A new partnership between El Gaucho Hospitality and chef Jason Wilson is a sizzling match of culinary talent and business acumen
In early 2017, El Gaucho Hospitality and chef Jason Wilson announced a new partnership — a bond forged in the live wood fires of proper meat cookery. Some have called this union a match made in heaven, though searing hot flames are usually credited to the other end of the afterlife spectrum. Both partners already run successful restaurants. El Gaucho Hospitality currently operates five restaurants, which includes a Bellevue location, and an inn in the Pacific Northwest under the El Gaucho and AQUA brands, while James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson took the Seattle restaurant scene by storm with the now-closed Crush and upped the steakhouse game with Miller’s Guild. Wilson’s newest projects, The Lakehouse and adjacent speakeasy-inspired bar Civility & Unrest, are set to open in June 2017.
All of this success on both sides begs the question: Why mess with a good thing? The answer lies in the idea that together they can be better than the sum of their parts. In a recent press release, Wilson sums it up this way: “The sky is the limit with this partnership. It uniquely positions our two entities, together, for shared growth.”
As it turns out, Wilson and El Gaucho Hospitality COO Chad Mackay have known each other professionally for nearly a decade. The personal connection, however, occurred when both men and their wives were working an industry cruise in Barbados. Over wine, cigars, and “good” stories, the two couples hit it off. During the next few years, several people pointed out the clear benefits of an El Gaucho Hospitality-Wilson partnership. Mackay recognized the potential earlier than Wilson, but said his suggestion to figure out a way to work together basically went in one chef ear and out the other. Finally, their mutual advisor put two and two together for Wilson saying something like, you need a CEO and Mackay needs your creative culinary skills; get it done, already.
“We bring a really good business platform,” Mackay said, referring to the operational side of business logistics.
Even though Wilson has been successfully running his restaurants for years, he readily admits that relinquishing the role of CEO and what he calls his “civil activist” hat will be a relief and allow him to focus on his strengths. “My best suit is to be in the kitchen. This partnership empowers all of us,” Wilson said.
“His creativity is unmatched,” Mackay said. “I have a great deal of respect for what Jason does. He’s relentless.”
The businesses are still technically separate. Wilson retains ownership of The Lakehouse, Civility & Unrest, and Miller’s Guild along with serving as executive chef at Coffee Flour. For El Gaucho Hospitality, Wilson will drive culinary development on future projects and implement creative vision in existing brands as the culinary director. In addition to operational expertise, Mackay brings the El Gaucho Hospitality service philosophy to the table. Staff from both organizations will be honed to El Gaucho Hospitality’s high standards for delivering outstanding guest experiences. There also will be opportunities for personnel from each company to pick up shifts and gain experience in the other’s restaurants.
In the end, the heart of this union is a roaring flame. “It’s the quintessential cooking method of human beings,” Mackay said, reiterating that “bake-a-steak” is just not cooking in their world. “We both share a passion for live fire,” Wilson said. And then they forgot about the business interview and jumped down the rabbit hole of the time they built a huge custom grill from spare parts while camping and whose backyard grill is worthy of more respect. Men, meat, fire. Done. (But, not well done obviously.)