Architect David Shea’s first restaurant client was the late Leeann Chin. It was 1978, and, taking his cues from the Asian collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, he transformed a Minnetonka shopping center into a serene, elegant environment — no gaudy red and gold, no clichéd paper lanterns — that shifted the Asian restaurant design paradigm. Chin’s business took off (“It’s always fun to help clients realize their dreams,” he said), and so did Shea’s. Skip ahead 34 years and more than 300 restaurant projects later, and Shea’s 40-member firm boasts a client roster that includes Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Paul Kahan and Marcus Samuelsson; locally, Shea’s blueprint is all over Barrio, Brasa and Butcher & the Boar, to name just a few standouts. One secret to his success? A well worn frequent-flier account. “You find inspirations everywhere,” said Shea, who logged 170,000 miles on Delta last year. “Being an observer out in the world gives you the opportunity to taste, and touch, and smell, and feel. You can’t get that looking in a magazine or going online.”
Poll: Which 2013 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest entry do you most want to try?