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Tucker Shaw on Panzano GM Josh Mayo

Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Denver restaurants. Right now, Tucker Shaw, former restaurant critic for The Denver Post and the current features and entertainment editor, writes about Panzano GM Josh Mayo:
Josh Mayo [Photo: Adam Larkey]

What matters most when you're paying the bill after dinner? It's not whether your steak was cooked just so, or if the aioli was perfectly emulsified. It's whether or not you, as a customer, feel good. If my aioli was imperfect, I may give a restaurant another chance. Ditto if my water glass has someone else's lipstick mark on it. But if I don't feel good on the way out the door, I'll probably never return. (This is one of the few perks of being a former restaurant critic: I no longer have to spend time in restaurants I don't like.)

Here's a place where I never gripe at the bill: Panzano. Why? Chef Elise Wiggins puts out solid fare, no doubt, and this is half the battle in making a customer (me, in this case) feel good. But it's only half. Just as important to the Panzano experience is the smooth, efficient, well-structured and urbane service program, directed carefully and thoughtfully by general manager Josh Mayo and executed by his capable team.

The challenges of running a dining room are compounded when the restaurant is located in a hotel (Panzano is adjacent to Hotel Monaco). Any predictability associated with serving mostly local customers is erased when the room is filled with an international clientele and their indeterminable expectations. Pleasing such a crowd requires an innate, focused nimbleness. Mayo has it.

Hospitality is a dominant gene in Mayo's DNA strand. He's got a confident management style and a gentlemanly manner. With a dozen-odd years of experience, there's little Mayo hasn't encountered — celebrity patrons, demanding guests, off-the-wall requests, high rollers (and low ones) with axes to grind. He's anticipated and avoided sticky situations, forestalled disasters, reacted speedily to unexpected wrinkles — and even during the impossibly busy weekday lunchtime rush, he maintains a relaxed air and an infectious optimism.

There have been times when Mayo has recognized me and times when he hasn't. (Or at least, he's pretended not to, and for this I'll always appreciate him.) Even on those occasions when he has greeted me by name, he's never treated my table with excessive solicitousness. Mayo is democratic in his hospitality: This is the trademark of a pro.

— Tucker Shaw, The Denver Post


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