December 6, 2016 – Bonny Doon residents Michael and Colleen Harrison have taken ownership of the place, and will officially launch the next chapter of Michael’s on Main in Soquel, with all the current staff firmly in place, on December 20.
You may ask why anyone, after retiring from several successful careers, and old enough to qualify for Medicare, would want to be in the restaurant business.
Says Harrison, “I’m not going to be in the kitchen, although I do have great knife skills! I see myself in the front of the house, welcoming guests and making sure they’re having a good time.”
Big community supporters, the Harrisons are involved with Rotary and are on the Symphony board, among other civic commitments. Michael believes the restaurant, which already is known for its events and vibrant music program, will play an even more important role in supporting local fundraising events and benefits.
The Harrisons used social media to announce their new venture, saying, “We are the proud new owners of Michael’s On Main! We will be having a First Night Opening Party on Tuesday, December 20th from 5:30-8pm, with live music, appetizers, open bar, and we invite you all to come help us celebrate our first night at Michael’s on Main!”
So, now, the back story. Hospitality is something Harrison knows a lot about. Michael grew up in the glittery sin city of Las Vegas, where he learned all the elements, along with all the twisted little secrets, of working in the entertainment business. As a trained and certified chef by the time he was 23, he raised four kids by working the back of the house at the MGM Grand before it burned down. He got into casinos after realizing how much more money the guys and gals up front were making on a nightly basis than he was being a bartender or chef.
After attending dice school, which his father, who helped open the Riviera hotel in the 1960s, suggested, he became a successful Pit Boss and learned to love the night life of Vegas, perhaps a bit too much. You could say he became quite familiar with “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
So he left it all behind and moved to Santa Cruz in 1988, opening alcohol and addiction recovery residences and detox centers, which he ran for decades. When his wife Colleen decided to retire from a career in the fire service in San Jose where she served as Deputy Fire Chief, they bought an RV and traveled all over the western US, attending rock concerts and just enjoying life on the open road.
But that wasn’t fulfilling enough for either one of them. Colleen announced she was going back to school full time to pursue a doctorate. At first, he thought he might open another residential treatment center, but decided instead to return to his first love, food and the hospitality and camaraderie that goes with it. He began looking for successful local businesses for sale, and as he says, “I found one with my name on it.”
Initially, very little will change to the format of the place itself, save some needed sprucing up, which is beginnning immediately. Harrison plans to replace the table surfaces and tablecloths, using a dark stain, and will refinish all the outdoor teak furniture.
As for changes to the menu, Harrison describes his approach to menu development as akin to the stages of a song. You like it a whole lot when you first hear it, then everyone calls in to request it, and pretty soon, every time you turn on the radio, you swear it’s the first thing you hear. Then you get tired of it and it’s time for something new. So, he’ll introduce new items via a specials page, and the more popular items will find their way onto the menu.
Harrison is very excited about a couple of young talents he has on staff, including a Cordon Bleu graduate and a young man who grew up in Jamaica. He plans a Jamaican Night with jerk chicken, Jamaican BBQ and reggae music.
Music is near and dear to his heart, as he played in a band that opened for Spirit, Three Dog Night and the Doors, in his younger days, and spent quite a lot of time following the Dead around the country. As a result, you will likely see some Dead related art on the walls.
“We love Santa Cruz,” he says. “It’s hip and the emphasis is on local. Michael’s on Main is a go to place for the community, and we want to continue making events a central focus with weddings, rehearsal dinners and business lunches.”
He hopes everyone will continue to make Michael’s the place they turn when they want to get together with friends and when they want to contribute to local fundraising causes that help make their community a better place.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.