April 16, 2024

A Toast to Winston-Salem's Beard-Nominated Restaurants

Get to know Winston-Salem's four James Beard-nominated restaurants and the talented chefs behind them.

James Beard restaurants

Culinary travelers are flocking to Winston-Salem — and not just for the Moravian cookies. The city's food scene continues to make national headlines, bolstered by a lively independent restaurant scene and a number of bold, creative chefs. 

Four of the city's restaurants were recently named semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Awards, widely considered the Oscars of the culinary world. From a pizza parlor to a pastry shop to an indy burger joint, the restaurants and the chefs that run them are all widely different. But they also have plenty in common — a penchant for taking chances, working hard, and a deep hunger to keep improving their craft. (Oh, and they are all really, really good at what they do.) 


Bobby Boy Bakeshop

  • Chefs: John and Lucia Bobby
  • Nomination: Most Outstanding Bakery 2024 (nationwide)

Bobby Boy

Bobby Boy

Walk into Bobby Boy Bakeshop on Reynolda Road, and you're instantly greeted by the aroma of fresh-baked bread and sugary delights. This isn't your average bakery; it's a haven for handcrafted pastries, artisanal breads, and delectable sandwiches, all created with passion and the finest ingredients. 

The bakery is owned by the husband-wife team of John and Lucia Bobby, two Winston-Salem natives who opened Bobby Boy in 2019 after working in acclaimed kitchens across the Southeast. The couple returned to the area seeking a slower pace and a chance to build something of their own. Earlier this year, they became the only bakery in the Carolinas nominated for a James Beard Award, 

“It took us completely by surprise," John said after the nomination. “When you're a young chef, you always think, 'One day I’d love to get a James Beard Award,’ but then at some point your focus on all the work, and awards just go on the back burner. So to have it come out of nowhere, it's just been amazing."

Located a mile north of downtown in the Buena Vista neighborhood, Bobby Boy is known for its beautiful space and welcoming atmosphere — complete with an Instagram-worthy display case. But what truly elevates the bakery is its commitment to using only the finest ingredients. From local farms to high-quality flours and butter, they prioritize quality over convenience. John also tends to the bakery’s onsite garden of mint, basil, and edible flowers, all of which are incorporated into the bakeshop’s recipes. Everything here is made daily, from the flaky croissants and sourdough loaves to the seasonal tarts and decadent éclairs. 

"We're obsessed with making things better," the couple stated. "We’re always challenging each other to push farther and see where it goes. And partnering with other local chefs and farmers to keep things creative. So while our display cases will always have our staples, you can expect something new and enticing every time you walk through our doors."

Bobby Boy breads

IF YOU GO: Bobby Boy Bakeshop

  • Where: 1100 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem
  • Hours: Tue–Sat, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. (small plates available at The Caviste)
  • Contact: (336) 955-3284, bobbyboybakeshop.com
  • Good to know: While the bakery closes at 5 p.m., you can enjoy small plates prepared by Bobby Boy from 5:30–7:30 p.m. (Tue-Sat) at The Caviste wine shop, which is located inside the same building. (The buildings share a communal dining space and patio.)
  • WHAT TO ORDER: Honestly, anything. From the fresh-baked breads to Lucia's pastry perfections to the rotating sandwich options, we've never had anything that wasn't excellent. One unexpectedly delicious item? Their seasonal house-made sodas, many of which utilize fresh fruits and herbs grown onsite. (Our favorite? The strawberry lemonade. So refreshing!)


Sweet Potatoes

  • Chef: Stephanie Tyson
  • Nomination: Best Chef semifinalist 2022 + 2023 (Southeast region)

Chef Stephanie Tyson

In 2023, Tyson and Vivián Joiner celebrated 20 years of running their Trade Street eatery, Sweet Potatoes Restaurant and Miss Ora’s Kitchen. They’ve collected numerous accolades through the years. Their first location — also on Trade Street — was an intimate space that commanded a two-hour wait for dinner from the very beginning. Since then, they’ve been featured in Our State and Southern Living magazines and the Food Network’s Guilty Pleasures show.

As for the James Beard nomination, Tyson recalls the first thing she thought when she heard she’d been nominated. “I thought, ‘Am I supposed to verify or register or do something? Because I haven’t done that yet.’ Vivián, my partner, keeps up with that stuff. I just wander through life with my head in the clouds thinking of food things. She keeps me grounded.”

She added that she never focuses on winning awards because the reward should be how well you do your job.

“I just want to do what, I think, I was called to do, which is to feed people,” she says. “James Beard is very prestigious, so I guess this is saying that you did your job really well. So it’s an honor.”

While the recognition brings more people through the door and widespread respect within the industry, Tyson remains humble and grounded. She recalls going to see their friend Ricky Moore, of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, after he won Best Chef in the Southeast in 2022.

“So, we were at his restaurant, and everybody was making a big deal. But he was like, ‘Hold up, I gotta go take the garbage out.’ And that’s how it is; you still have to do the job,” Tyson says. "It’s really easy to stay grounded when you have bills to pay.”

Tyson says there’s no time to pat yourself on the back when you’ve got to be on the line flipping burgers, cooking steaks, and making soup.

“I just try to do the best I can all the time, which is all I can do,” she says. “When you start getting your head caught up in stuff, you stop doing your job.”

Sweet Potatoes fare

IF YOU GO: Sweet Potatoes

  • Where: 607 Trade St NW, Winston-Salem
  • Contact: (336) 727-4844, sweetpotatoes.ws
  • Good to know: Sweet Potatoes doesn’t take reservations, but if you must wait for a table, work up an appetite with a stroll along Trade Street and take in its art galleries and locally-owned shops. Then you won’t feel so guilty about ordering that mouth-watering basket of fried green tomatoes and okra.
  • WHAT TO ORDER: Naturally, anything on the menu with sweet potatoes is a winner, including the sweet-potato biscuits and sweet potato pie. Tyson says other must-tries include the Fried Green Tomato & Okra Basket (appetizer), Mambo Chicken Sandwich, and the Spaghetti with a Draw (pasta in a Creole sauce with smoked sausage, country ham, and chicken tenders). 


Heff’s Burger Club

  • Chef: Justin Webster
  • Nomination: Best New Restaurant 2023 (nationwide)

Chef Justin Webster

Heff’s Burger Club’s smash burgers have become a smash hit. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a 4 oz. patty smashed thin so that it cooks quickly to yield a crispy, crunchy burger. Justin Webster, executive chef and owner of Heff’s describes it as big, wide, and yummy. “We think they are the superior burgers,” he says.

Webster, 30, came across them while working on a burger truck in Brooklyn. He was reminded of the old-school burgers of his youth, and that’s when an idea started to form.

“My idea was to elevate the fast-food burgers from my youth. So what if a Whopper was elevated? Or what if a Baconator was elevated? What if we used really good ingredients and made these fast food burgers really good?” he mused.

Fast forward to him working as the head chef at Krankies, a popular coffee shop-turned-restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem. He was asked to create a last-minute burger pop-up menu for an event at Krankies. He called the pop-up Heff’s Smash Burgers (named after his wife, Heather, whose nickname is “Heff”). They sold out — about 100 burgers — within an hour. They did another Heff’s burger pop-up. Another smash success, so to speak.

So they got investors and opened their brick-and-mortar spot last summer on Fourth Street downtown (aka, Winston-Salem’s Restaurant Row). There are just a handful of burgers on the menu, which are served with toppings such as griddled onions, hickory smoked bacon, pimiento cheese, locally-sourced pickles, spicy ketchup, or smoky Cheerwine bbq sauce.

Webster says the James Beard nomination is a lifelong dream come true that he didn’t expect to achieve until much later in his career. “When I first started cooking, James Beard was like this almost unattainable thing, like a Michelin star. Even a nomination is like an award in and of itself,” he says.

But he also doesn’t see it as the pinnacle of his success. “I think right now my main goal is to figure out how to perfect this. I want this to be a Winston-Salem staple for a long time. My goal with Heff’s is to show people that even though Winston-Salem has always been a meat and potatoes town, you can make a really big splash here,” he says.

His 10-year plan is to open more restaurants with different concepts, but all in the same spirit as Heff’s, which has a vibe he described as “nontraditional.” Some may even call it weird, he says.

“We’re unapologetically ourselves. We will always play loud punk music here. Our art is funky and offensive. We play cartoons on the TV all the time,” he says. “That’s who we are. And if you’re cool and you’re nice, we’ll always give you a good experience.”

Piggy Wiggy
Piggy Wiggy Burger, Chef Justin's favorite offering at Heff's

IF YOU GO: Heff’s Burger Club

  • Where: 285 W Fourth St., Winston-Salem (downtown)
  • Hours: Sun–Thu, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri–Sat, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)
  • Contact: (336) 813-9473, heffsburgerclub.com,
  • Good to know: On weekdays, Heff’s offers an option to Buy a Meal for someone in need. The $8 meal includes a burger and fries.
  • WHAT TO ORDER: “The Ladykiller is our magnum opus,” Webster says. ”To me, it’s a perfect burger — but the Piggy Wiggy is my go-to — simple, with bacon, griddled onions, cheese, spicy ketchup, and mayo.”


Mission Pizza

  • Chef: Peyton Smith
  • Nomination: Best Chef (Southeast region)

Chef Peyton Smith

How does a Winston-Salem native become an expert in crafting traditional Neapolitan-style pizza? Not only that, but how does a relative outsider to the restaurant industry get a James Beard nomination as one of the best chefs in the Southeast?

Dedication. Hard work. Respect for the craft.

Peyton Smith didn’t set out to be a chef. He had a pharmaceutical job with a good salary but found it unfulfilling. “I just wanted to go in the direction of doing real things. Like making a real thing,” he says. His favorite food at the time was barbecue, but there were several reasons why that didn’t seem like a good business venture, he says. Then there was pizza. He spent time in New York and in Naples, Italy, eating and learning about pizza.

“I was introduced to this idea that there’s a different way to make pizza. So it started with this totally nondescript anonymous place in Naples and then into these coal-fired legacy, turn-of-the-century places in New York,” he says.

He also likes how easy it is to consume Neapolitan-style pizza and that it really showcases fresh ingredients — the ripe, juicy tomatoes; the soft, fresh cheese; the aromatic herbs. The crust is light and thin, but it’s also chewy and substantial. The process of making pizza this way is an unpredictable, ever-changing science project, he says — much like running a restaurant. This complexity in pizza-making is what has continued to challenge and intrigue him during his more than 11 years at the helm of Mission Pizza. “You’ve got so many incredible, fine technical procedures in a short amount of time,” he says. 

Weather, humidity, the thickness of the pizza sauce, the condition of the wood firing the pizza oven — all of these factors weigh into the outcome. He’s constantly tweaking and evolving the process. “The science of making pizza continues to fascinate me. There are so many intricacies and variables that make it so complex. It’s really kind of stupid to make pizza this way (Neapolitan-style), because it’s really the hardest way to make pizza,” he laughs.

If anything, a James Beard nomination affirms the countless hours he’s put in over the years. Smith also says it’s a testament to the hard work of his staff. As former competitive soccer player, he knows “a star player is nothing without a good team.”

Once he committed to pizza, he was all in. And when he’s deep into pizza-making, he’s not really thinking about how his customers or reviewers are going to respond. He’s got his own barometer, or “inner pizza voice” he says, developed and fine-tuned from spending a lot of time eating and studying worldwide. “At the end of the day, I just love making pizza. And I want to get better and better.”

Mission Pizza dish

IF YOU GO: Mission Pizza Napoletana

  • Where: 707 Trade St NW, Winston-Salem (downtown)
  • Hours: Wed–Thu, 5 p.m.–9 p.m., Fri–Sat, 5 p.m.–9 p.m. (closed Sun –Tue)
  • Contact: (336) 893-8217, missionpizzanapoletana.com
  • Good to know: Mission Pizza offers Dine-in, Takeout, and Gift Cards. Beer and wine are sold onsite. Custom dining experiences (including Pizzakase and Prix Fixe) are available by reservation and can be made online.
  • WHAT TO ORDER: While the Diavola and the Diego Marinara are the most popular pizzas, Smith also suggested a must-try pasta dish on the menu, the Bucatini All’Amatriciana.