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Restaurants 21/22: The Year In Review + The Year To Come

13 stories from leading voices in restaurants and hospitality.

Zagat Stories presents Restaurants 21/22, a collection of interviews with leading voices in dining, hospitality, food, tech, politics and more. Each story takes the turning of the calendar as an inflection point to consider what happened in 2021, or what’s likely to happen in 2022, in the world of restaurants and food.

The movers, shakers, thinkers, makers, and innovators in this year’s stories are engaging with a restaurant industry radically changed by the pandemic. Last year’s pivots to delivery and outdoor dining have given way to major shifts in how the restaurant business talks about itself—from labor and compensation to kitchen culture, supply chains, pricing, and customer relations. Long-held assumptions are being re-examined and sometimes discarded in favor of ideas that would have been unthinkable just two years ago. And many people who work in hospitality are finding new strength and inspiration in reconnecting with community, service, passion, and purpose at the most personal level. As different as 2021 was from 2020 in the world of restaurants, 2022 promises no letup in the dizzying pace of change. Explore the Restaurants 21/22 storytellers below. And also feel free to browse last year’s collection.

Kwame Onwuachi On Fighting Food Insecurity In The Bronx
“People don’t understand … a lot of kids eat only at the school, and I was one of those kids. I am tired of people thinking of food as a luxury. It is a basic right for everyone.”
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Francesca Hong On The Road From Restaurants To Politics
“The pandemic did play a large role in my decision to run for the state assembly. And I think it was the first time that I experienced a grief that was uncontrollable, like so many of us, and falling into that deep grief and deep fear, that feeling of helplessness.”
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A New Way For Restaurant Staff Pay At Santa Fe BK
“Once dinner service starts, and working different positions becomes less feasible, that’s when we’ll implement 8% revenue sharing for all back-of-house positions. The front of house will be paid $12 an hour and be part of the tip pool, while the back of house will receive $18 and 8% of sales.”
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The Bullish Future Of Mario Carbone’s Restaurant Boom
“Take a compass, put it in Miami Beach, and then draw a pretty significant circumference around it. If we focused on just South Florida and did nothing else, we could grow for the next five, ten years, no problem. There’s that much going on.”
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Hillary Sterling On Cultivating A Supportive Kitchen Culture
“We have two kitchens in the dining room, and they’re both wide open. That definitely helps, because if the cooks are looking frantic or frenetic, the guest will feel that and the food will feel that. That energy is just not welcome. If the cooks are unhappy, and they’re scared, and they’re nervous, and they’re not set up for service, they’re going to produce food that’s not great. My job is to keep them motivated and excited.”
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The Food Delivery Robots Are Coming
“Right now our robots are fully operated by human drivers employed and trained by the company. Our drivers aren’t contractors. They’re W2 employees, and the job is much more accessible and less taxing than being a delivery driver. You’re working from home, and you don’t need a car—just a computer and internet connection.”
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David Nayfeld On Equity, Humanity, And Ending Kitchen Brutality
“We are constantly talking about sourcing. A lot of times we forget our biggest resource, which is our human capital. In restaurants, it’s all about the humans. If we can’t figure out how to treat ourselves, as well as our teammates, with a level of sustainability and care, then everything we’re doing is bullshit.”
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Ellen Yin On Collaboration As Pandemic Survival Strategy
“Back in 2020, I was devastated. I was consulting bankruptcy attorneys. Just like everybody else, I was like, “What the hell are we doing?” Now I feel really invigorated and really hopeful for the future.”
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Sean Sherman On Normalizing And Popularizing Indigenous Food
“I feel like we’re finally now in an era where’s there’s a lot of young Indigenous people who are highly educated, highly motivated, and kind of sick of seeing some of these things that have been upheld by society for so long—of keeping Indigenous people down, of whitewashing and homogenizing our cultures.”
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Byron Gomez On ‘Top Chef’ Mentorship And Celebrity Chef Culture
“I grew up a lot in a very short amount of time during filming Top Chef. The experience boosts your confidence and your idea of who you are, but I don’t think you need to go on a show like that to find out about yourself. I don’t have all my marbles lined up. I don’t have everything figured out. I still wake up every day and I’m like, “It’s time to figure out this thing called life.” But I think it’s up to each and every one of us to push our boundaries to where we feel uncomfortable.”
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The King Cake Triumph Of A Vietnamese Bakery In New Orleans
“King cake tradition in New Orleans stretches back centuries. But when the Vietnamese first arrived here, it wasn’t really a tradition we took part in. As families put down roots, however, and children went to school with New Orleans-born classmates, we slowly embraced local customs. In January and February, that meant king cake.”
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Chris Scott On Hustling In Honor Of Four Generations Of Black Biscuit Bakers
“Every single time that I make biscuits, I’m always thinking about my ancestors and the conversations in the kitchen—about life and love and joy and pain and gossip.”
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How A DC Restaurant Group Doubled In Size While Avoiding Burnout
“The pandemic sent messages to us about what kind of restaurant group we wanted. Do you want to have the turnover that the rest of the industry has, or do you want to try to find a way to mitigate that? Do you want people to be excited to come to work, or do you want to squeeze as much as you can out of them, and then just replace them?”
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