Community Leaders guiding others, bringing a sense of hope during these challenging times.

Mark Estee
Star Navigator – Mark Estee

By Natasha Bourlin

Decades ago, chef and restaurateur Mark Estee entered into the culinary world. A rising star based in Reno, the Massachusetts native and James Beard Award semifinalist has flourished through years of private catering gigs, multi-restaurant ownership, spearheading community movements to help those in need … and, now, a new show on the Food Network.

Estee acknowledges that a whole new era is upon us all. One in which fear of a pandemic now dictates many of our habits. How has he and his multitude of teams running his various endeavors adapted?


When re-opening his havens of cuisine — Liberty Food & Wine ExchangeThe Unionchez louie,  Overland Restaurant & Pub and Cucina Lupo — he held off another eight days from when the go-ahead was given so that he could properly and extensively train his staff. A COVID-19-ridden world was new territory.

“Everyone got extra training, including understanding that the customers were going to be just as scared as we were,” Estee says. “The customers needed to be re-trained also.”

In the midst of the restaurant and bar shut-down, he found ways to answer needs in the community. In partnership with a nationwide food distribution company, he started the HIP NV program, which provided relief for low-income and out-of-work hospitality and service workers.

Along with Nevada’s Lieutenant Governor Kate Marshall, the United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra, and other area partners, the Vegas-born Delivering with Dignity (DID) program was launched in northern Nevada in May 2020. So far, approximately 140 DID volunteers have delivered fresh and hot meals to more than 16,000 locals. The program also assists the hard-hit restaurant industry by providing eateries with added income through the program.

As if running several restaurants and helping with community efforts wasn’t enough, Estee has spent the past few years working with Cakehouse Media on a production concept and show pilot that was recently picked up and aired on Food Network.

In Undercover Chef, Estee dives into the business practices of restaurants across the country to identify their trouble spots and help them thrive. Future episodes are being scheduled.

As a community leader and nationally recognized personality in the restaurant industry, Estee asks readers interested in helping those adversely effected by COVID-19 to support DID through donations, raising awareness of the program or volunteering.

We need to treat everyone with respect and we’ll get through this.

Other tips for all when trying to move forward during this unprecedented time?

“Give everyone grace, mercy and understanding,” Estee shares. “We need to treat everyone with respect and we’ll get through this.”