Historical Wrigley Mansion Restaurants Continue Modern Revamp

Nikki BuchananMay 12, 2023
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Christopher Gross gets lots of appropriately placed credit for the excellence of Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion, but he’s the first to tell anyone who will listen that the credit for dozens of subtle but impactful improvements at the Wrigley Mansion itself goes to his life partner and Wrigley Mansion owner Jamie Hormel.

Hormel, he says, had noticed over the years that her friends never visited the Mansion. She suspected that they were less than impressed with previous dining experiences there, and she set out to improve the situation. Since 2018, she has created Jamie’s Wine Bar (hiring designer Wendy Rodgers to transform it into an elegant, old-school enclave), completely overhauled the outdated kitchen and poured beaucoup bucks into a wine cellar that surpasses any in this state — and many in other states as well.

Gross had his own ideas about what gracious hospitality should look like, eschewing the “rules and regs” typical of high-end corporate hotels in favor of an accommodating philosophy he describes as “the answer is always yes.” Fulfilling that formula required hiring more staff, which Hormel did.

Christopher Gross | Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Christopher Gross | Photo by Mark Lipczynski

When wine director Paola Embry decided to retire to travel with her husband, Hormel hired rising wine-star Jason Caballero (formerly of Maple & Ash) to take her place. As Embry did, Caballero oversees all three restaurants on the property (Christopher’s, Geordie’s and Jamie’s Wine Bar) as well as special events.

He is an Advanced Sommelier, passing the third level exam administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2017. He hopes to pass the incredibly difficult Master Sommelier test sometime this year, earning a title held by only 273 people in the world and 173 people in the United States. Here in Arizona, our sole Master Sommelier to date has been Greg Tresner, who worked at Mary Elaine’s in its heyday and passed away in 2020.

In addition to becoming Arizona’s only living Master Somm, Caballero hopes to get Wrigley Mansion in position to earn Wine Spectator’s Grand Award of Excellence, an honor bestowed upon fewer than 100 restaurants in 2022. During her stint at the Mansion, Embry took the cellar to the next level, procuring the biggest wine inventory in the state. Now Caballero will work at getting the depth needed (read: multiple bottles of rare vintages) to earn that coveted award.

But Caballero is just one of the hot shots recently hired. Hormel also brought on Arizona native and world traveler Tara Padilla to be the GM of Christopher’s. Her resume includes Benu in San Francisco, Forbes five-star-rated Relais & Châteaux in Texas, Matsuhisa’s in Aspen and Flint here in Phoenix. Christopher says of her, “She helps me be better. She also shares my dream for Christopher’s, something that’s nearly impossible to convey. She is by far the best person I’ve ever had for this position, and she is a great mentor to our young team.”

General manager Tara Padilla | Photo courtesy instagram.com/chef144wrigley
General manager Tara Padilla | Photo courtesy instagram.com/chef144wrigley

Gross calls another new member of the team, Mark Guillaudeu, a “Rainman on wine.” He, too, is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, a title he earned in 2018. He managed the wine and cocktail programs at Commis in Oakland for five years, earning the title Best Sommelier USA from BUSA (Best USA Sommelier Association) in June 2022. It was a nine-hour exam in which six finalists competed in French, Spanish and English (part of the requirement is competing in a non-native language), a feat that earned him the right to represent the U.S. in the Concours Mondial, a worldwide competition held in Paris. In addition to all that, Gross says he’s also won a cocktail contest.
Another big get for Wrigley Mansion is Geordie’s new executive chef David Brito, a 26-year-old wunderkind who has worked at Prado (under celebrity chef Alex Stratta, whose strict professionalism impressed him), Kai, Café Monarch and Reserve, moving from line cook to executive chef in less than eight years. He brought five Monarch people with him to Wrigley Mansion and jumped right in. “He didn’t need us at all,” Gross marvels. “He’s super-organized, neat and professional, and he had a menu ready in a week!” He goes on to muse, “I guess we could be more organized,” which is hilarious coming from one of the city’s greatest chefs.

Sommelier Mark Guillaudeu | Photo courtesy instagram.com/chef144wrigley
Sommelier Mark Guillaudeu | Photo courtesy instagram.com/chef144wrigley

Gross has been touting his stellar team on Instagram in recent weeks, but he’s just as proud of Hormel’s vision to bring Wrigley Mansion back into the modern world. The Garden Terrace and Garden Room (banquet and special events venues) have undergone massive renovation, and in the past four years, Geordie’s has had a complete bar overhaul, new chairs, paint, curtains, the whole shebang. Even the grounds have been spruced up and those interminable steps at the back of the building have been retiled. All the musty remnants of a fading relic are gone. The Mansion has become more than a historical building to admire for its architecture and views. It’s a vibrant venue offering three vastly different drinking/dining experiences, each of them guided by talented, driven people. I hope Hormel’s friends know that.


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