We always set out to make KYU a neighborhood restaurant. The intention was never to come in and be the big shiny new thing. We just wanted to be a local restaurant, made by locals for locals, and have fun with it.

Chef Michael Lewis has cooked under chefs David Bouley, Eric Ripert, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and has worked in Hong Kong, Dubai, London, Bangkok, and Istanbul. These days, Chef Lewis is behind the menu at Miami’s KYU, a wood-fired Asian concept that he opened with business partner Steven Haigh in February 2016. The James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant is committed to investing in employees, which has helped its retention rate hover around 80–85 percent.

Michael Lewis Chef, KYUHow it’s pronounced: Just like the letter Q.Staff retention rate: 80–85 percentLessons from Jean-Georges: He’s so calm, cool, and collected. You don’t need to yell and scream.Employee benefits: Paid vacation; comprehensive health coverage; staff appreciation days; open-dialogue environment.On the future: We’d love to roll out more KYUs. We believe the philosophy behind it works. 

Our worst is better than your best

A chef I used to work for used to say, “At the end of the day, as a chef, you’re only as good as your worst line cook.” We knew that training was going to be a huge element of that, to make sure that our worst line cook was better than anyone else’s best line cook. We train, from day one, on getting recipes down to the last grain of salt.

It’s always hiring season

If somebody good comes along, whether they’re an exceptional line cook with a lot of skill or just an exceptional person with not a lot of skill, we scoop them up and we train them. The truth is I’ve actually had more luck finding amazing people with great attitudes and teaching them how to cook or serve or bartend or whatever it is than finding somebody with the greatest resume in the world and trying to adapt them. 

Keeping retention high

There’s no secret sauce. You can look at it a million different ways on a Microsoft Excel sheet and still not be able to figure it out. All we’re really doing is offering a fair wage. We go in super fair and start fair.

Collaboration is key

We have super creative people. Some awesome feedback we’ve gotten from them is on some of our Instagram posts, and social media in general. It’s really kind of a collaborative effort with some of them—even with the music at the restaurant. We got everyone together and said, “Hey, pick some cool songs and artists, and let’s put a playlist together, all of us.” 

Chef Profiles, Feature