How does a Michelin starred-chef celebrate the achievement? Fast-food pizza—they have work to do.

On Tuesday, July 18, the Michelin Guide handed out the famed Michelin stars to six new restaurants, including Long Beach’s own Heritage. The restaurant is owned by Chef Philip Pretty and his sister, Lauren Pretty. It’s a dinner-only six-course tasting menu restaurant that sources locally and aims to create zero waste. In addition to gaining a star, it also received Michelin’s Green Star, an award given to restaurants with eco-friendly commitments at the forefront of sustainable practices.

Prior to receiving its star, Heritage was recognized (meaning, recommended) by the Michelin Guide along with The Attic, Chiang Rai, and Sushi Nikkei. But Heritage was the first to break through that elusive bubble, bringing the first Michelin star to Long Beach.

“I get OpenTable reservation notifications directly to my phone,” Lauren Pretty, who serves as the director of operations at Heritage in addition to being a co-owner, said. “That night, my phone didn’t stop going off.”

Lauren Pretty serves guests during a media dinner at Heritage Farm, a new urban farm and event space in Long Beach Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Heritage is a zero-waste, certified Green and Blue restaurant located in a 100-year-old craftsman house in the Rose Park neighborhood. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The history of the French tire manufacturer that creates the famed guide is long and expansive, spreading from Formula 1 to space to hospitality and dining. And its impact on the dining world, for better or worse, cannot be understated.

The guide, which was initially free, was published to help travelers and motorists find rest stops and food on their journeys in the early 1900s. After World War I, the popularity of the restaurant section had grown so much, the guide began handing out stars to fine dining establishments.

Eventually, it settled on the system we have today: one star denotes “a very good restaurant in its category,” two stars is “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” and three stars means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”

Anonymous Michelin inspectors eat repeatedly at establishments across the state, and restaurants don’t know they’re coming. In theory, there’s nothing a restaurant can do to attract an inspector, and Michelin intentionally shrouds its process and inspectors in mystery. That also means restaurants can lose stars if they don’t maintain quality standards.

The popular TV show “The Bear,” on Hulu, made getting a Michelin star a storyline in its second season, and movies like “Burnt,” starring Bradley Cooper, have fictionalized the—at times—excruciating process.

Co-owners of Knife Pleat, located at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Chef Tony Esnault and Yassmin Sarmadi. The restaurant gained its first Michelin star in 2021. Photo courtesy of Knife Pleat.

In 2021, South Coast Plaza’s fine dining contemporary French restaurant Knife Pleat, owned by Chef Tony Esnault and Yassmin Sarmadi, was awarded its first star, which it has retained the past two years.

“It was thrilling, it was absolutely thrilling,” Sarmadi said. “It’s not just the excitement, it’s the recognition of the work we had done and what we were delivering. It felt very gratifying.”

The couple previously owned two critically-acclaimed restaurants in Downtown Los Angeles, Spring and Church & State, before moving their business to Costa Mesa and becoming one of only three Orange County restaurants to gain a star. When they had their restaurants in L.A., Michelin had pulled out of releasing selections in the area, a decision some critics found so unforgivable they shunned its 2019 return, when the Michelin Guide California launched.

But whether Michelin returned, or had stayed out of California, Esnault and Sarmadi would still be doing what they’ve long been known for: serving customers at the highest level. The recognition of Michelin was a bonus, and it was a validation to loyal customers that their own high opinions of the restaurant were co-signed by Michelin.

“It’s a Bible, a culinary Bible,” Esnault, who grew up in France, said. “It’s done by an inspector, you don’t know they’re here, it’s very different than other guides, I have to say. For me, the value is very important.”

The guide is a Rolodex of restaurants that have been tried by people whose jobs it is to taste food and know what’s good. They’re different from critics because complete, maintained anonymity means chefs can’t cook to them specifically. They sit down, order and pay, just like any other guest. The stars also factor in the dining experience, meaning there is a level of hospitality and attentiveness to guest experience that goes above the norm.

There have been criticisms of Michelin’s selectiveness, its tendency to award stars to certain types of cuisine, like Japanese or French, versus others. For example, there are currently no starred restaurants in Africa (yes, the entire continent) or Mexico. And some food critics and writers have advocated for Michelin to be done away with as a measure for excellence.

But it is what it says it is—a guide, not an end-all-be-all with the only good food in a city. And in a notoriously unprofitable industry, restaurants ending up on an internationally recognized list receive an undeniable boost.

A bicyclist rides past Heritage restaurant in Long Beach, Wednesday July 19, 2023. The restaurant recently won its first Michelin star, making it the first Long Beach restaurant to win a star. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“We’re a small business with one investor. It was a struggle,” Pretty said. “Tonight has the most covers we’ve had, and that repeats for six weeks straight.”

After Knife Pleat received their star, the business had a similar boom. People were coming from all over to dine there.

“Not only do we get local traffic, we get traffic from other parts of California and even international—they’re not traveling here to dine at Knife Pleat, but if they’re here, because they’ve heard of us through the Michelin Guide, they choose to come see us,” Sarmadi said. “That’s meaningful.”

For Heritage, this is the first time Pretty hasn’t had to worry about getting people in the door.

“It’s overwhelming and exciting to be in a place to pay bills and not have to worry about the state of finances,” Pretty said.

The demand means that while they are taking it all in, they’re also putting their heads down because they have hungry diners to feed. The demand is so high they have to hire a new cook—immediately.

“This will trickle down everywhere in the community,” Pretty said. More reservations means more spending at local farmers markets, more gardening at their farm down the street, Heritage Farm, and more local employees hired.

“We can continue to support the community even more and give people a place to work where they can be happy,” Pretty said. “That’s so important to us.”

Getting on the Michelin guide has made restaurants a destination—and not just restaurants with stars. In between star ceremonies, the Michelin Guide hands out additional recognitions separate from star rankings, like Bib Gourmand awards (good food at a moderate price), recommended restaurants, and new discoveries. Those restaurants appear on the same list when you search a city, right up there with the starred restaurants.

“Our congratulations to Heritage and all the recipients,” Sarmadi said. “Whether it’s a star or another recognition.”

Chefs from all over, including Chef Dima Habibeh, owner and executive chef of Ammatoli, and Chef Eric Samaniego of Michael’s on Naples, posted their congratulations to the Heritage team on their Instagram.

Heritage’s star means Michelin inspectors are here and they’re paying attention to Long Beach. Not only are they eating their way through the city, other restaurants can have confidence they too can attain a star—because it has been done before.

Chef Philip Pretty plates food as seen through a hand wheel of his charcoal grill at a media dinner at his and sister’s Heritage Farm, a new urban farm and event space in Long Beach Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Heritage is a zero-waste, certified Green and Blue restaurant located in a 100-year-old craftsman house in the Rose Park neighborhood. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Heritage is located at 2030 E. Seventh St.