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Building the American Dream: "Big Mike" Harrah PDF Print E-mail

Mike grew up in middle class Whittier and like most California kids in the early sixties loved surfing, playing music (drums) racing cars, motorcycles and boats.  In 1969, just after high school he had enough money saved up to buy a one way (Standby) ticket to Hawaii, traveling with only with a duffel bag and his surfboard he was going to surf for the rest of his life. Big Mike soon realized his workaholic personality just didn’t fit the Surfer dude lifestyle and soon came back.  He started a framing company in the early seventies called Harrah Construction Company, starting with a 10,000 sq. ft. house he built with a helper on weekends and evenings after working as a framing contractor on other jobs. Never afraid to get his hands dirty he is in the mix on every endeavor, even today.   From one custom house to One Broadway Plaza Big Mike builds anything.  In fact Big Mike is now constructing the tallest superstructure in the history of Orange County in Santa Ana, California. His passion for racing, boats, cars, speed ski racing and riding motorcycles has also grown through the years.
 
OC 50 2009 PDF Print E-mail

Profiles of the County’s Most Influential Business People

Mr. Big in county’s biggest city

Mike Harrah’s 2009 profile in the Orange County Business Journal highlights some of Harrah’s latest accomplishments. Namely, he owns close to 80 buildings, about 4 million square feet in Santa Ana’s downtown.   Harrah has played a key role in revitalizing Santa Ana through restoring buildings, attracting restaurants, art galleries and others.  His One Broadway Plaza project won voter approval in 2005 and is required by city to have 50% of the footage leased before beginning construction.   In the last year he finished the multi-million dollar Pinnacle Hawaii condo building which is sold out.  In the past decade, Harrah has redeveloped much of central Santa Ana and has been called the city’s savior for restoring old buildings.  Honored by the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society in 2003, Michael Harrah was named Preservationist of the Year.  His company, Caribou Industries, does an estimated $30 million in annual revenue and Mike’s office, complete with a stuffed bear in the corner, overlooks the One Broadway Plaza site.  Harrah is notoriously distinguishable from the rest of the local real estate elite.  Standing at 6’6 and sporting a ZZ Top beard, Harrah looks the part of his other hobbies—helicopter piloting and jazz drumming, but he managed to direct the construction of the Orange County School of the Arts building from a hospital bed after a major helicopter accident.  Harrah was also listed in the 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008 special reports.

Read More in the 2009 Orange County Business Journal Special Report 

 

 
Original Mike’s PDF Print E-mail

From Ruins to Restaurant

“When Big Mike Harrah, the largest tenant improvement contractor in Orange County, California, spotted what was left of the United Auto Building in Santa Ana, California, he wasn’t repulsed, he was enthused.” Don Weberg of Garage Style Magazine profiles Mike Harrah’s transformation of the first car dealership in Orange County to Original Mike’s Restaurant.  Located at First and Main in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, Original Mike’s is part restaurant, part auto museum and part history.  Given the “Best Restaurant and Bar” award by Dining Out magazine in 2006 and 2007, Original Mike’s offers a variety of dishes from large, juicy burgers to fish plates and steaks prepared exactly as prescribed by the customer. Tables and booths are intermingled between vehicles ranging from historic Harley Davidson motorcycles, to Santa Ana’s first fire engine (built in 1919) to the only Murphy-Bodied 1929 Packard Touring Sedan ever built, ordered originally by the President of Mexico.  The building’s historic character was kept intact by Mike’s construction crews who preserved the leaded glass windows, wood beam ceilings and octagonal tile floor.  Myriads of photos of both Santa Ana and the building, circa 1890- 1933 grace the walls. Original Mike’s slogan is, “good cookin,’ good eatin,’ and good livin’” and it’s clear the restaurant lives up to it.

Read More in the Spring 2009 Garage Style Magazine 

 

 
Truly an Original PDF Print E-mail

Whether building hot rods or high rises, Mike Harrah only knows how to go full throttle

In a profile for Velocity, a magazine targeted at car enthusiasts in Orange County, Mike Harrah shared stories of his favorite car acquisitions. There was his first car, a 1956 Chevy Nomad he bought at age 14 and restored from the ground up—taking it from an immovable heap filled with acorns and sporting four flat tires to a loved machine he drove for nine years.  Harrah also remembered the time he was cited by the DMV with a $1,200 fine for selling cars without a dealer’s license.  He was 17-years-old and would buy decrepit, perform basic maintenance and turn them around for a profit.  Even in those early years, it was clear that Mike didn’t just love working with his hands, he also knew how to turn that drive into a successful business. Writer Patrick C. Paternie aptly describes, “Developer Mike Harrah lives the lifestyle of a highflying, high horsepower renaissance man. He’s equally at home sitting on drums for ZZ Top, the driver’s seat of his 3000 HP, 632 cubic inch Chevy Dragster, the head table at his award winning Ambrosia restaurant, or the pilot’s chair of his Gulfstream G IV business jet. “Mike’s personal garage has come a long way from that Chevy Nomad, but his love for fast cars and fast living remains the same.

Read more in the March/April 2008 Velocity Magazine 

 

 
Wonderland Original Mike’s is a feast for the senses PDF Print E-mail

Owner Mike Harrah has always defied convention but his unique vision for Original Mike’s continues to solidify Santa Ana’s place on the dining map.  First a Packard dealership then an empty and condemned building, Harrah has restored this architectural gem and transformed it into a restaurant that brings to mind the all-American den of a rich uncle.  Harley Davidson motorcycles hang from the ceiling. Big fireplaces, two antique bars, satellite sports feeds and all sorts of eclectic surprises greet customers.  The whimsical décor gives Original Mikes an all ages feel and the scheduled entertainment which ranges from classic car nights to karaoke to Latin-infused dance music attracts everyone from three-year-old kids to 90-year-old grandmothers.   One of the restaurant’s chief goals is to inspire people to have fun and this is lived out in Original Mike’s slogan, “Good cookin,’ good eatin,’ and good livin.’”

Read More in the Summer 2007 Dining Out Magazine 

 

 
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