Primavista chef on 25th year in its kitchen

A rarity in the restaurant business, Primavista chef on 25th year in its kitchen


Restaurant kitchens can be chaotic places. Tempers run high, chefs yell, people quit and restaurants close suddenly. But not all of them. 

For 25 years, a good long time in the restaurant business, Chris Prince has been the executive chef at Primavista Restaurant. He would never have made it this long if that's what his kitchen was like. 

"Chris runs a quiet kitchen," said Frank Lenkerd, who owns and manages the restaurant with his wife Joan. "His kitchen, even on New Year's Eve, our busiest time, is quiet. It's just humming along." 

"I've learned how to control my emotions in the kitchen," Prince said. "Early on, I'd get upset and yell, but it doesn't take long to realize that's not effective." 

Pillar of consistency: Read Polly Campbell's reviews over the years of Primavista: Primavista through the years

"We're really big on planning ahead," Joan Lenkerd said. "We're thinking about Valentine's Day now. We make sure to get extra help in December. We have all our history to help us plan. It just makes everything less chaotic, less stressful." 


The remarkable run the restaurant and chef have had shows the rewards of planning, professionalism, and the striving for consistency. Prince has never tried to be the most cutting-edge or well-known chef in Cincinnati. The Lenkerds don't try to create a hot spot. They don't go to every promotional food fest. They strive to take care of each guest and of their employees, and to get it right, night after night for 25 years. 

There are a few other restaurants at the level of Primavista that have survived for 25 years (The Precinct, the Celestial, Maisonette).  But to also have the same chef working with the same owners for that time is truly rare. I've been covering Cincinnati restaurants for 20 years, and I can't think of any chef in a fine-dining restaurant like Primavista who's lasted that long. 

Prince, who is from Dayton, worked in hotel restaurants in Florida, then attended Culinary Institute of America. Primavista was his first job after graduating. The Lenkerds had opened the restaurant in 1989, with two head chefs. "That was a mistake," said Joan Lenkerd.


Though there's a restaurant labor shortage, Primavista has a lot of long-term employees, out front and in the kitchen.

"I'd say the average is six or seven years," Prince said. " Right now we're short a cook. We have been for about a year. But I'm waiting for the right person."

It hasn't been 25 years of cooking the same dishes. The roasted garlic with olive oil and bread for dipping has appeared on the table since opening, and it's still there. A revelation to a lot of people at the time, it's no longer a novelty. But it still is delicious.  The saltimbocca and veal meatballs on capellini and carpaccio have been around at least 20 years.

But now there's bruschetta on the menu, Verlasso salmon with pancetta, pistachios and brown-butter orange vinaigrette, and a Tuscan brownie. Others have had to be taken off. I'm sad to see the latte ala Portoghese is no longer on the dessert menu. 


I'm not alone in wishing for older dishes. Many people come back to Primavista to re-visit a special occasion and might want a dish they remember.

"We have people who had a rehearsal dinner or first date here and come back every year for their anniversary," said Joan Lenkerd. 

Joan Lenkerd said their business continues to grow each year as new people discover the restaurant. The Lenkerds and Prince have no plans to quit anytime soon.

"For a relationship like this to last, you have to have mutual respect,"  said Joan. "You have to want the same things." 

Primavista, 810 Matson Place, Price Hill, 513-251-6467,

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