49ers to launch Michael Mina Tailgate on northeast side of Levi's Stadium

Michael Mina

The San Francisco 49ers are opening up Levi's Stadium for the 2014 season, and it will feature some upscale food options. I spoke with world-renowned chef Michael Mina to find out what his involvement will entail.

The San Francisco 49ers will officially cut the ribbon on Levi's Stadium on July 17, opening what will be one of the most technologically advanced, and environmentally friendly stadiums in the world. The football product is what we are most concerned about when the 49ers step foot on the field, but the 49ers are constructing a fascinating complex in Santa Clara. I suppose for $1.3 billion, it better have a few bells and whistles.

Since construction began, we have focused in large part on the technological and environmental features of the new stadium. However, there are numerous fascinating features beyond just that. A week and a half ago, we discussed the new tailgate feature that will be connected to Great America. For $850, you can hit up an all you can eat and drink package, that will be a little bit better than the normal hamburger and hot dogs you might otherwise find.

If you're looking for a pre-game party that will be even more upscale than that, the team is working with world-renowned chef Michael Mina to install a restaurant and pub in the stadium. The facility will be open seven days a week, but on game day it will include a tailgate party that will run into the beginning of the second half. The pre- and in-game festivities will be a members only party, costing $5,000 for the season. It's a pricey option, but I had a chance to speak with Mina about it, and it's going to be a pretty crazy party.

For those that are not aware, Mina has lived in the Bay Area since the '80s, and has been a 49ers fan since he was a kid growing up in Washington. I was out in San Francisco two weeks ago for minicamp and the A's-Red Sox series. Mina follows @NinersNation on Twitter, so I got in touch with him about getting together for an interview to discuss what is being called the Michael Mina Tailgate. We met up at his newest restaurant, Pabu, and I got to hear his passion first hand. All photos are courtesy of Michael Mina.

If you run out gas, and decide it's too long and didn't read, I've broken down some of the basics at the bottom.

On his own fandom

Mina grew up in Washington state, and was limited in how much he could watch the 49ers. This was before NFL Network was around, and even before and into the early years of ESPN. The NFL was growing, but it was nothing like what we see today. In Washington, he was stuck watching NFL Today, and hoping for 49ers highlights amidst the weekly viewing of terrible Seahawks teams.

In the mid-80s, Mina moved to San Francisco to develop his career as a chef, and finally got to experience the 49ers first hand. He helped open his first restaurant, Aqua, at which point he was also working as a pastry chef at the Four Seasons. It was there that he got his first chance at season tickets to the 49ers. He would go with another chef there, and eventually Mina purchased his own season tickets, starting with a pair, then expanding to four and then six tickets.

On his tailgate

As any good fan does, Mina started up a pre-game tailgate at Candlestick Park. A good tailgate has a crowd of friends, and friends of friends. Everybody will bring food and drinks, and it will be a great time. Given Mina's background as a chef, it should surprise nobody that he put together a sizable tailgate in the Candlestick parking lot.

The tailgate at Candlestick was awesome. Just awesome. They almost started...my two tickets came from a chef friend of mine. When I first moved out here and was building my first restaurant, Aqua, I was working as pastry chef at the Four Seasons, and I would go with the chef, a gentleman named Kelly Mills. It just kind of started as chefs, and everything from winemakers to beverage vendors. And we just started gathering at a couple poles. We started gathering at the E pole, and every chef would bring one thing to cook, and each would just cook one item. It became 3, 4, 5 chefs, and we'd each cook an item, and different wine makers, some amazing winemakers.

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Everybody was a 49ers fan. People would bring great bottles that were very treasured, some of their reserves. And then other people started coming. It just started to grow a little bit, and then it kind of kept growing. We would basically average 50-200 people that would end up kind of being in this one area, depending on the game. And it was always themed on whatever team we were playing. If we were playing New Orleans, we'd do dishes that had Cajun inspiration.

Again, it was fun because we kept it as tailgating. We'd bring a couple burners and a grill, and we know how to make our way around that. And we kept it in the spirit of tailgating, but with very elevated products and food. So that's how it started. What ended up happening was that the chef community started kind of knowing what was going on. We were all friends, a lot of them were into sports and into their team, so we all talked trash. Say we were playing the Patriots, I would invite Todd English who's in Boston. When we're playing the Giants, I'd invite all my friends from there, and have them come sit with me.

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We just always had a good time. It became a really fun party. It wasn't just chefs. It was a lot of different Bay Area people, and after a while I got to be good friends with Ronnie Lott, different great athletes that would come into the restaurant. We'd get them in at Aqua, and then I got to know the Yorks, Carmen Policy. Between being about Aqua, and being a hard core 49ers fan, they wove themselves in nicely.

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The Bourbon Steakhouse & Pub concept

The northeast side of Levi's Stadium will feature Bourbon Steak & Pub. Mina has opened several Bourbon Steak restaurants, but this will be the first that will include the restaurant as well as a pub. Mina got to know 49ers president Paraag Marathe, and in turn had gotten to know Jed York. It was Marathe and York who approached Mina about opening up some kind of restaurant at the stadium.

The initial plan was for a basic sit-down restaurant that would open up before and after the game. People would come in, sit down, enjoy a good meal, and then head to the game. It sounded fairly simply, but Mina wanted to blow it out. And considering this stadium is cutting edge in so many ways, it made sense to come up with a restaurant that would reflect that.

So, Paraag and Jed basically said, what would you do? Dream up a concept. While we were looking at the blue prints and understanding the space [where the restaurant was planned], I noticed there was a space next to it that didn't have a stamp quite on it yet. It might be this, it might be that. When I presented to them, I presented something that was a little bigger. The original concept had about 7,000 square foot, that we had a way of creating a space that could go through and go in. I told them, I want to do a Bourbon Steak and a Bourbon Pub because Bourbon Steak is my steakhouse brand, and we cook everything over wood, and it really feels very much like that. And the Pub brand, just really fits that demographic, of being at a stadium but in California. You use great products and great techniques, but you're still doing good American pub food, just executed very well. And great beers. Kind of what you would want.

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As I noticed this other space, I said, how amazing would it be to have an event space at the stadium. Here was this other space that was just a little down below, it hadn't really been stamped for anything. So I pitched them the idea, and Paraag had been to my tailgates, and Jed had been to a tailgate, so how about we move the Michael Mina tailgate inside? I think the original though was, we have this restaurant, let's open before the game, let's open after the game. It's a sit-down restaurant experience. I said, let's blow this thing out. Let's do something totally different, let's move my tailgate party inside. Let's create all this unbelievable cooking equipment that's on these two different levels. That is really kind of completely creating that is something that has not been created yet. The largest indoor wood fire rotisserie probably in the country, where we can cook a whole ox. Things that are totally outside the box, that really fit the idea of the steakhouse, the pub, and the tailgate. That fit all three. And luckily they all three go together, so we can utilize it all the time.

Then we have this amazing events space. So we started talking about it, could we get members because the spirit of it needed to stay a party. And so, I just didn't like the spirit of before the game you have this party, but everybody gets a check. There's this exchange of money. It just felt more like it needed to be a party. Everybody felt that we could do this. That we could create this membership experience, and continue to invite chefs, and continue to do that but just on steroids. Unbelievable equipment, indoor facility. My goal is that it stays true, like all of this wood-fire cooking equipment, to keep that feel of beautiful meets roasting over wood. And things that really connect you with tailgating and what it's supposed to be. Just kind of fun cooking. The lobster tank where we're dropping crane with the ocean water, where we're dropping baskets of 50, 100 lobsters at a time. The type of indulgence cooking, but having people walk away from it with having this experience.

In case you overlooked it in the quotation above, yes, they will be cooking ox over the woodfire.

So, what about this tailgate?

Mina wanted to blow things out with this crazy tailgate. It will include a membership that will cost people $5,000 for the season, which covers ten games (two preseason, eight regular season games). It's a lot, but if you're looking to thoroughly indulge yourself, it is kind of amazing.

I have ten weeks, I'm a member. So I come every week, so it's not just the typical. Every week we're continuing the spirit of theming at least 50 percent of the food after the team we're playing. Products from that state, dishes from that state, and chefs that have connections to that. Or just continue to invite chefs to just cook, and give them the direction of cooking tailgate food, or cooking food from that state. And just keep the spirit of the tailgate we started in Candlestick, keep the spirit but elevate the experience.

On game day, the whole thing is tailgate. The experience works like this: you come through either before you sit down to eat, or after you get done eating. There is a big outdoor area where you can stand, drink, watch games. For that we created the old school type of delivery trays, really well done, where people come around with very fun food. Say we're playing Philly. There would be Philly Cheesesteaks on the perfect bread. Seven, eight items, that people walk around and experience. Cocktails, everything else. My wife, what she always did at the tailgates, she makes the best bloody mary's you've ever had in your life. She has an enormous garden that just grows bloody mary's. She has her own recipe. Tomatoes, the herbs, everything you make the bloody mary's with. She has a bloody mary bar. Bloody Mary bar, a regular bar, just cocktails all over the place. And again, cocktails in the spirit of the team we're playing. Beer, wine, the whole thing.

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And so, you're enjoying the tailgate experience, and then there are two lines that are in front of all of that cooking equipment. We'll do a whole ox every game. We have these saddles of these oxen, we're cutting meat off it. Every game we're going to do six little composed dishes that are very much based on the opponent. If we're playing New England, we'll do New England lobster broiled pot pie, something like that.

So six really great kind of fun, elevated dishes that you come through a line separate from the stand-around food options. In the stand-around area, you'll have a crazy shell fish bar, each game we're going to do one station for whatever chef is visiting, where they can do whatever they want to do on that table. It's their table, do whatever you want with it. We're going to do very fun liquid nitrogen ice creams, little sodas and things. It's just going to be very playful. When you leave, you get a little lunch pail that has every little snack when you're at your seat. It has your little nuts, all your little things you want there.

A lot of interaction while you're standing there, but then the experience of walking through the line. And the reason that we made it a line, as opposed to people sitting down and we bring them food, is because we want them to walk up and be right next to where the beef is being cut up. But you're not serving yourself. You're just walking up so that the chef can communicate with you, give you the dish, tell you what it's about. And so you get six dishes every game, if you can eat them all. If you haven't done too much damage down below.

If I'm not a member, what can I experience?

The tailgate will be a members-only experience, but the Bourbon Steak & Pub will be open seven days a week. Immediately after games on Sunday, Monday or Thursday, the restaurant will be open. Members will get first crack at reservations for the post-game spread, but if it does not fill up, any other fans are welcome to come by. There will be a cover charge, and you'll get to enjoy hand-carved sandwiches from the meat cooked during the day for the game.

As mentioned above, Mina wanted to create a restaurant that would be open seven days a week, and not just for game days. The restaurant has about 100 seats, but there is also the event space and the pub area. The plan is to host fans for events throughout the week, all year long. They are opening during football season, so they get a nice benefit from that. They will be able to take advantage of Thursday Night Football, Monday Night Football, football on Sundays when the team is out of town, and of course college football on Saturdays. For Thursday, they might do a BBQ set-up, Saturday could be a fun surf-and-turf special, and Friday they might roll out a big blues thing. The idea is to create a lively atmosphere, built around fun events.

TL; DR

What is this about? Basically a tailgate on steroids

No really, what is it? A Bourbon Steak & Pub restaurant, with event space to set up an upscale tailgating experience. The tailgate is for game days, but the facility will be open seven days a week.

How much does it cost to do this tailgate? $5,000 per year

What do I get for that? Access to Bourbon Steak & Pub before the game, through halftime. There will be various food stations set up in the space. They will feature some regular options, as well as numerous foods and products from the region of the opposing team. You will get all you can eat, and all you can drink, as well as a little too good lunchpail to take into the stadium.

If I'm not a member, when can I go in? It will be open 7 days a week. The tailgate before and during 49ers home games is only open to members. On days without 49ers home games, it is open to the general public, although given the size, you'll probably want to check ahead of time for availability.

Who is Michael Mina? A world renowned chef who is a life-long 49ers fan.

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