MHLV 05: Chef Frank Bonanno | Part 1

This is Part 1 of a two-part episode. Please click here for Part 2 of my interview with Frank.

Chef Frank Bonanno is one of Denver’s most successful restaurateurs. Since opening Mizuna (which he still calls “his baby”) in 2001, he’s opened a total of 10 distinct restaurants and bars. These concepts range from high-end French and Italian to Japanese noodles and from bbq and pizza to a deli modeled after those from his New Jersey childhood, plus a pie shop. He’s also Executive Producer and Host of Chef Driven on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Frank Bonanno grew up in New Jersey and spent a lot of his childhood cooking with his mother and sister. He cooked his way through college as he earned a degree in Finance & Accounting from the University of Denver. Graduating in the early 90s, the tough economy pushed him into the kitchen once again at the successful (but now defunct) Fozzie’s Restaurant in Cherry Creek. A little BS, tenacity and, of course, skill moved Frank up the restaurant food chain and he eventually graduated from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. His wife Jacqueline, a key part of Bonanno Concepts, brought him back to Denver, her hometown.

Frank describes himself as a father, good husband and a good guy to work with. Above all, he is a cook. He also considers himself a “jack of all trades” and will still snake a drain when he needs to.

Frank focuses on quality and cares about sustainability but his restaurants vary in their balance of local, seasonal ingredients versus “the best in the world” courtesy of FedEx. It’s that diversity in sourcing and the decisions behind it that made me want to talk to Frank about his approach to designing concepts, engaging diners and choosing what to put on the plate.


  • How Frank came to Denver and became a chef
  • How valuing employees makes more money long-term
  • How Frank starts a restaurant
  • Why some farm to table restaurants in Denver are full of it
  • What role of the chef plays in the local food movement
  • How consumers balance quality and cost – “perceived value”
  • Why giving his chefs autonomy, and letting them fail, is so important
  • The price point at which people stop caring about what they feed their kids
  • How tasting local ingredients is the only way to really reach diners
  • Why knowing the producer matters more than certifications like organic
  • Why opening a distinctive restaurant in the suburbs is tough
  • What it’s like making a TV show
  • Why Denver is the greatest place to live
  • Where dining is going in Denver



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