Mike Han Has Made an Art of Turning Setbacks into Success

The chef-turned-artist’s work can be found in restaurants across metro Detroit
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Mike Han is pictured in front of his artwork at Townhouse Detroit, one of his go-to spots around town for killer food and drinks.

For Mike Han, the road to becoming an in-demand artist whose work can be seen across the metro area, from the Shinola Hotel in Detroit to the Daxton Hotel in Birmingham, wasn’t a linear path. 

While living in Connecticut during grade school, the Ann Arbor-born Han frequently visited New York City to check out artist Keith Haring’s Pop Shop. Haring’s work would end up being a clear influence on Han’s own striking black-and-white artwork, which combines modern design and Korean calligraphy. 

Han also appreciated sushi at a young age. “I ate the weird stuff,” he says. “The nigiri, the sashimi, the hand rolls. My parents and grandparents had no idea what I was ordering.”

In college, Han got a job as a server at a Korean-Japanese restaurant, and it wasn’t long until he was making it instead of serving it. His talent for sushi took him all around the country, before he returned to Detroit in 2019, to become chef and owner of sustainable sushi spot Pursue, at Fort Street Galley.

His contract with the food hall ended due to low sales, but from this came an opportunity to reopen Pursue in Ann Arbor. It was a month away from opening when the pandemic hit. Han, who had been working a chef gig at another restaurant, lost his job, and his cash flow dried up.

While working as a chef for the past 12 years or so, he’d occasionally get a job painting a mural, through word of mouth. One of his biggest and earliest pieces was one he did for Detroit interior designer Patrick Thompson. 

In November 2020, he received an unexpected commission from clients who had seen that mural at Thompson’s office, and the work paid for his December rent. 

Since then, his art career has taken off. His mural for international art competition Art Prize is set to appear in a Netflix film called Block Party, his work has been featured by outlets like BBC News, and he has raised more than $10,000 for Stop Asian Hate through the Siren Hotel’s artist residency program.

This month, he has two exhibitions. The opening receptions for The House of Han: From A to D will take place in Ann Arbor and Detroit simultaneously. The show is a diptych, Han says, connecting analog and digital artwork presented in the city where he was born and the city he calls home. 

As his art career flourishes, he says he’s fairly certain he won’t be involved in the daily grind of running a restaurant. But he remains involved in the industry from an art standpoint by creating works for places like the Daxton Hotel.

“They acquired one of my pieces, and they did a dish inspired by it,” he says. “But I’ve also eaten at Madam [inside the hotel] and it’s amazing. They do a great job with New American.”

Where Art and Food Meet

Here’s a sampling of spots where you can see Mike Han’s art and eat good food at the same time 
mike han townhouse detroit
Mike Han is a fan of the revamped menu at Townhouse Detroit, which includes a dry-aged burger with hand-cut french fries (left, bottom) and squash with lemon tahini, rose harissa, and seeds (left, top).

Date night: Han is a fan of Townhouse Detroit’s revamped menu and elevated approach to New American food. In particular, there’s a bigeye tuna and crispy rice dish of which, he admits, he was initially skeptical (“crispy rice was in fashion, at least to me, like 10-15 years ago,” he says). But he was surprised at how good it was. Townhouse Detroit, 500 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-723-1000; townhousedetroit.com

Drinks: One of Han’s go-to spots for drinks is Batch Brewing Co. In September, he painted a large mural in the parking lot and hosted an event called To New Heights that celebrated Korean food, art, and dance. He recently painted another mural inside the Corktown brewery. Batch Brewing Co., 1400 Porter St., Detroit; 313-338-8008; batchbrewingcompany.com

Dinners with family or friends: For Lunar New Year, Han unveiled a sound sculpture he created with Leon Speakers, at New Seoul Plaza in Southfield. Before the project, he says, he was already a fan of Daebak, a Korean BBQ restaurant, and Myomee, a dessert cafe that serves bingsu, a shaved ice dessert. New Seoul Plaza, 27566 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-996-8922; newseoulplaza.com

This story is from the April 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition.