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Dinner is the Show

How a Twin Cities visionary changed the way we think about dining out

Dinner is the Show
Photo by Mike McGregor

(page 5 of 6)

Bentdahl came to Shea with three things: a space, a cuisine, and a name for the restaurant: Marin, the northern California locale known for cultivating a healthy, active lifestyle. (Though some diners might not know how to pronounce the name, Spaulding wasn’t concerned, just as it doesn’t matter to her if people call her Ton-ya instead of Tan-ya, as long as they’re not confusing her with someone else.)

Marin’s cuisine, like that of Mill Valley Kitchen, will be mindful of calories but not billed as diet food: fresh, flavorful fare that won’t leave diners reaching for the Alka-Seltzer. Location will drive the restaurant’s biggest point of departure from Bentdahl’s other venture. While Shea designed suburban Mill Valley Kitchen to feel residential, like a friend’s (very nice) home, Marin will take cues from its vibrant, urban corner to appeal to the downtown crowd.

Today, Bentdahl is giving the team’s design a final review. The first step is to refine the restaurant’s brand: its target demographic, uniqueness, and inspirations. Bentdahl is joined by his executive chef, Mike Rakun, whose crisp white coat reflects his responsibilities at Mill Valley Kitchen while his Tintin-like tuft of hair gives him a youthful look. Reviewing the project’s brand overview and goals, the two make tweaks to the language. In describing the cuisine, Rakun wants to steer clear of the word “light.” “It scares people off,” he says. “I’d also like to get away from ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’—they’re overused.” They agree on most of the keywords: the Marin they aspire to will be “social, innovative, refined, and eclectic.” But the nature of its authenticity is hardest to pin down. “I don’t know about this whole ‘Marin is exciting and real,’” Bentdahl says. “Of course it’s real.” Spaulding agrees: “Let me play with it a little bit,” she notes.

Marin County is a bucolic, natural place, situated just across the bridge from San Francisco, and the restaurant’s logo—a stylized red rooster perched atop a line, evocative of a weather vane—strikes the same urban-rural balance. Marin, it suggests, will be a refined, stylish, farm-to-table eatery. Spaulding flips to a rendering of the building’s exterior that shows the deep, rich red of the new awnings popping against the monotone, rusted-steel façade, to distinguish Marin from the hotel. “We have to own this corner,” Spaulding says. “Red is our brand color. Go big or go home.”

Amanda Nelson, the project’s interior designer, walks the group through the floor plans and the material swatches scattered about the table. Nelson notes a couple samples selected to lend a sense of both comfort and sophistication, created by local artisans: dark square tiles for the domed pizza oven and yellow glass that will be backlit to illuminate the structural columns. The restaurant’s bar will be appointed in redwood and polished copper—materials with rich textures and a handmade feel that will patina with age.

Spaulding believes that successful restaurants must constantly pay attention to their customers’ changing needs; in order to stay relevant, most designs should be tweaked and refreshed every five to seven years. The trick is to create a design that feels on-trend but won’t be a flash in the pan. Shea Design’s ability to anticipate, to be just ahead of the zeitgeist, is an essential part of its service. “What’s around the next corner?” Spaulding asks. “If you don’t know, you’re missing something.”

Spaulding believes that the dominant style of the past five to eight years—industrial chic, with exposed ducts, concrete, and hard surfaces—is on the wane. The next iteration will have a warmth and approachability that the slick, modern look lacks, and will include a broader mix of fabrics and surfaces that lend more richness and depth, as well as eclectic accessories that add lushness and personality.

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