David Barzelay, executive chef and owner of Lazy Bear in San Francisco, has been named MenuMasters Innovator of the Year by editors of Restaurant Hospitality sister publication Nation’s Restaurant News.
He will be honored May 21 at the invitation-only MenuMasters Awards gala at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, presented by NRN and sponsored by Ventura Foods.
A self-taught chef, Barzelay is a lawyer by training who, after getting laid off during the Great Recession, started interning at restaurants and hosting his own underground dinners, first in his home and then in an empty warehouse. Eventually he was serving more than 40 people a night several nights a week and realized he might as well open a permanent space.
His restaurant, Lazy Bear, which opened in September 2014, still has the feel of a dinner party, with a cocktail hour followed by a seated dinner at a communal table. Rather than taking reservations, Barzelay sells non-refundable tickets to his ever-changing tasting menu that has earned Lazy Bear a Michelin star.
“It's great to win this award because it is a testament to the incredibly hard work it has taken from our staff to make such a weird and non-standard concept work,” Barzelay said of the MenuMasters Innovator award.
“It's one thing to come up with an odd-ball concept and menu. It's another to start from scratch with even the most basic standard operating procedures, since the usual ones don't apply. It's been a six-year process turning a dinner party in my apartment into a fine-dining dinner party restaurant. My business partners and I are proud that the groundwork and concepting has paid off with what has been a really successful run so far.”
Laura Viscusi, vice president and market leader for the Penton Food and Restaurant Group, which includes NRN and Restaurant Hospitality, praised Barzelay for his creative approach to running a restaurant, which has reverberated in the restaurant world.
“David Barzelay’s out-of-the-box thinking has helped the foodservice industry re-think the possibilities of what a restaurant can be and makes him a perfect recipient for the MenuMasters Innovator award," she said.
“The nature of fine dining in the United States is changing. David Barzelay has tapped into diners’ growing interest in making dinner an experience rather than just a meal,” NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn said.
“By selling tickets, he makes a night at Lazy Bear even more like theater, and also helps mitigate the problem of customers not showing up for their reservations.”
Previous MenuMasters Innovator winners have included Jimmy Bannos, Jr., of The Purple Pig in Chicago and Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern and other venues in Cleveland, as well as culinary leaders in the chain restaurant world such as Clifford Pleau for his work at Seasons 52 and Robert Okura of The Cheesecake Factory.