Mina runs his company on both a macro and micro level — being able to think specifically about the thickness of a ramen bowl and broadly about the overall concept of a new restaurant is one of his great talents as a businessman. To him, though, it's just part of being a chef. "I think when you run a busy kitchen you're always doing that," he says. There's science to suggest that chef's brains are wired that way. In a 2005 New Yorker story about egg cooks in Vegas, Duke University neuroscientist Warren Meck speculated that a short-order cook's brains might have developed far more synapses on its oscillatory neurons, the things that help the brain time several things at once, than the average person.

Mina is uniquely adapted to control the chaos that restaurants generate. And he's been smart enough to build a machine that mitigates unhappy accidents, like bad service, while encouraging happy ones, like chef experimentation. In the face of that, a few seasons judging a cooking reality show don't seem like a good tradeoff.

Instead of seeking out the spotlight, Michael Mina has spent a decade focused on building his empire, piece by piece. In 2003, the gross restaurant revenues for the Mina Group was roughly $38 million. In 2013, it was $95 million. Now Mina's using his resources and the system he has set up to pursue a few passion projects.

Though he's not in the kitchen as much as he'd like to be these days, running restaurants is still Michael Mina's top priority.
Marc Fiorito, Gamma Nine Photography
Though he's not in the kitchen as much as he'd like to be these days, running restaurants is still Michael Mina's top priority.
Michael Mina as a young, rising star chef.
Michael Mina as a young, rising star chef.

On July 1, Pabu and The Ramen Bar will open in an airy 10,000-square-foot space in the first floor of an office building at Davis and California, just a few blocks from the Ferry Building. Mina has set it up to show off the skills of his friend, Ken Tominaga, who makes some of Northern California's best sushi from his tiny restaurant, Hana, hidden in a strip mall in Rohnert Park.

Mina, characteristically, gives Tominaga the spotlight for the restaurant. "By no stretch of the imagination is this Michael Mina doing Japanese food. I am not anywhere near crazy enough to think that I am a Japanese chef," says Mina. "I am fortunate in the sense that I have a team of people who can help Ken see his vision out and help him have a showcase restaurant."

It is a beautiful space, with rich suede banquettes, delicate murals of cherry blossoms on its brushed concrete walls, and a rope-and-sail motif in the ramen bar. It's set up to be an immediate success with tourists, expense-account diners, and the FiDi lunch and happy hour crowd.

The 49ers project, though — that's what Mina's most excited about. His face lights up when he talks about it. Mina's had season tickets to the 49ers for 23 years, ever since he opened Aqua. The new stadium will house a 180-seat Bourbon Steak & Pub open to all 68,000 stadium visitors during a game, but Mina's looking forward to the tailgate party he's going to host for season ticket holders.

It's Mina at his most micro and macro: The intimacy of a party for friends, for which they've built a 13-foot rotisserie you can put a whole ox on, boiling pots you can drop a few hundred lobsters into at a time, and a massive 8-by-8-foot wood-fired grill. It's the machinery of empire, and the food will no doubt taste great.

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