Famed Chef and Luxury Hotelier Join to Form Culinary Hotel Brand

3 min

99 shares, 160 points

It’s a compelling recipe. Bring together a celebrity chef, a veteran luxury hotel executive and a location famed for its food and wine.

The results of that combination will be ready to sample in 2026 with the opening of Appellation Petaluma, a 93-room luxury boutique hotel in the heart of a town that is often called the Gateway to Sonoma in California’s Wine Country.

In their first trade interview about the hotel, Charlie Palmer, co-founder and CEO of Appellation, a new hotel brand; and Christopher Hunsberger, co-founder and chief operations officer, told TravelPulse that they both live in nearby Healdsburg (home to another Appellation hotel scheduled to open next year) and intend to bring a unique product to the region which they call “experiential luxury.”

Palmer is a James Beard Award-winning chef and Hunsberger was president of the Americas at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

Appellation Hotels’ co-founders Christopher Hunsberger (left) and Charlie Palmer (right) photo via Appellation)

The Petaluma property is the fourth announced by Appellation. The others are in Sun Valley, Idaho; Pacific Grove, Calif; and Healdsburg. The brand name means “to give a name to a place” and the mission, according to the founders, is to create the first hotel brand born for the merger of culinary and hospitality. The company’s hotel in Healdsburg will mean the operator will be able to “bookend” the destination for those coming to Sonoma for multiple days.

With a location closer to San Francisco than other Wine Country towns (an hour’s drive), said Palmer, Petaluma is a natural for what the hotel intends to deliver. That will include the opportunity for guests to rub shoulders with the people who are making wine, growing food and are otherwise involved in the culinary scene. He said the property will be in the center of town with “a rooftop restaurant second to none.”

According to Hunsberger, despite its renown, Petaluma is underserved as far as the kind of “approachable luxury” that the Appellation Petaluma will provide. He said the hotel “will elevate the sense of place” through design and programming and celebrate the richness of the destination’s culture.

For the next couple of years as the hotel goes through regulatory processes and construction, said Hunsberger, his team will be building anticipation in the trade and among consumers about the opening. Part of that buildup, he said, will be staging Crafted at Appellation programming in other venues in Petaluma to engage the local community and activate the location.

Crafted at Appellation is the brand’s experiential learning program, “It is just as important for us to connect with the local community as with the traveling public, “ said Hunsberger.

When it opens, Appellation Petaluma will host a full calendar of activities for guests and locals via Crafted at Appellation events in partnership with community makers and artisans.

Palmer said he has spent many years developing relationships with local growers, farmers and makers in a locale that prizes generational agriculture, innovation and creativity – and that is home to renowned producers of high-quality food and wine, as well as being an artistic and cultural center.

Ebbie Nakhjavani, CEO of EKN Development Group, which is developing the hotel and chose Appellation as the hotel’s operator, said that immediately on meeting with Palmer and Hunsberger, “we knew it was meant to be that we would do the project together.”

Unlike with many hotels when a management company is hired and then loses the vision as it focuses on financial performance, said Nakhjavani, Appellation will maintain its vision through the coming years. In addition, he said, the project is a joint venture with the two co-founders so all parties have a stake in its quality and success. He said the market for the destination is already strong and success is only a matter of capturing market share.

As guests enter the lobby, said Nakhjavani, they will be walking into a culinary scene. There will be a window into the ground floor restaurant’s kitchen. With a feeling that is equal parts city and equal part country, he said, “the guest will relax immediately because they will be immersed in the environment and enjoying where they are.”

As with all Appellation properties, the culinary experience in Petaluma will go well beyond the hotel’s food and beverage venues. Food-focused amenities and programming will be blended into every aspect of the hotel, many of which will embrace the destination’s bourgeoning culinary scene. For example, the hotels will feature a pantry on every floor that is an alternative to the mini-bar, with a more expanded offering. That might be the day’s cocktail mix or a “proper cup of coffee” and tea. It will be a much more elevated experience delivered by sophisticated equipment

And, said Nakhjavani. “Honoring Petaluma’s rich arts scene, we will invest over $500,000 in art including specifically commissioned signature pieces from local artists that will be accessible to everyone in the community.”

The goal of all these efforts, said Palmer, is to provide guests with the chance to feel what it’s like to live in Petaluma during their stay, even if it’s only for a few days. He said that so many visitors say they would love to live in the town and for 99% of them that is not going to happen “but they can experience it for the duration of their time at the hotel.”

Source: TravelPulse

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99 shares, 160 points

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