SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s a busy Friday night at Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails in Salem. Behind the scenes, Chef Jonathan Jones is thriving.

“It’s really rewarding when the dining room’s full and it’s worth all the work,” Jones told KOIN 6 News. “Honestly, it’s like my relaxation, which sounds really strange. But I’m never more, like, Zen than when the restaurant’s full and we’ve got a lot going on and, you know, I’ve just, I just thrive in that moment.”

Epilogue just celebrated 3 years in downtown Salem. Jones, who is originally from southeast Pennsylvania, has some Appalachian influences on the menu. For example, “a real simple elk Tenderloin and some crushed kettle chips, seared and clarified butter. And over here we have a watermelon radish and sweet potato.”

It’s more than just food on a plate. It’s connecting people with creative dishes and encourageing them to have open conversations at the restaurant and beyond.

“It’s always delicious. It’s always amazing. Like, there’s taste that I’ve never even tasted before. And they’ll tell me why I’m tasting it, you know? And, what that means, what’s coming from and how they bring that out,” customer Nicole Slater said. “He really does feed the community in many different ways.”

Jones said that is extremely important.

“It’s the entire reason that we do food. Food is sharing. A meal is the vessel. It’s the way that you communicate with people. It’s hard to be angry across the table from somebody when there’s food in front of you,” he said. “One of my philosophies about food and restaurants is it has to be inclusive. We try and price things to be inclusive. We make sure that we have intention with vegan dishes, with vegetarian dishes, gluten free dishes.”

Madalena Martin, who works at Epilogue, said it is “hands down been the best job I’ve ever had. Best employment, most competent and efficient crew. We’re all treated equally and fairly.”

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, though.

“January 1 of last year we had an armed group of Proud Boys and various other white supremacists march on the restaurant,” Jones said. “We were in the Washington Post for that. It’s not really why you want to make news. But it’s much nicer to have this.”

The “this” he’s referring to is being named a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist.

“It feels really good to have that vindication after all that because the best, you know, the best way to deal with all of that is just to remain excellent,” he said.

All the work he puts into his restaurant and advocacy isn’t just for the rewards or recognition.

“Hearing people in the dining room, knowing that we’re able to reach them through food, hoping that, you know, every once in a while we’ll reach somebody new and get somebody’s mind expanded a little bit.”

Though he didn’t make the short list to be a James Beard nominee, being a semifinalist is an honor that brings major recognition to him and to Epilogue.