TEAM

We have a passion for Mexico’s cuisine and culture.

EXECUTIVE CHEF


Playa Mill Valley Chef Omar

Omar O. Huerta


A native of Jalisco, Mexico, Omar’s heart and soul delivered to his food is largely inspired by his childhood where he would watch his parents create recipes in their family kitchen while also lending these homegrown recipes to their family restaurant, Los Compadres, in Mexico.


At the age of ten, Omar began his formal restaurant career assisting with the family business and, by his early teenage years, traveled to the Bay Area to expand his culinary horizons.


Most recently, Omar served as chef de cuisine at acclaimed Presidio Social Club and Credo in San Francisco. His prior training has included work at many revered, Top 100 Restaurants in the Bay Area including Comal, Terrapin Crossroads, Zero-Zero, Picco and Marzano. Omar credits veteran Bay Area Chef Chris Fernandez (Oliveto, Poggio, Stars) and Chris Whaley (Picco, Zero-Zero) as mentors, assisting in developing his skill and techniques in Italian and California-Mediterranean cuisine. He resides in Richmond with his wife and three young sons.


GENERAL MANAGER /PARTNER


Playa Mill Valley Chef Omar

Jim Whaley


Jim Whaley joined the Real Restaurant group in 2010, most recently serving as General Manager of San Francisco’s legendary Fog City (Diner), overseeing the restaurant’s renovation that reinvigorated a city favorite. Prior to Fog City, Jim spent more than five years managing Marin’s top spots including Bar Bocce, Buckeye Roadhouse and Bungalow 44.


In the early 2000s, managerial positions at Novato’s Wildfox and Sausalito’s Water Street Grille provided opportunity to develop staff training and wine educational programs. And, like many skilled managers, Jim’s early restaurant education began behind the bar where fast-pace, customer service cultivates an on-your-toes mentality.


Born and raised in Marin County, Jim brings more than 15 years of combined management, organizational and leadership experience to his role as general manager and partner.


BEVERAGE DIRECTOR


Playa Mill Valley Chef Omar

MANFRED MENDEZ


Manfred was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco and raised in Marin County. His artistic background paired with the experience of living in Veracruz and Mexico City, are the inspiration for his creation of enticing and innovative cocktails at Playa.


His restaurant career began at the age of fourteen at Harbor Grill in Sausalito. After studying Fine Arts and Multimedia, he began working in restaurants again. Given the opportunity to tend bar after the resident bartender did not show, Manfred had found his new passion. Having built a strong foundation with classic and contemporary cocktails at Cafe Arrivederci, he has since worked in various establishments throughout Marin, Sonoma and San Francisco.


Manfred combines the flavors of his childhood, along with the vast array of ingredients used in Mexican, Latin American, and Caribbean cuisine as inspiration to create the cocktails at Playa, of course, always with his creative touch.


PROPRIETORS

Playa Mill Valley Partner, Bill Higgins

Bill Higgins


Born and raised in Chicago, Bill’s career began at Lettuce Entertain You working for Richard Melman as the General Manager of the famous stomping ground for celebrities, Pump Room. Moving out to the Bay Area in the late 70’s, he has become a prolific restaurateur and is the owner of Real Restaurants which include many SF Chronicle Top 100 restaurants and have garnered much acclaim. In 2009 he was honored to be a James Beard semi-finalist nominee for Outstanding Restaurateur in the US. After opening 4 restaurants in Marin over the last decade which include Picco, Picco Pizzeria, Bungalow 44 and Bar Bocce, Bill is excited to open Playa in his local town of Mill Valley. His many other well-known restaurants in San Francisco and Napa include Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Zero Zero, Fog City and Bix.


Playa Partner, Peter Schumacher

Peter Schumacher


Born and raised in Switzerland, Peter Schumacher grew up under the tutelage of his family’s restaurants learning the breadth of the business from the kitchen to the front-of-house. He relocated to New York City to work at the Grand Central Oyster Bar and the Drake Hotel where he worked with Jean George Vongerichten. In 1992, Peter migrated to San Francisco with his wife Liz and joined the managing team at BIX. In 1999 he landed into the newly renovated Buckeye Roadhouse and has realized his dream of creating a sophisticated yet comforting location. Now as General Manager and Co-Owner of both the Buckeye Roadhouse and sister restaurant Bungalow 44, Peter continues to create and direct the restaurants with amazing skill and leadership.


Playa Partner, Vanessa Higgins

Vanessa Higgins


Vanessa graduated from The Hotel School Sydney in her home country Australia and went on to become the Director of Food and Beverage Outlets at the world renowned 5 star hotel, Park Hyatt Sydney. Brought to San Francisco for work, she became the General Manager of Beaucoup in Nob Hill and later the Event Planner at Daniel Patterson and Peter Thiel’s restaurant Frisson on Jackson Square. Making the move back to hotels, she managed events at Morgans Hotel Group’s Clift Hotel working alongside Richard Branson, Russell Simmons and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Continuing her passion for the culinary world, she enrolled in the famed Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco, graduating in 2008. As an owner of Real Restaurants for over a decade, Vanessa is now bringing her expertise to Mill Valley by opening Playa with her husband Bill and business partner Peter.