Michael Mina: Inside the Restaurant Industry

Eater SF, a blog which covers the restaurant industry in San Francisco, recently interviewed Michael Mina. The local chef discusses his flagship, his newbie RN74, the inner workings of the industry and everything in between.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, chef. What can you tell us about the first half of the year, all those rumors, and your new deal?

Basically what happened in the first month of the year is that we closed the restaurant twice a week and there were a few reasons. We are in a union environment, which is different from most other upscale restaurants; we're probably the only one in the city. There are many positive aspects to that, but the cost of doing business for us is very high. The reality is that ever since opening a few years ago, we always wanted to do five days, but that wasn't possible until this year, since we were the only bar in the hotel. Now, with Clock Bar around and with the economy the way it was, we thought, hey that's a really good idea. Plus, the quality of the restaurant improves when we can get some days off.

And then things got interesting, we presume.

So we went down to five days and yeah, that's when the rumors went flying. The reality is that our restaurant does very well. I'm not gonna kid you and say we're doing the same revenue these days as we were when we opened, but it does well. Four to five months into the new schedule, I had completed my original five-year contract with the hotel. A lot of the rumors said I was closing the restaurant. That was never, ever true. I maybe would have moved the restaurant, but I would never close Michael Mina.

But the good news is that you finally got the deal done?

Yeah, I had to basically have a whole new deal with the union, and also a new deal with the ownership group. There was probably four months of back and forth to try to put together a deal to provide all the best chances for the restaurant to stay put. But we did it, and I'm very thankful we got a deal done. It's all signed, both by the hotel and union. 100% done and signed and I could not be happier. We're at the St. Francis and thankfully still a part of the history there.

Any other items of note at the restaurant?

In the meantime, we've done some other things at Michael Mina, like a prix fixe theater menu. And now because of Clock Bar opening, we've changed our lounge menu to be more conducive to diners who want to drop in for a quick bite. Small plates, less expensive options and we introduce the finds on the wine list.

It's still early, but a few months in, how you are feeling about RN74?

It's amazing. I couldn't be happier with it. I know there was a little snag at the beginning with the way the menu changed, but I was straightforward with the changes and why they were necessary. What we had to deal with, we dealt with. If 30 percent of the people coming in aren't understanding the small plates concept, and they're saying that the food is way too small, then we have to deal with the problem. So we took a more straightforward approach to the menu and adjusted the pricing. But the restaurant has just been so well-received by so many who have dined with me over the years, I'm just so pleased. It's Raj [Parr] and Jason [Berthold]'s baby, and they've done an amazing job.

You've never been one to sit still for too long. What's next for you?

Well, we're doing Citycenter in Vegas right now. Honestly, I really want to to do more things in San Francisco. I've got a lot of extremely talented chefs that have been working for me here for years and I'd really like to give them each their own casual places. When the right project comes along, I really want to give places to the chefs that have made my restaurant. I can honestly tell you that I'm not looking at specific spaces or anything concrete like that, but I'm constantly talking to the people who made my restaurants, talking about fun concepts and things like that.

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