LAFW 2013: Building Empires with Michael Mina

By Lesley Balla  |  August 26, 2013
Credit: Lesley Balla

Michael Mina is one of the hardest-working chefs in the business. Having started out with one restaurant in San Francisco 22 years ago, he's now on the verge of opening a 20th spot with the Mina Group, including a new Bourbon Steak in the LA area and a still-unnamed project in Miami. Last year he launched Cook Taste Eat with songstress Michelle Branch, a web cooking series that now has thousands of followers and a new recipe for every day of the week. He stepped away from the table (duck spring rolls) at the LAFW Grand Tasting on Saturday night to talk about empire building, Baltimore and more.

Zagat: So what’s new, what’s going on?
Michael Mina: Well, there’s always something going on, isn’t there? Have you been to Stonehill Tavern lately? It is going great. There’s a new chef named Raj Dixit, he’s been there now about 10 months. He’s settled in, he has his food on the menu. Really, if you haven’t been in a while, it’s definitely worth going back.

Zagat: What about the rest of your restaurant empire?
MM: We just opened a pub in Las Vegas called 1842. That was fun, a little different for us, but very enjoyable. It’s at the MGM. And we’re getting ready to a new restaurant in Miami at the Fontainebleau.

Zagat: Exciting! Any details yet?
MM: Well, no, because we haven’t picked a name yet.

Zagat: So how many restaurants does that make for you?
MM: 19.

Zagat: Any advice for young chefs who hope to one day own a restaurant empire? What does it take to, say, start with one restaurant in San Francisco to 20 across the country?
MM: Well, it’s been 22 years. The part that I was very fortunate with, that if you look back at my career, I did 10 years at Aqua. The group of people that was with me then are with me now. And so it’s really important to build your foundation and get your systems right in the beginning.

Zagat: So you have restaurants in LA, San Francisco, Vegas…
MM: Washington D.C., Baltimore…

Zagat: Oh, we love Baltimore!
MM: We are doing so well there. It’s beautiful on the harbor. I think people have an image of Baltimore, especially if you haven’t been. But on the Harbor it’s gorgeous.

Zagat: How is Cook Taste Eat going?
MM: I invite a lot of chefs on. We finished our first year and have 365 days of material all done. It’s going really well. We’re now at a stop in the filming, mostly because I’m just pretty busy. So we’ll probably take a break for about four months, and then we’ll get back into it to film another year of it.

Zagat: Would you take this over to TV or stick with the web?
MM: I really enjoy what we’ve done on the web. I enjoy the interaction of people afterwards, to really connect with them. It’s really fun to see what everyone’s doing with the recipes. When we set out to do this, I said I didn’t want to do another cookbook. But this is like a living cookbook. And it’s worked for me. I think we have 50,000 to 60,000 thousand people following us now.

Zagat: Would you come back to LA?
MM: Well, we’re doing a project at the Americana in Glendale. We’re doing a Bourbon Steak, and it should open in February. It’s a gorgeous space, a little smaller than our other Bourbon Steaks. I mean, I love Los Angeles. We’ll be back for sure.