Best Restaurants 2023 Kerfuffle: How This Happened

Senior Editor Aiesha D. Little explains how we ended up having two closed restaurants in the print version of our March issue.

As subscribers almost certainly know by now, the March issue of Cincinnati Magazine contains a nasty double whammy surprise, listing two closed restaurants, Royce and PearlStar, on our Where to Eat Now list. PearlStar was mentioned in a sidebar of runners up that all had the same score, according to our food critic Brandon Wuske’s ranking system. Royce, however, had a much more prominent spot: It was no. 8 on the list, and one of its dishes appeared on the issue’s cover.

I’m sure you have questions, dear reader, along the lines of How could this happen? Well, here’s how it all went down.

We learned about the closures early Thursday morning, February 16. The issue’s files had gone to the printer the previous week. While the temptation to scream “Stop the presses!” was strong, I refrained, and our Production Director Vu Luong immediately reached out to the printer. We hoped that the issue was still being plated and that we’d have time to make a correction. Unfortunately, we were too late. The issue had been printed, bound, and loaded onto trucks headed to subscribers and newsstands. There was nothing we could do.

After my initial shock wore off, Director of Editorial Operations Amanda Boyd Walters and I sprang into action, brainstorming solutions. Our primary focus had to be digital. The content couldn’t appear online the way it appeared in print, so the editorial, art, and web teams came together like the Paladins of Voltron to find some solutions. That meant:

  • Pulling both restaurants from the stories being uploaded to the website
  • Having Brandon work up a replacement writeup for Royce
  • Finding new photos for said writeup
  • Fact checking the writeup
  • Choosing a new cover photo for our digital edition of the magazine, which goes live on March 1; and
  • Redesigning a few pages of the package for the digital edition

Brandon’s been at this full-time for us for nearly two and a half years and has a good handle on what I’m looking for, review wise, so I had no doubt he could work quickly to help us get this resolved. It was an involved process but, at the end of the day it’s just the nature of the business. “Like any good chef, server, or line cook, a food journalist has to be flexible,” Brandon explains. “We spend months researching and writing about places that could suddenly close up shop at any time.”

So how did this take us by surprise?

Magazines have far longer lead times than virtually any other news medium (newspapers, television, weeklies, etc). Our editors, writers, designers, illustrators, and photographers are working on content two months before it appears in print. And with the process for our Best Restaurants package, that lead time is even longer.

In September, Brandon provided me with a list of what he considers the 30 best restaurants in the tri-state. We discussed his choices—some of which we dropped because they weren’t upscale enough—and then he began eating (and eating and eating and eating). In all, he visited 25 restaurants in order to narrow the list down to 10 by the end of November. We had another conversation about the final list to iron out some details, and then I discussed his list with Amanda and Editor-in-Chief John Fox. After that, Brandon followed up with a few more visits to the restaurants before he sat down to write his reviews. He was finished a few days before Christmas.

After returning from holiday break, I edited his pieces and got them moved through to fact checking. From the editor’s letter to the back page, each piece that appears in print is fact checked—thanks to Associate Editor Lauren Fisher and her team of interns—before heading to the art team for page layout. Fact checking for the Best Restaurants package occurred mostly in mid- to late January, which is when we found out that we needed to pull one restaurant that was planning to revamp its entire menu. At the same time, Design Director Brittany Dexter worked on the layout for the entire package as well as wrangled getting the restaurants scheduled for photo shoots. After a few rounds of proof reading and some last-minute updates (another restaurant was pulled after alerting us to upcoming changes), the magazine was off to print on February 10. And, well, you know the rest.

So why should you care about all of this? The truth is there are a multitude of reasons why restaurants close; the National Restaurant Association estimates that the failure rate in the restaurant industry is 30 percent. That’s not a reflection on the servers, chefs, managers, and all of the other people who make a restaurant function. Ultimately, a high-profile restaurant like Royce at a high-profile downtown address (right off Fountain Square) in a high-profile redevelopment like The Foundry is what makes this particular culinary implosion newsworthy.

“Ideally, a Top 10 restaurant stands the test of time, continuing to push our city’s foodscape forward,” Brandon says. “But any culinary spark, no matter how brief, is always worth remembering.”

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