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The 33 Restaurant and Food Stories That Dominated 2016

The year's most buzzworthy events — and why they matter

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A packaged Munchery meal Patricia Chang

It may seem like 2016 was all about rainbow bagels, poke bowls, and fast-food items with Cheetos stuffed inside. But it encompassed so much more: This year also marked random food chains getting into politics, Silicon Valley investors pouring unreasonable amounts of money into delivery-based food startups, iconic restaurants closing, a continuing chef shortage, a fast-food CEO Labor Secretary, and a cookbook from a model. Also, Beyonce sang about hot sauce. Here’s a quick review.

In January...

  • The poke trend was ID’d as a Thing. That. Was. Coming. And by the end of the year, we had four announced openings in Boston, five in Montreal, three in Dallas, and at least one each in Houston, Charleston, Portland, DC, and Minneapolis. So many poke places opened in San Francisco that Eater editors there made a map. So many opened in New York, critic Robert Sietsema revisited coverage in his 12 Days of Poke. Meanwhile, LA, ground zero for poke outside of Hawaii, is now living through some so-called poke wars.
  • An experimental little ramshackle restaurant called Baroo fascinated Los Angelenos and soon food obsessives around the nation.
Sweetfin poke
Alex Krohn

In February...

In March...

  • People lost their damn minds over viral food fads like rainbow bagels, galaxy cakes, and gimmicky milkshakes. Why? The short answer is Instagram. The longer answer will be the subject of many a sociology grad student dissertation in the coming years.
  • Famed Austin chef and food world darling Paul Qui was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend (in the presence of her very young son). He went to rehab for a few months and in August announced the rebranding of his restaurant Qui (it will open as Kuneho soon). The Austin Statesman wrote a 4,000-word piece five months after the assault that many argued focused far too heavily on the redemption story and how Qui was coping, and not nearly enough on the severity of domestic violence.
  • Whole Foods sold pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers.
Michelle Cehn/Facebook

In April...

In May...

  • Celeb chefs Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi opened the first Locol restaurant, a chain serving nourishing meals using good ingredients at a fair price point to underserved communities.
  • People (notably Suzanne Goin, Joanne Chang, Dahlia Narvaez, Ken Friedman, and Daniela Soto-Innes) and restaurants (notably Shaya, Alinea, and Eleven Madison Park) won James Beard Awards.
  • New overtime rules could have had a major impact on the restaurant industry (but they’ve been put on pause until further notice).
  • Christopher Kimball, the longtime face and name of culinary juggernaut America’s Test Kitchen, announced his new project, Milk Street Kitchen, a magazine, test kitchen, cooking school, TV series, etc. which... sounds a lot like America’s Test Kitchen. (In November, ATK sued him.)
  • One thousand protestors demanding a higher minimum wage shut down McDonald’s Chicago-area HQ.
Locol in Watts, CA
Damon Casarez

In June...

In July...

  • Restaurants dealt with (and made a lot of money off of) Pokemon Go mania.
  • Chipotle launched a burger concept called Tasty Made.
  • The Four Seasons in New York City closed. It was an icon for many reasons: the architecture and design, the heady era in which is was built and had come to represent, the list of luminary regulars (Martha, Kissinger). But the food was overpriced, the crowd was dying off, the co-owner was a cad. Its landlord Aby Rosen may be a New York villain, but he wasn’t wrong here. Its time had come.
RIP The Four Seasons
Gary He

In August...

  • Brexit rocked the London restaurant world.
  • The Michelin guide reinforced its assertion that the restaurant settings aren’t taken into account when doling out stars, when it gave its first-ever stars to food stalls in hawker centres in its Singapore debut. American food trucks, you may be next.

In September...

  • Internationally beloved baking competition show The Great British Baking Show came apart at the seams.
  • We saw a surge in delivery-only restaurants and apps (and a flood of investor money), but expect a great culling. As re/code noted recently, Munchery struggled, SpoonRocket went under, Maple raised a down round, and DoorDash and Postmates got new investments at lower and flat valuations.
The judging table
The Great British Baking Show

In October...

  • Ben and Jerry’s jumped into the political fray (once again) and issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • North Carolina chef Ashley Christensen explained why the HB2 “bathroom bill” pushed her into bringing politics into her restaurant: “We will ultimately defeat this bill, not by opting out of serving its enthusiasts, but by breaking bread together and pushing forward an agenda of inclusion, positivity, and equality for all. This is who we are.”
  • To promote the revival of the Gilmore Girls, Netflix’s marketing army set up fake Luke’s Diner locations around the nation and gave out free coffee to frenzied fans.

In November...

  • Crazy people on the internet cooked up a conspiracy theory that DC-area pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was the home to a sex ring linked to the Clintons. Someone was so lathered up by the notion that he shot a gun inside the restaurant. The story has come to represent the incessant and dangerous spread of fake news stories on the internet and the damage they can do to real life people and businesses.
  • Danny Meyer wrote an emotional, heart-felt letter to his employees the day after the election beseeching them to use the power of hospitality to give people hope.
  • We learned where now-President-elect Donald Trump stands on food policy.
Trump

In December...

  • Donald Trump appointed the CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, a man who’s spoken out against both overtime and minimum wage regulations, as his Secretary of Labor.
  • The Magic Kingdom in Disney World loosened its dry stance, to the cheers of tired and desperate parents everywhere.
  • The incredibly talented, witty, acerbic and often controversial British restaurant critic AA Gill died just weeks after announcing his cancer diagnosis in a review of a fish ‘n’ chips shop.

Kind of a mixed bag, if you ask me. But there were some overall positive trends. The fight for $15 continues, a handful of restaurateurs keep trying the no-tipping thing, a LOT of women won Beard awards this year, Alton Brown appears to be tinkering with a new show idea, Carla Hall was a queen, this British kid in London became an internet sensation for reviewing chicken restaurants on YouTube, and people around America continue to open up fantastic, challenging, multicultural restaurants — and diners continue to patronize them.

If that doesn’t cheer you up, how about a montage of Joe Biden eating ice cream?


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