Michael Birchenall, the editor and publisher of restaurant industry publication Foodservice Monthly and an advocate for the Washington dining scene, died Jan. 9 at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va. He was 68.
Mr. Birchenall, a resident of Bowie, Md., had developed liver failure and other complications as a result of a lung transplant he underwent following a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, said his wife, Acquaetta Williams.
Mr. Birchenall spent much of his early career in hotel and restaurant management and, while based in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s, he created what the Columbus Dispatch called “the best restaurant newsletter in town.” Not long after, he settled in the Washington area, wrote restaurant and theater reviews for the Times Community Newspapers chain in Northern Virginia and worked for a publication run by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
Mr. Birchenall, instantly recognizable in the local restaurant scene for his gray ponytail and the camera around his neck, founded Foodservice Monthly in 2002. The publication, which covers dining trends and legislative news affecting restaurant operators and their suppliers, became an influential voice in the restaurant industry throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Foodservice Monthly has a circulation of 20,000, including paid subscriptions and copies sent to restaurants, food vendors, hotels and other industry members. Soon after Mr. Birchenall started Foodservice Monthly, he sold it to Silver Communications but remained its driving force as editor and publisher.
Williams said Mr. Birchenall enjoyed making connections with chefs, farmers and wine makers, as well as mentoring many in the food and media industries. He was a frequent participant in food industry roundtables and competitions in which he served as a judge. Mr. Birchenall also served on the board of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, which promotes East Coast wines and wineries.
Michael Birchenall was born in New York City’s Bronx borough on May 17, 1948, and grew up in Macon, Ga. He graduated from Georgia State University in 1972 with a major in English but took a job in the hotel industry out of college to support his young daughter. He continued his career in food and beverage management, at one point taking the helm at Christophers restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
Williams said Mr. Birchenall eventually burned out on working in hotels and restaurants and seized the opportunity to begin writing. Foodservice Monthly was his ultimate passion project: Longtime friend and colleague Linda Roth, a hospitality industry publicist, said she was working with Mr. Birchenall on the February issue of the magazine while he was hospitalized just days before he died. Lisa Silber, Foodservice Monthly’s sales manager, called the publication “his legacy.”
His marriages to Beryl Thomas and Carolyn Hirzel ended in divorce. Besides Williams, his wife of 20 years, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Sasha Birchenall of Asheville, N.C.; two sons from his second marriage, Neill Birchenall of Sheffield, England, and Eric Birchenall of Berkhamsted, England; two sisters; a brother; nine grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.