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
Clearwater, FL raised Greg Baker set his sights on Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR directly out of high school. He chose to leave the sunshine and white sandy beaches (and a fully paid college tuition) for diverse farmland, abundant adventurous eaters and an awesome punk rock scene. It would be in Portland where he would find his love and cement his respect for the elegance of Poor Man Food. Forging partnerships with local farmers for nearly a decade, Greg took these lessons back home to Tampa Bay where he would single handedly change the culinary scene by putting faces to farmers and daringly utilize all aspects of proteins. To do this successfully, he was forced to change his menu every week. In the beginning, there were only crickets; with each week passing he forged a new food climate in an area known for little culinary creativity. He now boasts thousands of food fans that travel from all over to enjoy his creations. But Baker remains very humbled by his success often being quoted “I’m just a dumb kid who cooks.”
Baker opened The Refinery with his wife; Michelle, in 2010 in the historic neighborhood of Seminole Heights, Tampa. His menus incorporate the flavors of the vast countrysides from across the globe, mixed with classical French technique all the while keeping in mind Florida’s rich cultural history. He is known for resurrecting nearly lost Florida ingredients and cooking techniques, for whole animal butchery, whole vegetable use, and for being an avid defender of farmer worker rights and policy reform.
Both The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Bay Times consider the Refinery one of the most prized restaurants of Tampa Bay. Chef Greg and The Refinery has been named in Bon Appetit , Southern Living, Conde Nast Traveler, Forbes.com, Esquire Magazine, New York Magazine, The Local Palate, USA Today, The Washington Post, Edible Tampa Bay and Garden & Gun Magazine as well as countless local and national online and weekly publications. Southern Living Magazine named The Refinery Best 100 Restaurants in the South 2014. Celebrity Chef Mario Batali included Greg in his most recent cookbook; America: Farm to Table, for his work with local pig farmers. Greg currently can be read at Food Republic.com. Zagat rated The Refinery ‘Best Restaurant’ 2012 - 2015. The James Beard Foundation named The Refinery as a semi-finalist Best New Restaurant in 2011 and named Baker a semi-finalist for Best Chef South in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. When he’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find Greg kayaking, trying to fish, drinking craft beers, sipping on bourbons and spending time with his pit bull Ricky Bobby, his jerk cat Handsome Dick Manatoba and wife, Michelle.
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.
David Stringer, CHIEF BABYSITTER
David Stringer grew up next door to cattle ranchers and gator trappers in Wildwood, FL. It was through this early exposure that he realized the importance of the dinner table as a place for gathering and sharing. At 15, he began his culinary career as a dishwasher at Piccadilly Cafeteria in Leesburg. At 23, he transitioned to a career as a personal chef and caterer. Missing the thrill and pace of a traditional kitchen, Stringer returned to the restaurant world and joined the staff at various, esteemed country clubs and hotels. In 2011, Stringer and his wife, Alicia, moved to Tampa. He landed an internship at The Refinery, which led to a position on the line. Stringer admired Chef Greg Baker’s honesty and integrity with food. He knew he found the right team. Stringer brings those principles with him to Fodder & Shine, where he’s the head sous chef.
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.