Designer, fine artist and printmaker Michael Files helps chefs whip up aesthetic environments to better enhance the guest dining experience. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus earned a BFA in printmaking from the College of Arts, Languages and Letters (CALL) in 2007 and went on to find an alluring niche as a creative director tasked with setting the atmosphere at restaurants. One of his latest projects can be seen at Indian street food eatery, Chai Pani in Asheville, North Carolina. The restaurant, ranked among the New York Times’ top 50 in America, displays Files’ flavor.
“It is great to be paid to do creative things. The root of [my design for restaurants] is my love for India and my love for street culture in India. I love the day-to-day there. My main satisfaction comes from the experience of shepherding people and ideas through the process of building a space out, making it interesting, and helping other people, including chefs and restaurateurs, to build their brand and bring in the human experience,” Files said.
Files’ approach integrates the range of skills he developed for his own art practice which began during his days at UH Mānoa. Although his focus was on printmaking, Files was strongly inspired by the way performance art integrates spatial and visual elements to create a viewer experience.
“When I look back at it now, it’s almost like I’ve been doing the same thing I now do professionally.”
- Read about another UH alum in the food world: Forbes lists UH alumna as a top 10 pastry chef, February 10, 2020
He began studying art during his first semester, however, courses outside his major, such as Hawaiian Studies, expanded his appreciation for other cultures. Files commends Charlie Cohan, a UH Mānoa printmaking professor who helped him decide between concentrations in printmaking and design his senior year. His best memory was his final BFA exhibition where he incorporated elements of performance into printmaking.
Files’s future plans are still slightly in flux. He just returned from traveling through Mexico and Central America, and is set to work with Chai Pani in opening its next location. He also has some projects in the works in little surf town Saladita on the west coast of mainland Mexico.