The D.C. restaurant community Monday was rocked by news that Michael Birchenall, an industry insider who lovingly covered the local dining scene for several decades, died at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia.
He was 68.
His wife, Acquaetta Williams, told the Washington Post that Birchenall suffered from liver failure and other complications stemming from a lung transplant he underwent in late 2013. Per his personal blog, Birchenall noticed something off about himself in August 2012; he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a few months later.
An English major at Georgia State University, Birchenall cut his teeth in the hospitality world by working in hotels and restaurants across Ohio. He later migrated into meticulously chronicling the industry he so revered, serving as a critic for the Times Community Newspapers and tracking dining trends as editor of the now-defunct Restaurant Digest.
By the time he launched Foodservice Monthly — part restaurant management bible, part award shows yearbook — Birchenall had evolved into a full-blown advocate, championing the causes of back of the house staff, unsung distributors and otherwise anonymous industry professionals he strived to bring to the forefront with his always handy camera.
His laser-like focus on the Mid-Atlantic’s burgeoning culinary scene earned Birchenall accolades from appreciative peers. The Restaurant Association of Maryland and Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington honored FSM in 2007 and 2008, respectively, for its contributions to the business.
Former RAMW president Lynne Breaux was immediately impressed by Birchenall after first crossing paths with him during the city’s Winter Restaurant Week in 2002. “We discovered two like-minded souls with vast and varied experience in and absolute love of the hospitality industry,” she told Eater. “His commitment and contributions to the Washington regional restaurant community and to RAMW remain truly invaluable.”
Linda Roth, one of FSM’s longstanding contributors and Birchenall’s friend of 25 years, said his commitment to spotlighting the restaurant world burned bright up until the very end.
“When I met with him the Saturday before he passed, he dictated to me the layout of the February issue,” she said.
Birchenall is survived by Williams, their daughter Sasha Birchenall, and two sons from a previous marriage, Neill Birchenall and Eric Birchenall.
UPDATE: A funeral mass is scheduled to take place January 23rd from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Holy Family Church in Mitchellville, Md. That service will be immediately followed by the burial at Lakemont Memorial Gardens in Davidsonville, Md.; guests are invited to return to Holy Family for a reception that afternoon (12 p.m. to 3 p.m.).
Organizers say a more extensive memorial is in the works for some time in March.