Uni chef and co-owner Tony Messina is stepping away from the business to move to Los Angeles. Messina announced the news in an Instagram post. His last day will be May 1.
The Boston native rose to national acclaim when he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast in 2019. Uni, which Messina owns alongside Boston restauranteur extraordinaire Ken Oringer (Coppa, Toro, Little Donkey, etc.), is situated on the ground floor of the hyper-fancy Eliot Hotel, and is known for its izakaya-inspired menu and extensive caviar selection. Messina has been at the helm of the kitchen for the better part of nine years.
“When I was 31 and started at Uni and didn’t know what I was capable of, Ken did,” Messina said. “He’s been like an older brother to me, a mentor, a friend, a confidant. There aren’t enough superlatives I can say to describe Ken — in terms of his career, how he manages work-life balance, his family, everything.”
Messina told Eater that Los Angeles has become like a second home in the past five years. His fiancee Amy — who is also from the Boston area — lives and works there, and they’ve spent half a decade (before the pandemic, anyway) flying back and forth between Boston and Los Angeles to spend time together on weekends.
“I feel like I’m at home there,” said Messina. “We were engaged just before the pandemic hit, in December 2019. Then we were separated for many months, and we decided we never wanted to experience that again.”
Messina said he might have made the move earlier, but he wanted to make sure that his employees at Uni were taken care of throughout the pandemic, and that he left the restaurant in good shape before he departed for the West Coast.
“The teams we’ve had over the years have meant more to me than anything,” said Messina. “They’re the reason we expanded from 23 seats to 100 seats. They’re the reason I was ever even considered for a James Beard Award. They’re why we were successful. So I wanted to spend some extra time here, and make sure they knew I was here for them like they were there for me. It’s going to be a tear-jerker when I leave, but the team is going to crush it.”
In the end, Messina said he’s going to miss Boston dearly, and called the move “bittersweet.”
“I grew up here, I spent the majority of my life here,” he said. “You’re not going to find someone with a thicker accent. I am Boston, Boston is me. It’s woven into my fabric ... We love our life on the West Coast, but at the same time, all of our family and friends are here. The restaurant is here. That all means the world to me, in ways I can’t quite put into words.”
While Messina’s restauranteur gears are already spinning — he wants to open a few restaurants in Los Angeles, including an Asian-inspired restaurant that’s “more fluid” than Uni — he hasn’t nailed down a space yet, or even a neighborhood.
“I’m looking in a few areas, but there are no specifics just yet.”
In the meantime, Bostonians who haven’t eaten Messina’s food at Uni still have a few weeks to do so.