Art and design may not be the first things you consciously think about when you're out to eat, but they're integral parts of the dining experience. Just ask Inari Min, aesthetic director for the Phamous Group, restaurateur Thom Pham's management company.
"Your environment affects how you feel and your mood," she said. "People go to restaurants to have an escape. You may not be able to afford a plane ticket, but you can afford a dinner."
Min, who grew up on Minnesota's Iron Range before moving to Minneapolis, experienced a lifetime of travel and a career evolution -- spanning retail, fashion, salons, art, restaurants and hotels -- before joining the Phamous Group, primarily on the creative end and in customer service. "I went from hosting at restaurants to being a concierge for the W [hotel], which combined my knowledge of it all," she explained.
But landing the fairly unusual job of aesthetic director took some time. After working as a host at Azia years ago, Min worked her way up and was offered her current position upon returning from New York last year.
Her day-to-day responsibilities include overseeing "the overall look and feel of things" -- such as ambience, social media, marketing, logos and even the design of new concepts for Pham's group of restaurants, which includes Wondrous in downtown Minneapolis, Thanh Do in St. Louis Park and the soon-to-be-opened Azia Market Bar & Restaurant on Eat Street.
Most venues don't have Min's type of position. Typically, they hire separate people to do the various aspects of her job, she says, but there can be a disconnect when it's done that way. Case in point: the upcoming opening of Azia Market, located within the space once occupied by Eat Street fixture Azia, which shuttered in 2010.
"The decor is Asian but with a twist," she said, "mixing Chinoiserie wallpaper, Lucite Buddhas and art from independent artists." The restaurant, which Phamous Group hopes to open in the coming months, will maintain the original Azia's tin ceiling and terrazzo floors.
The Pan-Asian-themed menu will focus on small plates, and will be anchored by a large raw bar for oysters and seafood. The drink menu will feature simple cocktails made from fresh juices and herbs, juiced to order.
For inspiration, Min looks to everything from antiques and online design blogs to her travel experiences and Asian cinema. "The best part is traveling for research. I love London and Paris -- but surprisingly I haven't been to Asia yet!" she said.
The biggest challenge? "To stay on budget!" she laughed. "I love pretty things too much."
Age: "I never ask and I never tell." Job: Aesthetic director at Phamous Group. Hire date: 2011. Education: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in L.A.