manager of Operations, Executive, and Board Affairs at the School of American Ballet

Dr. Angelica M. Diaz-Martinez, Psy.D '88 – Associate Teaching Professor & Director for Clinical Training, Clinical Department at Rutgers University's Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology
Jessica Foy '16 – Clinical Research Coordinator at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia 
Steven Gold '95 – Founder and CEO of Refresh Mental Health

Public Service:
Christopher Shahidi '94 – Senior Foreign Service Officer at U.S. Department of State
David Baird '92 – Captain in the US Navy
Lowell Schiller '99 – Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer at Aetion, Inc.

Dr. Mike Nitabach '84 — Professor at Yale School of Medicine, Associate Director of Yale's MD/Ph.D. program
Dr. Adam Schayowitz '99 – VP, Development Head at Pfizer Oncology 
Emery Sorvino '15 – Associate Manager, Corporate Development at Indigo

Julie (Johnson) Roberts '05 – Co-founder, Chief Strategy Officer at Lambent
Harrison Yu '11 – Director at NextEra Energy
Ashley Acosta '08 – Founder & CEO of Maca (in stealth)

Visual Arts:
Joanne Steinhardt '84 – Artist & Educator
Liz Seigel '03 – Head of Private and Iconic Collections at Christie's
Dr. Sara Weintraub '95 – AVP, Program Director at Christie's Education

Contact Sara Courtney