Fellow food travelers: Here’s a new addition for your bucket list. Famed chef Charlie Palmer and hotel industry veteran Christopher Hunsberger have launched a new hotel brand — and every aspect of the experience is centered around food.
Called Appellation, the brand will take a locally focused approach to hospitality, inviting guests to interact with hotel staff and community members throughout their stay, as well as offering an authentic taste of each property’s location. Hands-on, interactive food experiences — a program called "Crafted at Appellation" — will range from chatting with chefs in the lobby while they prep for upcoming meals to experiential learning programs led by local makers and staff members (think: working with a knife-maker to craft a personalized knife or watching a live-fire cooking demonstration). Guest corridors will even feature pantries stocked with local artisanal products, craft cocktail kits and cookbooks.
Four Appellation properties are in the works as of early 2023, including a hotel in Healdsburg, Calif. (the hometown of Palmer, Hunsberger and the brand's headquarters), scheduled to debut in 2024, followed by a property in Sun Valley, Idaho, slated to open in the first quarter of 2025 as a much-needed luxury option in the area. Notably, Appellation Sun Valley will offer a Rooftop Observatory to make the most of Sun Valley's Dark Sky Reserve.
Later, in 2026, the brand will welcome two more California properties: one in Pacific Grove and a recently announced Petaluma hotel.
An upcoming Appellation app will further enhance the guest experience, designed to make stays as seamless and personalized as possible. Just one example: If guests have set up the app ahead of their stay, it will notify the team when travelers are in close proximity to the hotel, allowing staff members to greet clients by name and offer a more welcoming check-in experience.
Here, Ed Skapinok, chief commercial officer of Appellation, offers a sneak preview of what to expect from the upcoming culinary hotels.
Tell us a little about the idea behind Appellation and how it came to fruition.
Charlie Palmer is an iconic American chef renowned [for winning] James Beard Awards and about 20 Michelin stars over the years. He met Chris [Hunsberger] 20 years ago when Chris was in charge of food and beverage at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts ... they formed a friendship and started working together and it was a really successful arrangement. Fast forward to when Charlie owned a couple of hotels in Northern California, and asked Chris to come help him operate those. And then when those hotels were sold, that became the seed capital to start Appellation.
Really, the brand is their vision. They both have tremendous experience with hotels and restaurants, so they really wanted to create a hotel brand where food was essentially at the center of everything. Not just have a great restaurant inside a great hotel, but really make it much more inclusive. And that's what they've done.
How does that concept translate to the guest experience at the hotels?
The name itself, Appellation, means to give a name to a place. At a lot of hotels, local is very important … but we do think we're taking a new approach with putting food at the center of everything, for a very locally minded experience. Appellation is kind of the perfect way of putting it, because we're talking about local ingredients, local cuisine and our experiential programming where we bring in local makers and artisans to interact with our guests.
And the importance of food really does permeate throughout our physical spaces and the ways that our staff interacts with our guests. The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at one of our hotels is the lobby experience is a little different. We try to eliminate physical boundaries. We have much more of an open concept, so you might not notice where the lobby ends and the restaurant begins.
It is much more like walking into somebody’s home. We don't have front desks where there's a barrier between our guests and our staff. We actually have what is essentially an oversized butcher block … where there could be wine, noshes or little surprises for guests when they arrive. And then we have culinary stations set up throughout the lobby.
What interactive food opportunities can guests expect during an Appellation stay?
We talk about making the invisible visible. I think our guests are going to be curious by nature, and a lot of them will have a real interest in food and how it's prepared. So, we said, why should that be buried in the back of the house somewhere? We are actually moving culinary prep stations into the lobby area, so that as you go by, you can talk to a member of our kitchen team who's preparing for that night's dinner. You could ask about the ingredients. They may even hand you a sample of something to try. So, you really get a much more involved experience, particularly on the food side, because we make that invisible visible.
I think our guests are going to be curious by nature, and a lot of them will have a real interest in food and how it's prepared. So, we said, why should that be buried in the back of the house somewhere?
Our three brand hallmarks are: place defines us, people power us and food connects us. And our experiential learning programs are a good way of incorporating all three. We've built what we call “maker spaces” … where local makers may be honing their craft, so guests can come up and ask them about the work that they're doing.
It could be a watercolor artist painting during the day. There may be a local coffee roaster teaching guests about the roasting process and how to properly taste coffee. There will always be informal activities happening. We will also have formal classes that people can sign up for — guests and locals — such as one of our mixologists teaching a class on creating tinctures.
How did you choose the first locations for the brand?
We're only intending to build hotels in places that we really care about, and that are important to us. Our process starts with what we call soul searching. We really do a deep dive into what makes these places so special.
We start with the places we love, because we’re going to do a better job of serving visitors if we already have a passion for a place. And we think that's also going to make us really fit into the local community, as well. We only want to enhance these places and, in very responsible ways, encourage people to come experience them as if they were local.
Healdsburg is our home, where we live and have our offices. It’s in Sonoma County wine country. It’s the kind of place where you could have breakfast in a charming cafe, then that afternoon go hiking among the redwoods, catch the sunset along the coast and have dinner in a vineyard. And there's a lot that grows here naturally, so there are really great ingredients. There are also a lot of talented artists in the community.
In Sun Valley, same thing. People think of it for skiing, but it’s also great in the summer and fall. The mountain biking is tremendous, the fishing, the watersports. We’ve built all that into our programming.
And Pacific Grove is next door to Monterey. We’re close enough where guests can access great attractions such as Monterey Bay and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But the hotel is in an amazing location. It kind of goes up the hillside. We’re building a rooftop garden where, when you’re standing there, you’ll literally be floating 50 feet above the bay. We think it’s going to be a tremendous place not just for guests, but for locals who want to come there, too.
Is there anything else travelers and advisors should know about Appellation?
In terms of positioning, we talk about ourselves as approachable luxury. Obviously, Charlie has fine-dining experience, and Chris worked at Four Seasons, so we understand luxury very well. But we’ve defined ourselves as approachable luxury, meaning impressive but not pretentious. We know our guests are going to appreciate a luxury experience, but we want to do it in a more comfortable and relaxed way.