For a while, the marketing of restaurants in Las Vegas included rolling out sparkling new eateries with celebrity chefs as the star attraction — Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Guy Fieri, Michael Mina, Gordon Ramsay and Giada De Laurentiis, to name a few.
But there’s a new trend in Las Vegas’ restaurant industry these days, and it’s stretching from downtown Las Vegas and the Strip to the suburbs.
Big-name-chef restaurants are still around and even growing — witness the new Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Downtown Summerlin.
But they are being joined by a new generation of independent, homegrown restaurants including Lucky Foo’s, an Asian mash-up off the 215 Beltway at Eastern Avenue; Herbs and Rye, a cocktail-and-steak hangout on Sahara Avenue near Valley View Boulevard; and Honey Salt in the west valley.
“This is local inspiration, local innovation and local concepts,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based market research and consulting company that studies restaurants.
“When we look at what’s been happening in Vegas, you have national brands. But there is also local inspiration of having local brands that are appealing to the local market and have enough appeal to satisfy the tourists.”
In the past year alone, new fare has included high-powered comfort foods such as Off The Strip at The Linq and Tom’s Urban on the Strip to farm-friendly dishes at Carson Kitchen and urban cuisine at Glutton in downtown Las Vegas to hand-crafted items at Hearthstone in the western valley.
“This town is definitely changing,” said Brian Massie, executive chef and a partner at Hearthstone at Red Rock Resort. “The neighborhoods are embracing restaurants, and that’s a good thing. Summerlin used to be only chains.”
Las Vegas is playing catch-up to older culinary centers such as New York and Chicago, said Bradley Manchester, owner and chef at Glutton, near Container Park in downtown Las Vegas.
“The New Yorks, Chicagos and L.A.s have these incredible restaurant concepts that focus on quality of food that is served and cool beverage program,” Manchester said. “We will always have the celebrity chef draw here and people will come here to eat at Bobby Flay or Wolfgang Puck restaurants, but definitely in the local scene and even on the Strip, you’re going to see a surge in concept-driven startups
“In the Green Valleys, Summerlins and Centennials, more and more independent restaurant developers are coming in,” Manchester added. “You’ll see these really cool concepts come up. It’s an exciting time to be a chef and a restaurateur. It’s good time to become part of this growing clique.”
Tom Ryan, founder of Tom’s Urban restaurant, which opened at New York-New York recently, said consumers are looking beyond rock star chefs.
“There are other genres to fall in love with other than the celebrity chefs,” said Ryan, who also created the Smashburger chain.
“In the early days of chef-relevant restaurants, there was a tremendous amount of panache surrounding the credibility of the people with a lot of talent. That’s not diminishing,” Ryan said. “But now there’s a new set of values that are emerging that the mass market is finding appealing. … It’s not that celebrity chefs are worn out, but there’s a lot of other things going on.
“People are looking for food with a story and that story needs to make them feel good. For some people, it’s the quality of ingredients. For some people it’s local or hyperlocal. For some people, it is the celebrity and affiliation with that personality.”
RISE OF THE INDEPENDENTS
Tom Goldsbury, a partner at Off The Strip at The Linq, said he has noticed a slew of new independent restaurants across the region.
“I could probably go out once or twice a weekend and never catch up with all the new restaurants,” Goldsbury said.
Goldsbury agreed with Manchester and Tristano that some of the 41 million visitors to Las Vegas will always want to try a Puck or Fieri restaurant. But, he said, after they’ve sated their hunger for eating at a celebrity-themed restaurant, they’ll want to try one of the independents.
Opening these homegrown restaurants cost anywhere from $500,000 to millions of dollars. Some chefs find investors and partners in real estate and the entertainment industries.
Others find Tony Hsieh and the Downtown Project, Hsieh’s $350 million downtown redevelopment initiative, which has invested in at least 22 food and beverage businesses, including La Comida, Glutton, Eat, Big Ern’s BBQ, Cheffini’s Hot Dogs, Scullery, O Face Doughnuts, Carson Kitchen, Bocho Downtown Sushi, VegeNation, Zydeco Po-Boys and Banger Brewing.
But not every homegrown restaurant is on Hsieh’s finance grid. And as the restaurant market expands, competition is intensifying, possibly threatening some of the newer restaurants’ survival.
For example, Albert Scalleat, part-owner of Dom DeMarcos in west suburbs, said he was initially concerned about nearby Downtown Summerlin’s 25 restaurants taking a bite out of his pizzeria’s revenue.
But he said he was pleasantly surprised that Dom DeMarcos increased revenue by 20 percent since Downtown Summerlin and its roster of restaurants opened a few miles away in the fall. Scalleat said new restaurants can grow together because they will collectively draw more customers who are interested in trying something different.
“I was really concerned about Downtown Summerlin,” Scalleat said. “But what they’re doing now is that people come to the mall and then come to our restaurant.”
CRAFT BEERS JOIN THE WAVE
Joining the new wave of independent restaurants is an expanding local craft beer industry.
That includes newbie brewers such as Old School Brewing Co. in the Las Vegas suburbs; Banger Brewing and Hop Nuts Brewing in downtown Las Vegas; and Bad Beat Brewing, CraftHaus Brewery and Vegas Brewing Co. in Henderson’s Booze District commerce center.
They’re joining veteran brewers such as Big Dog’s Brewing Co., Joseph James Brewing Co., Tenaya Creek Brewery, Boulder Dam Brewing Co. and Sin City Brewing Co.
Manchester predicted more restaurants opening in the market.
“These smaller, independent chefs will do well in this market. Las Vegas needs it and wants it,” Manchester said. “My goal is in five to seven years and to open restaurants in Green Valley and Centennial to bring these concepts.
“Once these concepts pop up in the neighborhoods, they will be embraced and do well.”
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel