For Heritage owners Lauren Pretty and her brother Philip Pretty, the effects of the Long Beach, California restaurant’s first MICHELIN Star were felt before they had even left the awards ceremony. “My phone was going off non-stop with all of the reservations…I panicked that I needed to leave and go back to the restaurant to turn them off!” Lauren says.
The James Beard Awards, World’s 50 Best Restaurants, MICHELIN Guides, and various Best New Restaurant lists garner as much attention and reverence as they do criticism and controversy, but for the restaurants that are recognized, the benefits go far beyond fame—it’s often a chance to help their surrounding community or tell their story to a wider audience.
We talked to four restaurateurs around the country whose restaurants landed on best restaurant lists or earned awards in 2022 to hear what the last year has been like for them and some of the overarching effects that these accolades have.
The difference between success and failure
Opening Heritage was a risk from the beginning. Though the Pretty siblings had both worked for critically acclaimed restaurants all over LA, a tasting-menu concept was still a rarity in their hometown of Long Beach, and some nights the restaurant would only serve a handful of tables.
That all changed when the restaurant won its first MICHELIN Star in 2023, turning it into an overnight sensation. The Prettys have hired four more staffers and are currently looking for someone whose sole job will be managing reservations. “I understand why they don’t give out stars to restaurants that haven’t already been open for a year; you need some systems in place.” Pretty says. “I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten that recognition.”
Kris Komori, chef and co-owner of KIN in Boise, Idaho, had a similar experience as he watched the restaurant’s books fill up immediately after winning a 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mountain Region. Though he had a strong team in place, like many restaurateurs, he still struggled to fill positions when they’d open up. “When you’re in the news so often, all of a sudden resumes start coming in,” he observes.
A win for the whole community
Komori wasn’t interested in the traditional opportunities that follow the award, preferring to focus on his restaurant than to appear on reality shows and cooking competitions or travel to events.
“It’s a great honor to win the award, but I don’t love being the center of attention.” he says with a laugh. “When I realized it benefitted [Boise’s] farms, other restaurants, agritourism, tourism in general…that made me feel better about things.”
Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph opened Austin’s Canje with a similar sense of place, envisioning the restaurant as a deeply personal love letter to the Caribbean. His personal metric of success was creating a space where he would feel proud to invite his family, but after landing on best restaurant lists from Bon Appétit and The New York Times (along with a James Beard nomination), he’s forged a much larger connection to community.
“It was beautiful because there were so many people who had never been to the Caribbean before, or had migrated from there and had never seen their food represented on this level. By being on those lists, we were able to reach all of those people,” Bristol-Joseph says.
Opening doors for staffers
Life is a lot busier for Bristol-Joseph these days, and he credits his entire team with allowing him to do what he does. In return, he tries to involve staff as much as possible with concepts, like the staff-led lessons at Canje where cooks research an island in the Caribbean and present what they’ve learned to their colleagues, complete with a themed staff meal.
“Once you’re recognized on that level, your team gels more—they know they’re working in a space that people are proud of, and it gives them a sense of pride,” he says.
At KIN, Komori’s team shared the award with him—they even accompanied him to the awards, and he hopes they’ll use the experience to further their careers. “I tell my team that I know they’re not going to stay forever,” he says. “They should watch what happens to me and the responsibilities that come with it, figure out if that’s something they want, and if so, let’s put them on a path to get it.”
Fuel for the creative fire
Katianna Hong and her husband John Hong opened Yangban as Yangban Society in Los Angeles in 2022 to immediate critical acclaim: Bon Appétit named it one of 2022’s top 10 new restaurants and Esquire dubbed the couple their “Chefs of the Year,” among many, many other rave reviews.
So why shut down the restaurant to rework the space and concept? “We don’t make decisions based on trying to get awards,” Katianna says. In fact, the couple sees it as motivation to keep pushing the envelope. “It gets us creatively going—you ask, how do you maintain that? It inspires us to evolve,” she adds.
After all, once you’re in the spotlight, staying static isn’t an option. Komori says that the theme of his next tasting menu will revolve around change, inspired in part by all of the experiences he and his team have had over the past year.
“I get asked ‘How did the award change you?’ all the time,” he says. “It’s fun to think about how to create a dish that shows how things change. Sometimes we’re fighting the change, but in doing so, you can waste a great opportunity.”
— Marion Brewer is a senior content strategist at OpenTable, who brings her hot takes on dining to our blog each month.