Michelin Guide won’t publish 2020 California restaurant rankings due to pandemic

Brian Redzikowski, executive chef of Kettner Exchange.
Brian Redzikowski is executive chef of Kettner Exchange in Little Italy. In 2019, the restaurant earned a Bib Gourmand honor from the Michelin Guide.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Past San Diego honorees say their industry this year is more focused on survival than awards


In recognition of the devastation the pandemic and wildfires have wrought on California’s restaurant industry, the Michelin Guide announced Tuesday that it will not publish a 2020 California Guide.

In a recorded video address, Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of Michelin Guides, said California has been especially hard hit by natural and health disasters and the related downturn in the hospitality industry.

Poullennec said Michelin inspectors have been listening closely to California restaurant owners’ concerns this year, and they felt a different approach than awards would best support the industry.

California has led the nation in restaurant closures since the pandemic began. In a national survey published by Yelp in July, 15,770 U.S. restaurants were marked as “permanently closed” between March 1 and July 10. In San Diego County, that number is over 225.

In place of this year’s California guide, Michelin plans to host an online “Family Meal” event at 4 p.m. Oct. 27 that will feature California chefs in a discussion of sustainability, innovation and the future of the industry.

Since there won’t be awards this year, a portion of the virtual program will be dedicated to recognizing 20 new restaurant “discoveries” that inspectors found statewide this year, according to a Michelin Guide spokesperson.

Michelin published its first all-California guide in 2019. That move set off a gold rush among chefs and restaurateurs to pivot their menus and service to attract coveted Michelin ratings, which include 1 to 3 stars representing the highest standards of excellence in food and service; Bib Gourmands, which recognize excellent food at moderate prices; and Plates, which represents very good food.

Michelin recognition can be lucrative. The late Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon told Food & Wine magazine in 2017 that star ratings can increase a restaurant’s business by roughly 20 percent for 1 star, 40 percent for 2 stars and 100 percent for 3 stars.

Last year, nine San Diego restaurants were recognized by Michelin in the inaugural California guide. Addison in Carmel Valley became the first San Diego County restaurant to earn a Michelin star. Bib Gourmands were also awarded to Campfire in Carlsbad, Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, Cucina Sorella in Kensington, Lola 55 in East Village, Juniper and Ivy and Kettner Exchange, both in Little Italy, and Solare and El Jardin, both in Liberty Station.

Chef/Director William Bradley at Addison, San Diego's only Michelin-starred restaurant
Chef/Director William Bradley at Addison, San Diego’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, which reopened in August after being closed by the pandemic for 3- 1/2 months.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

William Bradley, chef and director of Addison, said the past eight months have forced all in the industry to go into survival mode.

“It’s tragic to see the loss of so many great restaurants due to factors beyond anyone’s control,” Bradley said. “I respect Michelin’s decision to delay the release of the California guide, allowing those who have been the most impacted the time to heal, rebuild and emerge stronger in the new year.”

Brian Redzikowski, executive chef of Kettner Exchange, said 2020 has not been a year that any local restaurant owner feels has best represented their food and service ethos. Instead, the focus this year has been on keeping the doors open.

“We’re putting awards to the side for a while, and we want to get everyone together and get them supported again,” Redzikowski said.

Juniper and Ivy owner Mike Rosen said he’s proud of his Bib Gourmand, but pandemic-related concerns are his and diners’ first priorities this year. And Campfire owner John Resnick said he appreciates Michelin recognizing the challenges he and others are facing.

“In a time when we are all just trying to do our level best for our employees and our communities, we recognize that Michelin is simply doing the same, making difficult decisions and trying to do right by their community,” Resnick said.

“We remain focused on trying to create beautiful dining experiences for our guests, and ensuring that we will be better restaurants on the other side of this madness than we were going in.”

A Michelin Guide spokesperson said official timing for release of its 2021 guides in the U.S. will be announced as the pandemic recovery takes shape.