Six years ago, Jamie Siminoff’s newborn son, Oliver, was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that prevents him from metabolizing the sugar found in dairy products.

“When that happened, I started to be his partner in crime and not eat dairy,” said the tech inventor, who founded Santa Monica video doorbell company Ring.

After discovering Kite Hill’s almond milk-based cheese at Whole Foods, Siminoff contacted the Hayward company and asked if he could help with an investment. Siminoff, 38, put in $100,000.

“It’s rare that somebody practically reaches out to a company and says, ‘I love your products. I’d like to get involved. Can I help support you financially?’” said Kite Hill Chief Executive Matthew Sade.

It was a sound business decision for Siminoff, who likes to distribute his money in different industries in case the tech market crashes. But for the entrepreneur who mindfully invests in two projects a year, this one was personal.

“Your money is giving your child access to something they never had before,” he said.

Siminoff; his wife, Erin; and his son, who has galactosemia, use Kite Hill’s products to make cannelloni, ravioli, pizzas and even mozzarella-like sticks.

The now 6-year-old gets to eat cheese at lunch every day, just like other children in his class.

“He’ll eat containers of it,” Siminoff said.

Up in Smoke

Alex Benes, 59, spent 30 years as a TV news correspondent, covering smoke-filled war zones in Latin America. These days, he occupies smoke-filled kitchens where he barbecues ribs, tri-tip and brisket.

Benes, who grew up in Cuba and is bilingual, started the first Central American bureau for ABC, and later reported for CBS and Univision. While based in El Salvador, he covered the civil war there at “the height of the death squads,” he said.

Benes bypassed staying in the hotel popular with most media folks, opting for an apartment of his own where he could cook, which was important. His neighbor, he learned, was the minister of sugar, a government post related to one of country’s biggest industries.

“He had an armed guard,” Benes said. “So as a result, I had an armed guard as well.”

Benes became hungry for change in 2006, as he saw TV news shift to lighter subjects. He moved to California, saying he would only stay for two years to help his cousin with his barbeque business. He soon realized it was his calling. Today, he is partner and executive chef at Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, a Westlake Village chain.

Staff reporters Melissah Yang and Hannah Miet contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at

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