By Business Journal editor

Original Article:

STOCKTON — It’s not hard to pick out Michael Midgley in the framed Top Chef poster hanging on the back wall at . He’s the one in the red flip flops and backwards baseball cap.

On the cooking shows Midgley’s done, he earned a reputation for being enthusiastic, even brash. But in person, he’s friendly and eager. Although on this day, a week-and-a-half from the Nov. 24 opening of his first restaurant, his attention is split. The furniture arrived the day before, but he’s still waiting for approval for the restaurant’s liquor license.

“We’re still waiting for that. They say ‘any minute,’ but it didn’t happen today,” said Midgley’s wife and business partner, Laci.

Midgley’s Public House on the Brickwalk in Lincoln Center is the culmination of Midgley’s lifelong dream of owning a restaurant. After years in the industry, mostly working for other people, Midgley has put his stamp on this place — literally. His family’s coat of arms has been frosted on windows throughout the restaurant complete with the motto “Porrigo Cedi Captum,” which means “reach out to give and take.”

He says customers can expect a “modern-day chophouse experience” with the focus on good food and good service. The food is a juxtaposition of high and low, exotic and familiar, fancy and accessible. Where else will you find a lobster corn dog?

There’s also a Tomahawk steak that Midgley calls a “showstopper.” He’s particularly proud of his pig roaster.

“You can get a whole pig for a party of 10 or more. I got this pig roasting machine,” he said. “The people I bought it from — it’s in the UK — they said it’s the only one they’ve ever shipped to the United States.”

The Midgleys have also paid close attention to the wine list, focusing on Lodi-area wines such as Michael David, Sorelle, LangeTwins and Klinker Brick. The purpose was to support local businesses but also to make customers feel comfortable.

“We want things that people recognize, have drunk and will order — and will order multiple bottles of,” said Laci Midgley. “You can come in and get a great steak and an affordable but good bottle of wine.”

The restaurant is opening with 50 employees, including a kitchen staff of 12. It seats 160 customers and Midgley’s anxious to get going.

“We need to get this place stocked and locked and ready to rock,” he said.

A Stockton native, Midgley grew up in a family that was busy but always found time for each other and for food — and everybody cooked.

“Sunday was always a big food day,” Midgley remembered. “My mother, my dad, my grandma, my aunt and uncle — we’d all just cook and go to other people’s houses in the family. Grandma would have, like, five pies, and my dad would be making his red sauce and sausages all day long. My mom was chicken Kiev. My aunt, her house was always the four-hour dinner, you know?”

Midgley got his first job at Elkhorn Country Club washing dishes when he was 14.

“I was working till two in the morning on school nights in the dish pit and prepping food,” he said. “I just kind of fell in love with the whole life.”

After graduating from Bear Creek High School, Midgley attended the California Culinary Institute in San Francisco. That was followed by a string of food industry experiences: he and a friend bought and flipped a bar, he was a corporate chef and he’s opened restaurants for other owners. He finally landed at Ernie’s Food & Spirits in Manteca where he and his wife both worked.

“Over at Ernie’s we treated it like it was our own,” Laci Midgley said. “We took a lot of pride in it. Mike’s name was on the menu. We had a lot of respect for the owners and the people involved.”

Midgley has benefited from the rise of food shows and the interest in cooking — or at least in watching other people cook. Midgley has appeared on the competitive cooking shows “Top Chef,” “Knife Fight,” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” and it’s brought him attention he might not have received otherwise. But that’s not to say it’s been easy.

“For every TV show Mike’s been on, there’s 10 he didn’t get on that he auditioned for, that he got into the final stages of casting,” said Laci Midgley. “But that’s usually how you get to good places. You have to fail a lot.”

Lincoln Center talked with Midgley about opening a restaurant for about three years before the timing finally seemed right.

“This time around when this spot became available, it just all fell into place,” said Laci Midgley.

Lincoln Center’s director of leasing and development, Patrick Dobson, said Midgley brings a lot of excitement to the shopping center.

“You’re talking about an executive chef with an uncanny imagination,” Dobson said. “You’re going to get a lot of things at this restaurant you’ve never seen before.”

According to Dobson, Lincoln Center looks for businesses that enhance the experience of living in Stockton, and that’s why Midgley is a good fit for the center. Midgley’s name will also draw people from the entire region.

“He’s going to be a draw from the East Bay, from all over California,” Dobson said. “I’ve read on Facebook that some people are flying in to eat his food.”

And Midgley wants to make sure they’re not disappointed. Unlike many restaurants where the chef’s name is upfront, but the chef is rarely in the kitchen, he plans to be in the restaurant almost every day.

“I’ll be here 70 hours a week cooking on the line,” he said.

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