After 20 years and three Michelin stars, chief restaurateur David Kinch is departing his world-famous Manresa and his “back-breaking work” to focus on his more casual South Bay restaurants and his personal life. It is uncertain whether the Los Gatos restaurant will close at the end of the year, but the property and the business are officially for sale.
The Monday announcement shocked diners who have celebrated life’s momentous occasions over Manresa’s $365-tasting menu. But fine-dining restaurateurs familiar with the rigors of this type of high-touch, labor-intensive cuisine — a dying breed, one called it — understood Kinch’s decision to call it quits. Just four days earlier, chef Aaron London, of San Francisco, announced he will close his Michelin-starred AL’s place after seven years to focus on his family, despite always-packed dining rooms.
Pandemic-forced closures pushed these high-cash-flow restaurants to the financial brink, and staffing shortages have remained a plague even as diners — slowly — have returned. Many industry veterans worry that an era has passed, and the good old days of expense-account extravagance will never return.
“The demands of running a fine-dining restaurant can be overwhelming, and the current rise in all costs, alongside the difficulty of finding qualified staff, makes this type of restaurant a daily challenge and most likely a dying breed,” said chef Carlos Carreira of Adega, San Jose’s only Michelin-starred restaurant. “We will not be surprised if this trend will continue in the months to come.”
Kinch opened Manresa in 2002. Within five years, the restaurant had secured two Michelin stars and proved you could find luxury dining south of San Francisco. In 2016, Manresa earned its third Michelin star and has held on to it for six consecutive years. Kinch hopes to hand over the reins to a successor on Dec. 31 and turn his attention to his more casual eateries, The Bywater in Los Gatos, Mentone in Aptos and Manresa Bread, which has four locations.
Tim Stannard, founder and CEO of Bacchus Management Group, which owns Woodside’s Michelin-starred The Village Pub, has known Kinch for 20 years. He calls him a shining light for the culinary world.
“His passion and hard work set an example of excellence for the rest of us,” Stannard says. “I — and the rest of the world — will miss Manresa dearly, but I’m thrilled that we’ll still get to eat at The Bywater and Mentone, as well as Manresa Bread. I’m excited to see what David does next.”
In an emailed statement, Kinch explained that Manresa has consumed his life for the past 20 years, often at the expense of his personal life.
“This is back-breaking work that demands you show up at your fullest every day, no excuses,” he said. “Starting Jan. 1, I hope to establish a new equilibrium, to focus on the next exciting chapter of my life.” That includes “exploring exciting new pursuits and revisiting long-neglected passions.”
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Kinch said he also doesn’t want to be part of what he calls the slow decline of fine dining. Since the pandemic, Manresa has been serving 40 diners a night; previously, it was 55.
“Three-star restaurant dining is transitioning really hard,” he said. “Chefs who were used to having armies of people have had to rethink their operating manual.”
Carreira was saddened by the news, calling Kinch an inspiration to young chefs who looked up to him and his restaurant. Nevertheless, he understands.
Aggravating the current situation, Carreira says, is the fact that not all restaurants that were approved to receive a share of the pandemic-era Restaurant Revitalization Fund ever got that help. Funds ran out quickly.
“This has created two sets of post-pandemic restaurants,” he says. “The fortunate ones that received help, and the others that are still struggling without it.”
James Syhabout is the chef-owner of Oakland’s Commis, which has two Michelin stars and a $225 tasting menu. Syhabout says the 26-seat Commis is dealing with similar issues but on a smaller scale. He is still paying back rent to his landlord, for instance, and making up for the low volumes caused by pandemic closures. To maintain quality with a smaller staff, he had to turn away diners. But Commis is busier than ever, he says.
“I think people are hungry to go out and celebrate life,” says Syhabout, who also owns the casual Hawker Fare and Hawking Bird, both in Oakland. “I think about restaurants the way I think about cars and fashion. Luxury cars are never going to go away. High fashion is never going to go away. We will always have fine dining.”
On a personal level, Syhabout says he is happy for Kinch. “Good for him,” he says. “It makes me think about my own exit.”
Chef Ajay Walia exited the Michelin world in May by transforming RASA, the Michelin-starred Burlingame restaurant he opened in 2014, into a second iteration of his San Carlos eatery, Saffron, which has been a neighborhood pillar for 20 years. It’s the same staff and Southern Indian sensibilities but scaled back as “good, honest food that everyone can enjoy.”
“You simply can’t do it forever — no matter how successful you are or how many Michelin stars you’ve earned,” he says. “I wish David the very best in finding his next passion project. I hope he finds the peace that I have found in the decision to start fresh.”
For the remainder of the year, Kinch, alongside chef de cuisine Nicholas Romero and pastry chef Courtney Moisant, will create a series of seasonal menus with new dishes and classics from the past 20 years. Reservations through November are currently available on Tock, with December dates added soon.