Mike Isabella is a Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur, honored in 2016 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Restaurateur of the Year. In 2011, Isabella opened Graffiato to critical acclaim. He now has nine restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with additional outposts in Nationals Park and Ronald Reagan National Airport. This year, Isabella will open three more full-service restaurants and a concept in Baltimore-Washington International Airport, along with a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia. Isabella Eatery will be an unprecedented 10-concept dining experience spanning 41,000 square feet in Tysons Galleria, a luxury retail outlet in Northern Virginia.
In 2012, Isabella was named FOOD & WINE magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic. Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian is his first cookbook, also published in 2012.
Outside the kitchen, Isabella was a judge on “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown” on FYI. Previously, he competed on Season Six of Top Chef, and Top Chef Duels, and he was the runner-up on Top Chef All-Stars. He is also a member of the American Chef Corps, a network of chefs from across the United States who serve as culinary diplomats and resources to the Department of State.
Before opening Graffiato, Isabella was the executive chef of Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. During his three-year tenure Isabella generated accolades and national attention for Washington, D.C.’s Mediterranean powerhouse restaurant.
Before settling in D.C., Isabella moved to Atlanta and found his culinary niche when he joined Buckhead Life Group’s top-notch Greek restaurant, Kyma. As chef de cuisine of the seafood-inspired menu, Isabella learned the flavors and techniques of Greek cooking.
Isabella’s formal training began at The Restaurant School in New York, taking classes and cooking his way through some of New York City’s finest establishments. Later, he travelled down the coast to Philadelphia, first as a sous chef for James Beard award winner Douglas Rodriguez at Alma de Cuba, then a host of other Stephen Starr restaurants. At El Vez, Isabella learned the true craft of Latin cuisine under the direction of Jose Garces, and as executive sous chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s Washington Square, where Isabella educated himself on the art of opening a fine dining establishment.
Regional General Manager
Ken McClain is the regional general manager of Kapnos Taverna, Pepita and Yona in Arlington, Va. He been with the Mike Isabella Concepts team since 2014, most recently as general manager of Graffiato in Richmond, Va.
Prior to working for Chef Isabella, McClain was a general manager with the Phat Tao Restaurant Group in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Hotel Iris in Venice, Italy. He is originally from Atlanta, Ga. and currently resides in Falls Church, Va.
George Pagonis is executive chef and partner at Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna and Kapnos Kouzina. At Kapnos, George helped put mainland Greek cuisine, including daily whole animal roasting, on the map in the nation’s capital when it opened in 2013. He competed on season 12 of the hit Bravo TV series Top Chef.
Before opening Kapnos, Chef George served as chef de cuisine at Mike Isabella’s Italian-inspired flagship, Graffiato, also in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Graffiato, Chef George cooked at Aureole in New York under Christophe Bellanca and Marcus Ware. Before that, the fluent Greek-speaker worked at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, where he first cooked under Mike Isabella. His first tour of duty in a fine dining kitchen was at New York’s Le Cirque. Chef George attended the University of Mary Washington, and though he followed that up with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, he first earned his kitchen stripes at The Four Seasons, an Alexandria, Va. Greek diner owned by his father.
Chef De Cuisine
Juan Rivera is chef de cuisine of Kapnos Taverna and Pepita in Arlington, Va.
Prior to joining the MIC team, Rivera served as executive chef at Bandolero in Washington, D.C. Prior to Bandolero, Rivera served as head sous chef of Jose Andres’ acclaimed restaurant, Zaytinya. During his eight-year tenure at Zaytinya, he gained invaluable experience and earned a number of promotions under Chef Mike Isabella and his predecessor, Chef Jorge Chicas. Before following Chef Chicas to Zaytinya, Rivera served as part of the opening team for Neyla in Georgetown.
Prior to Neyla, Rivera worked as a cook at the iconic Low-Country restaurant, Georgia Brown’s, as well as a number of other high-volume D.C. favorites. He began his career at the now-closed Chow Baby at just 15 years old.
Originally from Puerto el Truinfo, El Salvador, Rivera currently resides in Washington, D.C.
Zdravko Solenkov joined Kapnos Taverna as bar manager in July 2015, applying his familiarity with the flavors of Greece and the Aegean to the restaurant’s menu of regionally inspired craft cocktails.
Before coming to Kapnos Taverna, Solenkov worked as bar manager of Orange Anchor in Georgetown and Copperwood Tavern in Shirlington, Va. Solenkov was born and raised in Gotce Delchev, Bulgaria and moved to the D.C. area in 2012.