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, Executive Chef and Owner
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 and 2013. 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 and 2013.
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, Chef de Cuisine
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, General Manager
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.
Peter Font, Assistant Manager
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.