Michael Mina operates 20 restaurants in eight markets around the country, from Miami to Seattle. He first gained acclaim for Aqua, a restaurant he was asked to design in 1991, at the age of 22. Since then he has won countless awards and wide acclaim as a fine dining chef.

But like many chefs in that segment, Mina has turned his attention to more casual venues, including a two Japanese izakaya and sushi restaurants, a ramen bar, his seventh steak house, and an event space at the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium that he hopes will emulate a tailgate party.

Mina discussed his plans with Nation’s Restaurant News.

What are you working on these days?

We just opened our fifth Bourbon Steak [in Glendale, Calif.], a second Pabu [the first is in Baltimore] in San Francisco, and next door we opened [Ramen Bar] with a Japanese chef, Ken Tominaga.

He’s been a really dear friend over the years that started 13 years ago by my going to his restaurant [Hana in Rohnert Park, Calif.], and so this is really a passion project. I love Japanese food and the culture and everything about it, but it’s something that I only dabble in a little bit. So this definitely is a restaurant where the food is driven by Ken.

My next big project is with the [San Francisco] 49ers at the new Levi’s Stadium. It has three components: a Bourbon Steak, which will be open for dinner only, seven days a week; right next to that will be Bourbon Pub, which will be open for lunch and dinner, daily; and then five feet down below is an event space — it’s the Michael Mina Tailgate Party. Together they’ll hold a thousand people.

What’s this tailgate party?

That’s really the driving force of being different from anything we’ve ever done. We’ve built into the restaurant and event space a 13-foot rotisserie where you can roast a whole ox. I don’t know of any other rotisseries of that magnitude in the U.S.

We also have a 14-foot-tall rotisserie with 12 spits for whole pigs to make porchetta, or whole lamb, and also an eight-by-eight wood-fire grill that’s also a fire pit. And then there’s a giant glass tank [nine feet around] that will hold ocean water, and there will be a crane mechanism with baskets above it so you can poach 100 lobsters or Dungeness crabs at a time.

It’s for members only [membership is sold by the 49ers] so people will have paid in advance, so there won’t be an interchange of money, so you can really make it feel like a party. I have chefs coming from different cities depending on which team we’re playing. So when we play the [Washington] Redskins, José Andrés is coming out. And we’ll be using great products and making dishes based on the spirit of the team we’re playing.



Where did you get the idea for the tailgate event?

I’m a huge 49ers fan. I’ve had season tickets for 24 years, and we’ve always had these amazing tailgate parties. A lot of chefs, when their teams would come to town, would call me and there was a very fun, informal gathering. Sometimes we’d have 100 people around our little cooking units.

How long did it take to make the tailgate project happen?

We’ve been working on the project for almost two years now. I had connections with the 49ers and have always done a lot of different things with the team. They approached me about doing something with the team at the new stadium because they knew how passionate I was about the 49ers, and that’s when I came up with the idea of moving our tailgate party indoors.