Columbia chefs, restaurants are finalists in competition for prestigious Beard Awards

·2 min read
Gerry Melendez/

A pair of Columbia food and wine stars have moved on to the next round of consideration for some of the most prestigious honors in the culinary world.

The James Beard Foundation announced the nominees on Wednesday morning for its yearly restaurant and chef awards. Founded more than three decades ago, the Beard Awards are among the most coveted on the national restaurant scene. Per the foundation’s website, the awards are meant to “recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”

After initially being named semifinalists earlier this year, two Columbia restaurants have officially been named nominees.

In the category of Outstanding Restaurateur, the City Grit Hospitality Group, headed by Aaron Hoskins, Sarah Simmons and Elie Yigo and including restaurants City Grit, il Focolare and smallSUGAR, was named a nominee. Per the Beard Foundation, that category honors a restaurateur who “uses their establishment(s) as a vehicle for building community, demonstrates creativity in entrepreneurship and integrity in restaurant operations, and is making efforts to create a sustainable work culture, while contributing positively to their broader community.”

And in the Outstanding Hospitality category, Main Street wine parlor Lula Drake is a nominee. Per the Beard Foundation, that category will honor “a restaurant, bar or other food and drinking establishment that fosters a sense of hospitality among its customers and staff that serves as a beacon for the community and demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations while contributing positively to its broader community.”

According to the James Beard Foundation website, winners in the restaurant and chef categories will be announced June 5.

City Grit Hospitality Group and Lula Drake were among three Columbia entities that initially were named Beard semifinalists back in January. Jessica Shillato, of Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering, was a semi-finalist in the Best Chef - Southeast category.