MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was nearly ten years ago when Chef Jonathan Hunt opened an Italian restaurant in the Nokomis neighborhood of Minneapolis. The city has changed.

“There’s definitely a lot more restaurants and I think that [the] diner has changed as well,” Hunt said. “We’ve been able to educate.”

And Hunt’s changed, too. Now he owns three spots: al Vento, Rinata near Uptown and Sparks in Bryn Mawr. One guy and three restaurants – how does he make it happen?

“You have to trust your employees. That’s the big thing,” he said. “Try not to micromanage.”

Drew Ledo is the chef at Sparks, Erik Weed at Rinata and Lukas Leaf runs al Vento. All three neighborhood restaurants specialize in Italian cuisine.

“al Vento’s southern Italian, Rinata is just more of all Italian and Sparks is more a mixture of all different kinds of cuisines, but we definitely do have wood-fired pizzas, everything’s cooked out of the oven there,” he said.

Ledo’s mahi-mahi tacos are finished with a slightly spicy harissa paste, and it’s topped with a celery slaw. Like Sparks, it’s crisp, fresh and fun.

Weed’s baked Atlantic cod with pea risotto and saffron vinaigrette is like Rinata: pure Italian. It tastes just like spring.

And Leaf brings a sophisticated southern Italian flair to his swordfish, which is marinated for days.

Hunt doesn’t cook much anymore, but he says he misses it a lot.

“I’m the front guy now,” Hunt said.

He says having three restaurants keeps him busy enough. When his chefs start bouncing possible locations off him, he tells them to go open their own place.

So what’s Hunt’s biggest challenge when it comes to running three places at once?

“When multiple things go wrong at one time (laughs),” he said.

Hunt and his restaurants will be a part of the National Kidney Foundation’s Great Chefs of Minnesota fundraiser on Sunday night, hosted by yours truly.

They hope to raise more than a $100,000 for the local chapter this weekend, with Jonathan Hunt and the chefs from Murray’s and Treasure Island Resort in tow, among others.

The fundraiser is at 5 p.m. Sunday night at the DoubleTree South in Bloomington. For more information, call 651-636-7300.

Jason DeRusha