Mike Solomonov Is a Chef on the Move

The Philly-based restaurateur juggles projects in multiple cities while still making time to cook dinner for his family.

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Mike Solomonov — the chef and restaurateur behind Philly and New York restaurants Zahav, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Goldie, K’Far, and Laser Wolf — is never in the same place for too long. Recently, Solomonov had to be in Chicago for 12 hours before flying to Miami for three days, hightailing it back to Philly, and then heading to San Diego. “That week was extra, which I sort of enjoy,” he says. “I think as it relates to discovery, and food and culture, it's really, really stimulating.”

With so many restaurants and a new cookbook on the way, Solomonov doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Most recently, Solomonov became DoorDash’s Chief Restaurant Advisor in August 2023. Now in its third year, the restaurateur in this position — previously held by Stephanie Izard and Pinky Cole — works with DoorDash’s Restaurant Advisory Council to bridge the gap between the human side of restaurants and the technological advancements that a platform like DoorDash can create. “I feel like I'm sort of a conduit, and I'm trying to thread the needle between DoorDash and small business and restaurant operators in our market,” he says.

As Chief Restaurant Advisor, Solomonov puts his years of industry experience to the test. After the success of Zahav, the first restaurant that Solomonov and his business partner Steve Cook founded in Philly in 2008, the pair started CookNSolo Restaurants, a restaurant group that’s since grown into an empire grounded in local, beloved brands. They now oversee seven different restaurant brands and have written four cookbooks together. 

Although Solomonov refers to his partnership with Cook as “the magic” behind the company — they make every decision together, from culinary choices to business ones — he says that the real key to their success is the people who make their restaurants run on a daily basis. “We have people that really take ownership and have even become owners subsequently, so it's really amazing to watch that and to build community.”

Solomonov’s communal mindset extends to CookNSolo’s partnership with Chicago-based Boka Restaurant Group, which formed the foundation for Laser Wolf and K’Far to open at The Hoxton Hotel in Brooklyn. “It's really cliche, but it's about the relationships that you build and your ability to work with other people that share vision,” Solomonov says. “When things are either very, very good or very bad, everybody's ability to still be supportive, or at least have a little sense of humor — I think that’s kind of the most important thing.”

Solomonov reflects on past failures: “We've done things in different cities that have not worked out, and that always sucks, but it's always a learning process,” he says. Now, part of what makes Solomonov’s concepts work so well is that he and his team don’t simply transfer a restaurant from one city to the next. “It never works like that, and that attitude, I just don't think that’s correct,” he says. “Getting ingrained in the culture and electricity of new markets and new cities is so exciting.” Solomonov also brought this perspective when he selected his favorite restaurants available on DoorDash in Philadelphia, New York City, and Miami (if you’re in one of these cities you can find his collections here). 

One of the most fun parts about Solomonov’s job? He’s constantly tasting new dishes. And yet, he still has his trusted favorites at each of his spots, from the laffa bread with hummus-tehina at Zahav to the breakfast sandwich at Federal Donuts.

All of the tasting aside, Solomonov says that the bulk of his job is spent on the less glamorous side of being a restaurant operator. Sometimes, this might mean negotiating leases. Other times, it could be managing chaos when reservation systems crash, water mains break, or structures fall apart. “That stuff is not as exciting as lighting things on fire and wearing chef whites,” Solomonov says.

Solomonov gets back into the kitchen as often as he can. He loves working dinner service at Zahav, being back in the restaurant and part of the team. But at the end of each day, if Solomonov isn’t working at one of his restaurants, he’s at home, having dinner with his three kids.

“I cook as many nights as I can at home with the family,” he says. Usually, that means vegetables, like slow-cooking heads of cabbage or cauliflower. “I barbecued broccoli with tehina and anchovy the other week and that was so, so good.” Sometimes, Solomonov will roast beef ribs or lamb shoulders in the Big Green Egg grill outside, and other times, he’ll make pizza. 

“What's great is when everybody actually enjoys it,” he says. Spoken like a true chef.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of MIke Solomonov