The Restaurateur

Mike Isabella

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. Isabella now has more than a dozen restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with additional outposts in National Airport. His newest and largest project is a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia. Isabella Eatery is an unprecedented nine-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 was 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 José Andrés’ 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 traveled 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.

Chef

George Pagonis

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.

Beverage Director

Taha Ismail

Taha Ismail is the beverage director and a partner at Mike Isabella Concepts. Since joining the team in 2011 as the opening bar manager of Graffiato, Ismail has built and continues to develop diverse bar programs at Arroz, Graffiato, Kapnos and G in Washington, D.C., Kapnos Taverna, Yona and Pepita in Arlington, Va., Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda, Md. In addition to overseeing the cocktail experience at all Mike Isabella Concepts restaurants, Ismail is a partner with Isabella at Pepita, a Mexican cantina that also brings in tiki influence.

In 2017, Ismail won the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY Award for Cocktail Program of the Year for his work at Kapnos. His Mediterranean-inspired cocktail program was also a finalist for the award in 2016.

Previously, Ismail was the head bartender at José Andrés’ Zaytinya for seven years. While in this role, he discovered his passion for developing innovative cocktails and honed his skills in a high-volume environment.

Originally from Casablanca, Morocco, Ismail has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years, holding positions from line cook to bartender. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Strayer University, and is BarSmarts certified.