World-renowned chef Michael Mina’s career is coming full circle.
Just one year ago, Mina opened his eponymous eatery MICHAEL MINA San Francisco on the site of his beloved first restaurant, AQUA. This milestone is paired with another – this October marks Mina’s 20th anniversary in San Francisco.
The decision to open his namesake restaurant on the site of AQUA was an emotional one.
He describes driving by the restaurant and just admiring the beauty and architecture of the space.
“I learned all the realities of running a restaurant and running a company and being pulled in a million different directions and still be able to weather it and create something magical,” Mina said of the initial years of AQUA. Mina was an innovator of sorts, since AQUA’s menu was a bold one, serving only fish.
He describes those first years at AQUA in the 1990s with a vibrancy and twinge of emotion, even years later.
“When I started out, everyone was just young. There was some really good camaraderie,” he said. “It was very hard work, a crazy kitchen environment, there’s no doubt. But boy, with everybody challenging everybody, [we] constantly made things better. And what emerged from that was this extremely talented group of people.”
But it seems that dynamic wasn’t meant to last.
“Unfortunately I had a not so good falling out with my partner,” Mina said of his departure in 2002. “My biggest challenge was having to walk out of AQUA and leave all my staff behind. I had a very, very loyal staff and very loyal customers that I had to walk away from; and I had no choice. I was put in a position where I absolutely had to walk away. This was the place that was my home. I had painted the walls before we opened for the first time.”