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Culinary Q&A with David Shea

As founder of Shea, Inc., David Shea has played an influential role in the development of major architectural designs and creation of concepts and brands throughout the country and abroad. During the past 36 years, the Minneapolis-based Shea, Inc. has grown into a national design and marketing firm that specializes in creating successful consumer environments using brand development, architecture, interior design, marketing and graphics. Shea's work specializes in the areas of hospitality, retail and office, and his team is behind the design of several Twin Cities restaurants, including Brasserie Zentral (pictured above), Butcher and the Boar and Union.

Where is your favorite dining spot in the Twin Cities and what makes it so special?

David Shea

My favorite spot is eating at the bar at any one of the incredible options in town. It’s impossible to pick one restaurant. My favorite is variety. Living downtown Minneapolis, my daily and weekly go-to spots are everything within walking distance.

Where’s the best place to get brunch?
I'm more of a “steak for brunch” person, so I like places that bridge their menu between breakfast and burgers. Give me a seat at the bar, some oysters and a good mimosa, and I'm a fan.

Who’s mixing up the best cocktails?
I’m glad that the industry is backing away from “mixologist” and just concentrating on great drinks and great bartenders. We have great bartenders in town, so it’s hard to name just one. However, when I have a Meyer’s lemon ready from the citrus trees that I grow in my downtown loft, I take it to either Topher at Sapor Café or Robb Jones at Spoon and Stable (formerly at Saffron) and ask them to come up with something creative, usually with a good bourbon.

What type of food does Minnesota do best?
Minnesota does variety best, bringing in chefs and cuisines from all over the world. There isn't one food that defines us. I love that our chef community embraces local sourcing, even with our challenging seasons.

What do you wish we had more of in Minnesota?
Simplicity in menus.

If you were to open up a restaurant, what would it be called and what would it serve?
I actually do open restaurants—close to 30 a year. Our work spans from name, concept and menu development to all the way through the space. My work never stops with the opening, so I feel personal ownership and investment in every restaurant we create and design. With my kind of a job, why would I ever do just one myself?

Burger joints are plentiful in the Twin Cities. In your mind, what makes a perfect hamburger?
High quality beef and a hot flat top.

What’s changed most about the Minnesota restaurant scene since you first became involved in the industry?
Literally everything. When I started 30-plus years ago, the options and chefs were limited. Today, we’re a city on the national food stage and a culinary destination. My firm's recent design and development of Spoon and Stable with Chef Gavin Kaysen really solidified that for our city.

What restaurant design trends do you see emerging or continuing in 2015?
I'm not a fan of trends, or specific design looks. I always look to how people like to eat, and design an experience that supports the chef and menu. I travel all over the world frequently, and I use that to create those experiences. I think the only true continuing trend today is more of a refined simplicity. Casual, even with finer dining menus, is king.

What’s your favorite memory from being part the restaurant industry over the years?
My favorite memory is probably my first, and the reason I got into restaurant design. Sue Zelickson introduced me to LeeAnn Chin to help create her first restaurant, and the rest is history. Thanks, Sue—I think.

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