Armando's Gallery House is Half Restaurant, Half Dinner Party
By Jon Lewis
Show Man Ship
By Jon Lewis
Photo: James Mazzotta
Armando Mejorado’s world was filled with light, color and love. And then it wasn’t. His partner of 20 years, Gary Desmond, passed away two years ago and the Redding artist found himself at an emotional and creative loss.
He didn’t wallow in self-pity very long. A busy man and a hard worker by nature, Armando turned his grief into action. For motivation, he fashioned a sign that he frequently posted to his Facebook page. It reads: “Need a Jump Start, Will Work 4 It.”
“I went into survivor mode,” Armando says. Thankfully, he rejected his initial impulse to sell his belongings and “go somewhere where nobody knew me.” Instead, he decided to give himself a year to find his footing.
For the beginning, he knew he had to leave the home he and Gary, an interior decorator, had shared. The beautiful north Redding house was decorated from top to bottom with Armando’s paintings and the whimsical and unique furnishings the two had collected over the years.
“I knew right from the start that I couldn’t stay in that house because of the memories,” Armando says. Those memories, however, include fond ones of the elaborate dinner parties the pair would host; the soirees were usually based on a theme and often became performance-art events in and of themselves.
Ultimately, Armando decided to move ahead in the only way that made sense to him: start a business that combines his twin passions of creating art and entertaining friends. The result is Armando’s Gallery House, a restaurant and art gallery that stands alone in the North State in terms of originality.
An extravaganza of artwork, knickknacks and distinctive furnishings, the Gallery House is a constantly evolving potpourri that has been delighting customers since the doors opened last summer.
Sherry Hoyer of Redding likens a visit to the Gallery House to the opening pages of a favorite book. “It’s like ‘Milan’ or ‘The Secret Garden.’ It’s a backdrop to a story and I’m full of wonder and joy. The scene is set and I get to be in the story.”
Lyn Regan also is a fan and enjoys Armando’s near-constant rearranging of the furnishings and artwork. “Armando wants everyone to feel that they are a guest in his home, and he succeeds,” Regan says. “The Gallery is cozy and inviting. I have gone there for a special event where I dressed up, and one night I went in my slippers because I wanted to just relax with a glass of wine in the ambiance of his peaceful and lovely gallery.”
Perhaps the best review was delivered last month when Viva Downtown named Armando’s Gallery House the downtown business of the year at the annual State of Downtown event.
The Gallery House is a slight twist on the dream Armando and Desmond had to open a combination gallery and bed & breakfast. There are no bedrooms and breakfast isn’t served, but guest comfort is still a priority. “I describe it as my home and I’m throwing a dinner party every night I’m open,” Armando says. “They can just come in and feel comfy.”
Armando creates a fixed menu each week for Friday and Saturday dinners. Guests also are welcome to order a la carte or simply stop in and enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of craft beer. Thursday nights are less structured, with appetizers and desserts on the menu. The Gallery House is open other nights of the week by reservation. The Butte Street location has become popular for private parties, Armando says.
Belly dance performances, movie nights, concerts and other themed events are held at least once a month. Guests are served by a pair of waitresses attired in colorful kimonos; Armando says the idea is to emulate geishas, “the ultimate level of service.”
Aspiring artists can buy a blank canvas and work on their own masterpiece while they dine or have a drink. Armando freely offers tips and guidance as his time allows; Thursdays are usually the best for those wishing for more instruction.
“They may say, ‘I’m not an artist,’ and I tell them you will leave with a painting you will be happy with,” Armando says. He urges his guests to outline their works with a permanent marker rather than a pencil to eliminate any second-guessing. “Your first instinct is usually the best,” he says.
A self-taught artist, Armando says he’s had the urge to create since age 5 and he kept returning to it despite the objections of his father. Art became his refuge as a teenager and a means of expression as an adult.
When Armando’s older brother, Bernave, was killed in an automobile accident about 15 years ago, Armando decided to stage an annual event in his brother’s memory and came up with his Charity Art Exhibit. He continued that tradition for more than 10 years, raising more than $120,000 for the American Cancer Society, North State Symphony, Riverfront Playhouse, Another Chance Animal Welfare League and other nonprofit organizations.
Armando continues to turn to art to convey his feelings. Following Desmond’s passing, Armando painted five works, each featuring a circle representing the concept of infinity. The five paintings have a total of 20 circles, or one for each year they were together. All five are displayed at the Gallery House.
Armando’s Gallery House
1350 Butte St., Redding