Juniper & Ivy launching national search for next chef
Executive chef Anthony Wells will stay on until March 2022, with possible plans to open his own restaurant with Juniper’s owner
Since the day Juniper & Ivy restaurant opened in Little Italy in March 2014, Anthony Wells has been a presence in the kitchen, climbing the culinary ladder from sous chef to chef de cuisine to the top job of executive chef 4 1/2 years ago.
Now, the 34-year-old chef says he’s ready for a change. Last month, Wells told Juniper owner Mike Rosen he plans to leave on the restaurant’s eighth anniversary: March 2, 2022. To prepare for that, Rosen has hired a national search firm to find the next chef for the Michelin Bib Gourmand-honored 150-seat restaurant.
When the new chef arrives, perhaps in three to four months, he or she will take over as executive chef and Wells will move into the newly created position of culinary director until his departure next winter.
Wells said his goal is to introduce the new chef to the farmers, fishermen and ranchers the restaurant works with and to teach the new chef the elements that have made Juniper a longtime success.
Despite the pandemic and the accompanying decline in tourism, the now indoor/outdoor restaurant is busy every night of the week. On Saturday evening, Wells said he served 400 diners.
“I think we just want to double down,” Wells said. “We want to keep the identity of Juniper and the core values we’ve created intact, and we also want it to evolve and become that next-generation restaurant. Hopefully in their hands, they can take that next step and keep Juniper as relevant as it has been. We’ve had an incredible run.”
But just because Wells is ready to leave Juniper, that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go far. He and his longtime girlfriend are planning to stay in San Diego, where Wells said they love the warm weather, the local produce and proteins and the friendships they’ve made.
“We can’t imagine living anywhere else that gets sunny weather 345 days of the year,” he said.” I’ve made a lot of good relationships here, and the food products here are amazing and they keep getting more and more amazing.”
As a result, Rosen and Wells are in the early stages of talks about opening a second San Diego restaurant together sometime in the future.
“Juniper was my dream and Anthony, with his talents, helped that dream become realized,” Rosen said. “Anthony has a dream, too. He doesn’t know what it is yet. If it turns out his dream is a smaller concept that we have confidence in, I’ll work with Anthony on that and perhaps there will be another restaurant in the future.”
Rosen runs a capital management firm in La Jolla and is a longtime lover of restaurants. In 2013, Rosen hired “Top Chef: All-Stars” champion Richard Blais, then living in Atlanta, to become the founding chef for Juniper & Ivy. Blais brought in Wells, who had worked for him in Atlanta. From the day the restaurant opened, Juniper has remained one of the city’s most popular and busy dining destinations, particularly for tourists and conventioneers who are looking for something unique.
The draw is a constantly evolving contemporary menu featuring ingredients almost exclusively sourced on the West Coast. Because of that restless spirit of innovation, not every dish is a home run, but the variety keeps diners coming back.
In the early years, Blais’s fame and outgoing personality was a big draw for guests. But Wells is a soft-spoken West Virginian who prefers to let his food do the talking. Rosen described Wells as a “quiet leader” who has always had the respect of everyone he works with.
“Nobody outworks Anthony and nobody out-creates Anthony and spends more time developing talent in the kitchen than Anthony,” Rosen said.
Rosen said he thinks the next Juniper chef will not be a famous name that diners will recognize, like Blais, but she or he will be well-respected among other chefs nationally.
“We’re not looking for someone to do Anthony’s food, but we do have some of the best produce and proteins in the world here,” Rosen said. “One constant I know for sure is I want someone who will challenge diners.
“When I travel, there are many cities where there are not a lot of original concepts. So when people come here, I want them to experience something that’s a little interesting that they won’t get in the city where they live.”
Wells said it will be hard to leave Juniper, but he knows in his bones it’s time to go. He hopes to do some traveling, and he’d like to do some community service work locally — two things that his 13-hour-a-day job has mostly prohibited over the past seven years.
“When you know, you know,” he said about his plan to step away. “I love Mike and everything he’s done for me personally and professionally in my career, and I love Juniper to death. It holds a special place in my heart and it always will.”
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