TAMPA — For the first time ever, The Michelin Guide will start awarding stars in Florida.
As part of a new partnership between the elite restaurant guide and state tourism marketing agency Visit Florida, Michelin inspectors will start visiting restaurants in Tampa, Orlando and Miami and announce a guide sometime in 2022.
The guide, arguably the world’s most well-known and respected restaurant ratings system, has never included Florida before.
For Florida restaurants, this is big news. For Tampa restaurants, it’s really big news. But for other Tampa Bay area restaurants, the news is bittersweet.
The guide doesn’t apply to the whole Tampa Bay region — just the city of Tampa. That means restaurants in other culinary hotspots, like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, won’t be awarded stars at this time.
“That’s a bummer,” said Il Ritorno owner and St. Petersburg restaurateur David Benstock. “I think St. Pete in the last 10 years has come so far — it kind of aggravates me not to be included.”
Benstock said it is still a positive development for the area and it highlights the region’s burgeoning culinary footprint.
“That’s awesome that we’re getting on the map,” he said. “It gives people who have been working really hard some recognition.”
Ferrell Alvarez, who owns the lauded Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster and the Till, along with several other fast-casual concepts in the area, called the news “huge” but also said he is less concerned with national accolades than he would have been earlier in his career.
“If you would have spoken to me five years ago I would probably have answered differently,” he said. “Five years ago, I really cared about the recognition from companies of that magnitude — as a young chef, I felt like I had something to prove. Hopefully the people that deserve to get recognized get recognized.”
The Michelin Guide issues its famously coveted stars once a year. Its foray into Florida is part of an ongoing expansion across the U.S.; for many years, it only focused on a few American cities. Founded in France in the late 1880s, the guide has received criticism for coverage that’s deemed by some to be elitist and a tendency to focus on very high-end restaurants.
The guide has existed in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago for years without any funding from local tourism bureaus. But in recent years, the guide has slowly expanded its footprint throughout the world with significant financial investments from the cities in which it lands.
In 2019, The Michelin Guide announced it would issue a California-only guide that would include 90 restaurants. At the time, it was reported that California’s tourism bureau paid $600,000 for the deal. In 2016, the website Eater reported that Michelin received roughly $1.8 million for heading to Seoul, South Korea.
Details of the partnership between Visit Florida and The Michelin Guide were not immediately disclosed. Visit Tampa Bay’s president and CEO, Santiago C. Corrada, said Michelin representatives have been in conversation with Visit Florida, Visit Tampa Bay and tourism agencies in Orlando and Miami for at least a year and a half.
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“We’ve been talking about our culinary scene for years,” Corrada said. “We’ve seen an incredible evolution. I think when you were looking around Florida, Tampa was an easy selection.”
Corrada said he didn’t know the financial details of the partnership, and said he wasn’t sure “who reached out first.”
“I don’t even know the logistics of any financial incentives, to be honest with you,” he said. “(We’re) super excited that finally the hard work that has been going on within our restaurants and our chefs has been recognized.”
Lauren McClure, a public relations manager for Michelin, declined to disclose any additional details on the partnership.
“As a matter of policy, Michelin will not discuss commercial terms of its relationships for competitive reasons,” McClure said.