Chef Matthew Varga, Executive Chef
Chef Varga is from Connecticut, where he would spend his childhood days crabbing, fishing, and soaking in the aromas of his family’s busy kitchen. He began his culinary training by taking food and baking classes in high school, and started his first job in a restaurant at the age of 16. Chef Varga attended Johnson & Wales University, where he received his associate degree in culinary arts in 2003, and his bachelor’s degree in food service management in 2005.
Chef Varga began working at Gracie’s in 2007, and was promoted to Executive Chef in 2010. Since then, Gracie’s has won the AAA four-diamond award five years straight, and received three Diner’s Choice awards from Open Table. Chef Varga has been featured in Art Culinaire and as a guest chef for the Democratic Governors Association Taste of America gala.
Ellen Slattery, Proprietor
Ellen grew up cooking in her family kitchen, where she developed a passion for feeding people. She carried this passion from her home kitchen, through a four year psychology degree, then to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. She opened Gracie’s on New Year’s Eve in 1998. At Gracie’s, she is known for building a team that is excited about culinary artistry, wowing guests, and championing locally sourced food. Most nights, she can be found working the line, chatting with guests, or encouraging her staff to “wish it, dream it, do it.”
In 2012, she opened Ellie’s Bakery as an extension of the bread program at Gracie’s. With Ellie’s Bakery, Ellen and her team strive each day to stand out in the community as a loyal, soulful, nourishing neighborhood bakery.
Chef Melissa Denmark
Executive Pastry Chef
Chef Denmark grew up in Columbia, Maryland, with a cookbook in one hand, and a whisk in the other. Her love of baking led her to Johnson & Wales University, where she graduated summa cum laude in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in baking and pastry arts. That same year, Denmark assumed the role of Executive Pastry Chef at Gracie’s, and in 2012, developed the bread and pastry program at Ellie’s Bakery.
Chef Denmark draws her inspiration from travel, childhood memories, and unusual ingredients to create savory-sweet, unique desserts. She was named as one of the 50 best new pastry chefs in the country by Food & Wine magazine in 2012, and in 2014 was named a Rising Star in Coastal New England by the culinary magazine, Starchefs. In 2015 Melissa received the Local Hero award from Edible Rhody.
Photography & Media Arts
Jason Wessel is Gracie’s artist-in-residence. His spectacular photography is highlighted on our websites, social media pages and blog. His photos have been published in Boston Magazine, Rhode Island Monthly, and Zagat Guides, as well as Conde Nast Traveler. Blending his photography with layouts for print and web, Jason’s graphic design experience can be seen throughout our numerous marketing projects.
With over 18 years of experience in the hospitality industry as a restaurant manager and bar manager in New York City, North Carolina, and here at Gracie’s, food and beverage photography naturally became Jason’s primary area of interest along with portraits and events. Jason also provides in-house IT experience by building database tools that keep the business side of Gracie’s and Ellie’s moving with efficiency.
Front of the House Manager
Stephen Willson has 22 years of experience in the hospitality industry. His father, a bar owner; and mother, a 25 year veteran wedding planner, instilled a sense of hospitality within him that runs through his veins. Mr. Willson joined the Gracie’s team in 2008 as a server. In late 2010, he returned to his home town of Baltimore, MD, to assume the role of third generation proprietor of his family’s bar, Jiggs Tavern, established in 1948. He returned to Providence in 2013 as Gracie’s Front of House Manager.
Mr. Willson believes that in order to provide an extraordinary experience for his guests, he and his service team must be passionate, dedicated, and eager to exceed every expectation. His knowledge of fine food and wine, and the thirst to continue expanding upon that knowledge, keeps him constantly engaged in his craft. His love of service is fueled by a desire to indulge his guests with new and exciting experiences that leave a lasting impression for years to come.
Private Events Director
Kendal Fitzsimmons is our link to local culture. She grew up on the south coast of Massachusetts, and has never found herself away from the ocean for long. This gives her an inside edge for event planning in the Ocean State. In fact, she has been coordinating plans, parties, and vacations as long as she can recall.
Kendal graduated with a degree in Public Relations from the University of Rhode Island, and worked at the Hyatt Regency Newport as their events coordinator for four years.
Her passion for detail and love of food makes Gracie’s the ideal place for Kendal to achieve her goal of exceeding guest’s expectations and bringing each client’s unique vision to life.
Wine & Beverage Director
Alan Freudeman has 15 years experience in the restaurant industry. He began working in restaurants while in college for theatre in Ohio. He tended bar and managed at restaurants in Cleveland, and moved to Rhode Island in 2006 to attend Johnson & Wales University. While at JWU, Alan worked as a server and line cook at Gracie’s. In 2010, he assumed the role of Chef de Cuisine at Ama’s in Providence.
Alan returned to Gracie’s in 2013, where his knowledge and passion for wine led him to serve as our staff wine educator. In 2014, he began working to expand Gracie’s wine program to showcase unique wines from the East Coast of the United States.
Kelly, a born and raised Rhode Islander, has over 10 years of experience working in the restaurants that make Rhode Island food and culture so great. She joined the Gracie’s team in 2015 as the Office Manager, responsible for the day to day tasks like answering phones and taking care of guest reservations. This position quickly grew and evolved into something far greater than answering phones and ordering office supplies. Kelly is, among many other things, the staff mom. She sews buttons onto shirts, hems pants, treats ink stained ties, mends wounds, lifts us up when we are down, keeps us organized, efficient, and graceful. She has taken something ordinary and made it extraordinary.