“There’s almost no guarantee that your restaurant will do well or it will sell, but if there’s one thing you should try to sell, it’s your story, the reason why you cook in the first place,” Your Local and Hey Handsome chef and owner Nicco Santos says.

Sticking to literal definitions will have us conclude that food is strictly for sustenance, that eating is purely a survival mechanism. This is clearly not the case, and we have the culinary world as both a cause of and a testament to the fact that most people just don’t think about food this way. To cook is to tell a story—one of the many ways we can make connections and communicate without our message being potentially canceled out by the unreliability of language.

And it’s not aimless or pretentious to recognize and respect this aspect of food. Whether we blatantly acknowledge it or not, stories and personalities are innate in food. And perhaps it is the chefs that allow themselves this ostensible pretension, the chefs who believe in telling stories through food, that find long-term success in cooking.

But then again, the more practical side of running a business perhaps won’t credit storytelling as a viable business strategy. Yet the fact that Santos singles it out among the many factors that made Your Local successful certainly says a lot about its value in running a restaurant.

“Project your stories in the way that you cook. Because at the end of the day, what your customers are eating is an extension of yourself. No matter what you cook, no matter how good your dish is, what’s really going to keep them coming back is you.”