WHO WE ARE
It all started about 20 years ago. A young cook named Greg Baker was working the line at an upscale French restaurant. One night during a particularly hectic service, as the ticket meter began its mechanical song and the chef barked orders, Greg had an epiphany. He looked at the comis working beside him, peered out at the well-heeled patrons in the dining room, looked down at the freshly tattooed black widow spider on his forearm and said, “Good food is wasted on people who can afford it.”
Motivated by the idea that good food should be made available to everyone, Greg embarked on a mission that would eventually turn Tampa’s dining scene upside down. In 2010, Greg’s vision became a reality when he and his wife, Michelle, opened The Refinery. Founded on the principle that good food is a necessity, not a right, the pair has accomplished exactly what they set out to do—serve elevated food at prices that don’t break the bank.
Here at The Refinery, we set the bar high when it comes to what we put on the plate. If it wasn’t grown in Florida or produced using ethically sound methods, you probably won’t find it here. We make sure each ingredient is of the highest quality and comes from folks who take great pride and care of their processes, employees, and earthly footprint.
GREG BAKER, HMFIC
Raised in Clearwater, Florida, Greg Baker graduated from high school and promptly moved to Portland, Oregon to immerse himself the city’s diverse farmland, adventurous eating scene, and punk rock culture. Upon arrival, Baker enrolled in the Western Culinary Institute where he discovered his love and cemented his respect for the elegance of “poor man food.”
Baker spent the next two decades forging partnerships with local farmers and honing his skills in kitchens across the country. But home soon beckoned and in 2010, Greg took these lessons back home to Tampa Bay and opened The Refinery with his wife, Michelle, in the historic neighborhood of Seminole Heights.
Greg took every opportunity to cultivate a new food climate in an area known for having very little culinary creativity. He began putting faces to farmers and utilizing whole animal butchery. His ever-changing menus incorporate flavors from across the globe and classical French technique, while keeping in mind Florida’s rich history, and has a commitment to resurrecting nearly lost Florida ingredients and cooking techniques.
Zagat named The Refinery ‘Best Restaurant’ in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The Refinery was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2011, and Greg was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: South in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
When he’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find Greg white water rafting, drinking craft beers, sipping on bourbons and spending time with his pit bull Ricky Bobby and wife, Michelle.
ERIC MCHUGH, SMFIC
Growing up in Chesterfield, Virginia, Eric McHugh always found himself helping and learning in the kitchen alongside his two Southern-raised grandmothers, but he never considered cooking professionally. Eric worked in restaurants in high school and college as he pursued a degree in music education. During that time he met Chef Artt Ward who became his friend and mentor. Eric’s passion for food took a whole new turn. He changed majors and enrolled in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Upon graduation, Eric said goodbye to Pittsburgh and headed south to Key Largo, Florida to work under Chefs Nelson Millan and Philippe Reynaud at the Ocean Reef Club. Artt Ward eventually lured Eric back to Pennsylvania with a job offer. He then went on to cook under Chefs Carmen Cappello and Daniel Stern, giving him a diverse culinary background and a passion for pushing boundaries with food.
Eric joined The Refinery team in 2011 and immediately knew he was in the right place. He works alongside Chef Greg Baker to reinvent familiar foods and utilize the entirety of the freshest, local products available.
When he’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find Eric playing the drums, shooting pool, hunting, and kayaking with his wife in St. Pete.
MICHELLE BAKER, BOSS LADY
Michelle grew up in a bonafide Southern kitchen in Port Richey, FL. Her mother –having been raised partly in Biloxi, MS and partly Tampa, FL- taught her early on that all good things come from the south, especially shrimp etouffee, honey roasted hams and buttery biscuits.
Because of this upbringing, Michelle has always found comfort hosting dinner parties for friends or mixing a good cocktail from the juices found in the fridge. It was only natural that she find her way into the hospitality industry to make ends meet while attending college. Her adult life would lead her in and out of restaurants, 24 hour diners, famous night clubs and little cafes. She has truly done every job under a restaurant roof.
Through the years, Michelle did try to leave the hospitality industry, trying her luck at different careers; fashion model, personal chef, buyer, Tampa Tribune food writer, professional food stylist but she always went back to the grind of the restaurants. She craved the customer interaction. In October of 2009, she finally told her husband that it was time to open their own restaurant. They both thought “what the hell”. As luck would have it, they did know what they were doing or perhaps are just really good at faking it.
When Michelle is not working you’ll find her taking on class IV+ rapids, longing to finish her novel, snuggling with her kitty cats, laughing at her goofy pit bull and absorbing as much time as possible with her husband, Greg.
MELISSA GWYN, THE GATE KEEPER
Born in Jacksonville, Florida and raised in Pinellas County, Melissa Gwyn owns her ‘military brat’ status, but has called the Sunshine State home for most of her life. A Japanese Dutch American, Gwyn traveled frequently to visit family across the country, in New Orleans and California, throughout her childhood. At the age of eleven, Gwyn’s father started a career in the kitchen, working in restaurants and resorts before opening a catering company. When not studying theater production in school, Gwyn helped out at her father’s company. It was during these teenage years that she learned the ins and outs of the industry and discovered an interest in food.
While she bartended at The Hub in Tampa, Gwyn met Greg and Michelle Baker and after a couple of beers, and a few quips, they became fast friends. From then on, Melissa pitched in to help with the Baker’s catering company, Cooks N’ Company, whenever she could.
In 2009, Gwyn took a hiatus from work and moved to Reading, England where she experienced minor culture shock and drank lots of beer. She couldn’t stay away from Florida for long, though, and after only a year, returned to join the team at the Baker’s restaurant, The Refinery. Fast forward five years later and she’s been involved in almost every aspect of the business during her time. From painting the walls purple, to fetching ingredients for the kitchen, Gwyn is on it. As The Refinery evolved and garnered wider acclaim, Gwyn settled in to an administrative role as Michelle’s personal assistant and picked up shifts as a server on the side.
In mid-2014, Gwyn transitioned into a full-time position in preparation of Fodder & Shine’s opening. At that time, she stepped off The Refinery’s service floor and into the sun-filled office space in Fodder & Shine’s kitchen. Occasionally, you can still spot her covering shifts at The Refinery, and if you do, consider yourself lucky – it's like spying a unicorn!
When she’s not busy ensuring both restaurants are running smoothly behind-the-scenes, you’ll find Gwyn spoiling her cat, Adobe, and dog, Westley, or outdoors at a music festival or one of Tampa’s many theme parks.
PETER FONT, DIRECTOR OF INTEGRITY
Peter Font decided early on that he wanted to pursue a career in hospitality. At age 17, following his first job as an ice cream scooper at Carvel, he enrolled in Bartending School. And upon turning 18, Peter was hired as a bartender at Red Lobster.
He spent the next several years working a variety of front-of-house jobs as a late night closer for Flannigans, head waiter for Outback Steakhouse, cashier for a tiny mom and pop taco shack, and bartender and barista for one of Tampa’s premier cigar bars, King Corona.
However, it was his six-year tenure at a small, independent Italian restaurant called the Laughing Cat that began to define him as exceptional. Owned by charming, old Sicilian Franco LoRe, the Laughing Cat provided Peter with a broad foundation of experience. From upper management, to emergency toilet repairman, and English/Spanish translator, Peter proved himself to be an invaluable asset to the company.
By the time he was hired to serve at The Refinery, Peter developed a reputation for being one of Tampa’s finest servers, but the feeling of prestige was short-lived. At The Refinery, owner Michelle Baker encouraged him to refine his skills and look at hospitality with fresh eyes. His broad experience was sharpened and polished, which paid off in 2012 when Creative Loafing named him “Best Server Tampa Bay, Readers’ Choice.” With Michelle’s extensive experience to draw on, Peter has learned to navigate front of house operations such as managing a beer and wine program, HR, and working with customers to book events.
When he’s not at work, you can find him kayaking up and down the Hillsborough River or playing guitar on his front porch.
DAN PADILLA, DIRECTOR OF CONTRABAND
Born in Queens, New York and raised on Long Island and in South Florida, Dan Padilla developing a deep appreciation for food early in life through eating, well, practically everything. New York pizza, Gulf seafood, his mother's interpretations of traditional Ecuadorian dishes, you name it, and he found the best versions to eat. Padilla took that appreciation to the kitchens he worked in while attending the University of South Florida. But when he graduated, he left the culinary industry to pursue graphic design. He couldn’t stay away from the kitchen for long, and took on evening kitchen jobs in Tampa, Florida at spots Chez Bryce.. After a year,, Dan decided to pursue a career in restaurants full-time, accepting a position at The Refinery as a lead prep cook. He worked his way up the ranks for a year and a half before being promoted to his current position, Director of Operations for The Refinery and the Baker’s new concept, Fodder & Shine.
When he’s not climbing through the restaurant’s walk-in coolers or meeting with local farmers, you’ll find Dan at home, strumming his guitar with his beautiful wife, Alix, surrounded by their many pets.
MIKE SMITH, THE BEAR
Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, Michael Eshleman began cooking at fourteen when he landed an apprenticeship under Chef Daniel Adams at La Lavendia, a small classic French restaurant. It was there that he fell in love with French technique and the satisfaction of delighting people with a great meal.
After seven years, Chef Daniel sent Michael to apprentice under Chef Guy LaRoy at La’ Orient Chez Guy in San Marco-Jacksonville, Florida. He relished in the opportunity to learn about Asian cuisine and, much like classical French cuisine, it grabbed his immediate attention. After La’ Orient, Michael became sous chef at Iron Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Hawaiian Fusion concept, Roy’s Jacksonville in 2004. He was once again given the opportunity to practice and improved upon the French and Asian techniques he’d grown to love. In 2007, Michael moved south to cook at Roy’s Tampa location for a short time before working under several other elite chefs in the city. And finally, in 2014, Michael joined The Refinery team.
When he’s not in the kitchen, Michael enjoys spending time with his daughter, Jayden, and eating, drinking, and laughing with friends all over Tampa Bay.
DUANE THOMPSON, BAD MON OF TINGZ
Duane Thompson’s culturally diverse upbringing exposed him to a variety of ethnic flavors, solidifying his love for food at an early age. Duane spent his childhood years in Jamaica, where he fell in love with the rich flavors of the Islands
At age 11, his family migrated to the United States and settled in Zephyrhills, Florida. He spent his young adult years as a “rolling stone” in the food and beverage industry, working as a server in Gainesville, a bartender in Baltimore, and a cook in Orlando. After working both front of the house and back of the house roles in various cities, he decided to formalize his experience by enrolling in culinary school at the Art Institute in Charleston, South Carolina.
Navigating Charleston’s emerging food scene would lead him to become a Lead Line Cook at the Sanctuary Hotel’s Ocean Room, where he would spend the next two years honing his skills In November 2012, he returned to Zephyrhills, Florida where he joined the opening team of a scratch foods diner. He remained there until June 2014 when he accepted a position as a line cook at The Refinery. Duane moved through the ranks quickly, earning the title of Sous Chef in November of 2014.
When Duane is not cooking, you can find him near the beach, partaking in badmon tingz.
KELLY O'HARE, THE HAMMER
Kelly grew up in a tiny central Florida town called Homosassa, the manatee capital of the world. She spent most of her youth reading books, dancing, and playing with cats. After graduating high school, she moved to Tampa in 2005 to attend the University of South Florida. In her freshman year of college, she was hired as a server at a Korean-owned sushi restaurant, where she developed a love for all things fermented.
Taking her time in school, over the next several years she worked at a variety of establishments—high-end delicatessens, pizza parlors, and mall chains. Eventually college had to end, and Kelly graduated with a degree in Art History.
Right before they were nominated for their first James Beard Award, Kelly was brought onto the team at The Refinery. It was here that she would learn more about food and wine than she could have ever imagined! In the summer of 2014, she left The Refinery for a whopping 3 days to pursue a career in corporate America. It didn't work out, but Greg and Michelle graciously welcomed her back to the team with the offer of a management position.
When she’s not at work, you can find her drinking wine with her best friends, watching movies with her boyfriend, or napping.
I can’t forecast what anyone will be eating at The Refinery the week the Republicans meet in Tampa. In the 21 / 2 years since Greg Baker and his wife, Michelle, opened the funky foodie favorite in Seminole Heights, the chef has yet to repeat a single dish on the menu. Every Thursday, he whips up an entirely new list. Baker’s response to customers who might want to revisit a favorite meal: “Let’s see if I can make you happy with something else.”
While diners can’t predict what they’ll find, they can expect some pleasant surprises from the exposed kitchen. I was dubious about warm watermelon until I tasted it with pickled mango puree, a shock of jalapeño and a crouton dabbed with blue cheese. (The chef digs combinations of sweet and spicy; chances are you will, too.) The first-time restaurant operator rethinks french fries by using mushrooms, which he purees with onions, celery, thyme, wine and cream, then thickens with chickpea and tapioca flours, and pours into a sheet pan to bake. Cut into strips and fried to a crunch, they are a substantial snack made sassier with — forget ketchup — bell pepper sofrito. When Baker got a good deal from his butcher on beef tongue, he passed the bargain along to his customers in the form of a “deli platter” of thinly sliced beef tongue, potato salad and a house-made rye cracker that would have tasted at home in an echt delicatessen.
As with many restaurants, however, appetizers tend to be more enticing than main courses.
No offense to Thomas Keller and company, but Greg Baker thinks the “smoke and mirrors” employed by practitioners of lofty dining in this country make that style of cooking inaccessible to the masses. So you won’t find matching silverware in his restaurant, and the plates might be edged with a chip or two. Mason jars are the glasses of choice, because “they keep costs down.” His focus on what lands on the tables rather than on the walls is emphasized in the clattery ground-floor dining room in what was a carriage house in another life. Upstairs awaits a small bar serving just beer and wine.
A category called “Craig’s List” is a response to an investor with the same first name who suggested that the Bakers always offer a steak and a burger on their menu. They agreed, although true to form, every Thursday the preparations for both are reimagined.
– Tom Sietsema
Original Story : August 2012 Washington Post Issue
“Snag a reservation for dinner at the Refinery, which has earned three James Beard Award nominations since opening in 2010. Housed in a converted Craftsman-style bungalow on an industrial stretch in Seminole Heights, the restaurant features a homey aesthetic and a market-oriented weekly menu that mixes high and low: Think sweetbread-stuffed tomatoes ($10) offered alongside a vegetarian sloppy joe ($13).”
– Nicholas DeRenzo, New York Magazine
Covering all aspects of the industry—from chefs and restaurateurs to cookbook authors and food journalists to restaurant designers and architects and more—the Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America. The awards are presented each spring at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Nominees and winners are fêted at a weekend of events in New York City that has become the social and gastronomic highlight of the year.
The Refinery’s Chef Greg Baker has been a semi finalist in the James Beard Awards for the years 2011, 2012, 2013. For full list of semi finalists for 2013 click HERE.
- THE REFINERY
- (813) 237-2000
- 5137 North Florida Avenue Tampa, FL 33603
PRESS & MEDIA CONTACT
Please contact Polished Pig Media
- MICHELLE CHARAK
- KELLYN CURTIS
LUNCH: MON – FRI 11AM – 2PM
DINNER: SUN – THU 5PM – 10PM | FRI – SAT 5PM – 11PM
BRUNCH: SAT – SUN 11AM – 2:30PM