Michelin-Starred Healdsburg Restaurant Pivoting to New Model, Lays off Part of Staff

Beginning Jan. 21, the restaurant and adjacent gallery will pivot to more casual suppers and private events curated by chef Erik Anderson.

Longtime Healdsburg restaurant and three-time Michelin star awardee Barndiva has ended its upscale multicourse experience to return to its roots as a community hub and group dining space, according to co-owner Lukka Feldman.

Beginning Jan. 21, the restaurant and adjacent gallery will pivot to more casual suppers and private events curated by chef Erik Anderson.

“We’ve been proud of everything we’ve done over the 20 years we’ve been here, but we’re trying to get back to what makes us happy. We have always put an emphasis on sourcing locally; by expanding our menus in new directions this will allow us to reach even more local farmers growing unusual things,” Feldman said.

In response to the changes, 20 employees were laid off this week.

The move may seem counterintuitive for a restaurant noted as outstanding by the French guide to select eateries for three consecutive years. But Michelin stars can sometimes be a curse, creating crippling pressure on chefs and owners to constantly live up to soaring expectations or lose the interest of diners and Michelin inspectors.

The former K & L Bistro in Sebastopol and Mirepoix in Windsor both struggled to meet the exacting demands of customers after receiving a Michelin star. Mirepoix closed just a year after winning a Michelin star in 2012.

Barndiva’s owners — Feldman, Jil Hales and Geoff Hales — will host public suppers Sunday and Monday at the more informal Studio B gallery, at 237 Center St. Barndiva will offer reserved group space Thursday through Saturday at the restaurant and Studio B throughout the winter.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for a reset. I’m mindful that our colleagues are not here at the moment, but the whole industry is in flux,” Feldman said.

The ownership team describes the change as “a shift in the allocation of our time and how our rooms and gardens are enjoyed.”

Barndiva has always worn two hats — as a restaurant and a community hub for art, conversation, parties and weddings. Feldman said the change will allow for larger gatherings and a more casual feel.

“ … we have always believed that the reason people go out to dine is not a fixed star, Michelin or otherwise. We all long to return to tastes that trigger happiness and memory, to be excited by new food experiences, step into a room filled with music and engaging conversation. On the simplest and most profound level the sound of other humans having vibrant food and drink experiences gives us agency to enjoy ourselves more fully in the world,” read a blog on Barndiva’s website.

Nationwide, restaurateurs are looking for new ways to attract diners in the face of ongoing food cost increases and labor shortages. Winter is traditionally a lean season for Sonoma County hospitality as tourism traffic slows and local diners avoid winter weather.

“I think how people are eating is changing. We are sourcing locally and trying our best to move more toward zero waste, and (the new format) lends itself to that kind of dining. We’re just more ourselves,” Feldman said.

In addition to the menu changes, an ongoing discussion series about food waste will be held Feb. 16, and house mixologist Scott Beattie will offer private cocktail classes for groups.