The Pete Wells Effect

Can you put a dollar sign on the difference two stars from the Times’ restaurant critic makes on a struggling restaurant’s bottom line? We did.

In author and journalist Karen Stabiner’s new book, Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream, “the critic” gets an entire chapter. Huertas, the New York City restaurant where she embedded herself for a year, had struggled through a summer slump and was limping toward fall with a badly bruised bottom line. Things were looking grim.

Read our interview with Karen Stabiner here and an excerpt from the book here.

Enter Pete Wells. Actually, enter Wells three different times (it’s been rumored the New York Times‘ restaurant critic makes as many as three visits to a restaurant he’s considering for review). It’s generally bad journalistic form to use the word, “overnight,” when referring to how quickly things change. But in Huertas’ case, it’s hardly hyperbolic. Wells awarded the restaurant two stars, and added toward the end of his playful, shining review of chef Jonah Miller’s Basque offerings, “Mr. Miller shapes his menus so skillfully that it’s hard to imagine wanting more.” And with that, everything for Huertas changed … yep, that word.

Huertas managing partner Nate Adler and chef/owner Jonah Miller.Ramsey de Give

Huertas managing partner Nate Adler and chef/owner Jonah Miller.

It’s worth nothing that Eater published a review on the same day, albeit with a less favorable headline: “Huertas gets tapas right and set menus wrong.” And it’s impossible to quantify the Pete Wells effect in exact terms—some of the difference in business was undoubtedly a result of better weather and the snowball effect of the resulting buzz. Regardless, things at Huertas changed—and they changed significantly.

Which got us thinking, ‘Just how much is a two-star rating worth to a restaurant in actual dollars?’ We asked Huertas’ managing partner, Nate Adler, to help us do the math.


Data courtesy of Huertas Restaurant. Infographic by Claire Brown.

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