One of Miami's most anticipated fall restaurants, Michael Mina 74, quietly opened the weekend of Art Basel. For his newest restaurant, Michael Mina aimed for a more American bistro feel; a global menu chalk full of fresh seafood options and creative twists on his dishes; and a high-energy vibe to suit its location at the Fontainebleau. Out came Michael Mina 74, an underground reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the hotel that doubles as a lounge and serves food till 3 a.m. – especially helpful come the late hours when people exit the neighboring LIV club. Eater spoke with Michael Mina, who along with Bourbon Steak in Aventura and now Michael Mina 74 in Miami Beach owns 26 restaurants nationwide, about how things went down the first week, what it's like running so many spots, challenges, and more.
You've been in the restaurant industry for two decades. How does opening Mina 74 now, numerous restaurants later, compare to opening your very first restaurant?
You know, how it feels … it's obviously very satisfying … you feel very humbled, but every time you still have the same butterflies, you still have a lot of concerns. Now, I'm surrounded by amazing people in my company that have been with me for a long, long time, so there's a lot more structure to it than early on. But still, we never seem to ever want to go the simple route. We don't duplicate even if we're doing the same concept. Say it's a Bourbon Steak – there's more than one – we always use different designers, we always try to design the restaurant to fit the city not to fit the brand. And so there's always learning every time. We always try to, especially with this one that I just opened here, we're introducing a lot of new things that we have never done before, so there's that anxiety of getting them right, working through them and getting them right is always fun. The one thing that's really enjoyable is always seeing a new staff, working with a new staff of people and watching people get over that two month hump when the job becomes repetition, they start to know their job and then confidence happens and their true personalities come out and that's always really fun to watch.
You mentioned you're trying some new things that you've never tried before. Tell me a little bit about the new restaurant.
Your job is to create something that fits the city and fits the property when you're in the hotel. Fontainebleau is such an amazing property, they have such a vibe and such a life to it. So this restaurant is off the lobby, and you've got this amazing lobby where you've got Blue Bar and you've got LIV and so you have all these beautiful people and this amazing energy that goes on and then we're really cool because we're like the little secret. You come down the stairs and there's low ceilings… I would say it's like a very chic supper club. It's got that social, urban kind of flare to it. It's a darker room. So I wanted to do something that would understand the social element of it. We're doing a lot of fun tableside things. One of them is featuring this shellfish cart because we've got the blue boat here that goes out every day and gets us lobsters and different fish and there's different shellfish that we're procuring from around the country. We have this shellfish cart that comes to your table and it's really cool, you basically get to pick whatever you like. The experience is just sensational. All these cocktails on tap, we're bottling a lot of our cocktails. So I'm enjoying the experience a lot, I think it feels like what this should be. It's a very social environment where you can come down and have a great cocktail, then browse through the menu, then the shellfish cart comes around and you have the shellfish platter right there while the waiter is taking your order. It kind of just feels very social. And I'm saying it like that, but there's a lot of steps to make that happen.
How did you come up with the concept for Michael Mina 74?
The concept is a little bit of a hybrid. We have two RN74, one in San Francisco and one in Seattle. RN74 stands for a road that runs through Burgundy, through the wine country, and those restaurants are modern French bistros, very heavy French, heavy Burgundy influence. This one is more of an American bistro, very global in the menu. I didn't want to do a French menu, but I still wanted that real vibrant feel. Both of those restaurants are really vibrant, they're high energy, great bar programs. Coming up with the food here … I've been in Miami with Bourbon Steak here for a long time and understand the clientele a little bit and people here really like bold-flavored food, which works great for me because that's what I like to cook. I've always been a big believer in well-balanced, making sure complex dishes have acids, sweets, spice and richness and how to balance those and give the food a lot of flavor. So that was kind of the inspiration for the palate of the food. And global works here really well because it's a pretty global market. So it's been fun doing my little twists on dishes that work well in warm weather, a lot of fun plays on fun dishes.
Why did you choose Miami as the location for the restaurant?
Well, we I opened Bourbon Steak in Aventura it was great. It's really a restaurant that I'm proud of in our company, I think it's a beautiful restaurant. But Aventura is much different than South Beach, just a different vibe and everything else. And I always wanted to do something down here and I really wanted to do this concept, I knew what I wanted to do and Fontainebleau was really the perfect place to do it. When the opportunity came up I was thrilled.
What do you think makes Michael Mina 74 stand out among the other Fontainebleau spots?
Well I think it's much different. Fontainebleau has done a great job of having really different concepts and this one is really much different. Everything from vibe to design to my style of food is much different than anybody else's in here. It's just a different feel.
What are you most excited about at Michael Mina 74?
The entire experience. It feels good. What you're always hoping for when opening a restaurant is that the experience is right and I'm really happy with the staff we were able to put together and when you come in I feel like the experience right. There's an energy to your dining experience and there's a lot going on within the room with the music and the vibe, it has a very social feel, but I feel like the menu is really going to appeal to people. It's a big menu. You can really share all 20 appetizers. It's the type of experience where you can come one night and have shellfish, come a different night and have appetizers, come a different night and have a salad and potato crusted pompano. It's that type of place that has the potential, hopefully, to have a good longevity. And the light night … we serve a full menu till 3 a.m. and that's something that's very unique and I think it's very fortunate where we're located next to LIV and Blue Bar we have some built-in clientele, which is something that we really feel like we're going to be able to build upon. We're already seeing enough industry people coming when they get off work.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
I would say our challenge is people knowing … this was kind of a club for so long down here so right now it's just about people understanding that the restaurant is down here. We weren't exactly sure when we were going to get the kitchen turned over to us. It has been busy, so that's been good. We also opened the weekend of Art Basel, so that helped.
Tell me a little bit about the response you've received from guest so far.
So far we're off to a really good start, we've been getting a great response. The drink program … unbelievable feedback. People are just loving the cocktails and this is a unique space because it's a lounge and a restaurant so you really have people coming in here drinking and also coming in here eating. And the feedback on the food has been really positive. It's been good, it's been a really good opening so far.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, would you do anything differently?
Well let's see. Okay. I ran into a column and cut my head wide open. So, I have this column that's all mirror so it's very deceptive when you're walking toward it (he laughs). That column is being fixed right now. I would say most of it is back of house stuff. There's always things you want to change equipment-wise and things of that nature, but we're doing it, we're working through it. And I would say … being a little bit … I don't know, I'm actually very happy with this opening.
What's it like handling so many restaurants? How do you divide your time among them?
It's like handling children. You divide your time, you give time to the one's who need the most. And that's just being real honest. There's different places that need attention at different times because different seasons and things of that nature. Once you get past one restaurant you know that you have to rely on people. You have to rely on people even in one restaurant and there's a certain point where it becomes a positive not a negative for sure to have more than one restaurant. That's when you can start having really great people around you. It's all about the people you surround yourself with and the systems that you put in place. You have to have systems and you have to have a culture. Every restaurant group has different cultures and systems and I feel like we hit up a really good stride in both. We developed something several years ago called the Recipe Exchange that's really come to full life over the last year and a half where every recipe, every dish, of all the restaurants is on this. Every dish is filmed, there's videos of the chefs making the dishes. Over 19,000 recipes, there's over 3,000 videos on there. All the employees that work at the restaurant have access to their restaurant, so they can go home and watch the dishes over and over again if they're a cook. All the beverages are all on there and then all the chefs utilize it and they all look at each other's food and it's how I keep control of everything.
Where do you like to eat out when you're in Miami?
The Bazaar, I eat there a lot. Michael Schwartz' places. I haven't been out to too many places honestly. I think why is because here you work so late, people eat so late that we don't get out of work till 2 in the morning.
Any plans for the future?
I'm doing another project in San Francisco right now that will be open in a few months. It's with a chef, I'm partnering with a Japanese chef on it.
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