Sean and Lisa Bigley and Pat Oechslin of Las Vegas had lunch at the Downtown Container Park one day last week, and then they did it again the next day.
“We had so much fun yesterday, we came back today,” Lisa Bigley said.
On the first visit, which was at the suggestion of a friend, they brought their grandson. The return trip was more about the food.
“We wanted to try Pork &Beans,” Bigley said.
Yes, Pork &Beans is the name of the restaurant, as well as one of its featured dishes. (But more on that later.) The day before, they’d lunched at Bin 702, where the Bigleys had the turkey and brie panini, Oechslin the chopped salad.
“It was wonderful,” Oechslin said of her salad.
“It’s delicious,” Sean Bigley said of his panini.
“Oh, my gosh,” said his wife.
But they liked the Container Park, too, and its mix of restaurants.
“It’s really cool,” Sean Bigley said.
“I think it’s great,” Lisa Bigley echoed. “I wish we lived closer; we’d come more often.”
Next time, they plan to eat at Big Ern’s BBQ.
Pork &Beans, Bin702 and Big Ern’s BBQ are just three of the Container Park’s restaurants, which also include Pinches Tacos, serving “real Mexican food by real Mexicans,” and Simply Pure, which serves vegan and raw food. Food also is available in some of the park’s shops, such as Cupkates, which sells cupcakes, cookies, cake pops and dipped apples; ChillSpot, with frozen pops, shaved ice, liquid-nitrogen ice cream, smoothies, shakes and slushies; JoJo’s Jerky; and Las Vegas Kettle Corn.
All of the restaurants are tiny, with limited seating inside. But the expansive decks and walkways of the Container Park are lined with dozens of tables and chairs and closely spaced trash disposal stations, where the remains of a meal can be separated into compost (the dishes and flatware), recycling (cups and similar plastic items) and waste (everything else), with spaces on top for trays.
Jennifer Cornthwaite, one of the owners of Pork &Beans, said the flexibility suits the Container Park.
“I think that’s the whole thing — you can come in and get something from here, get something from there, sit down anywhere you like, be close to the kids,” she said. “Be in the shade if that’s where the shade is, be in the sun if that’s where you want to be. Instead of just Pork &Beans for lunch or Bin 702 for lunch, it’s really about going to the Container Park and getting something to eat and drink.”
Cornthwaite said her husband, Michael — one of the pioneer believers in the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas — was involved in the conception and design of the Container Park with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos Inc. and the driving force behind revitalization efforts.
“He would ask Michael if he would do the bar, do coffee, and we said yes, we would,” she said. Besides Pork &Beans, their Container Park holdings include The Boozery, which she said is “the only bar-bar,” although many of the outlets sell alcohol, and The Beatnik, a miniature version of their downtown The Beat coffee house.
For Pork &Beans, they teamed with local celebrity chef Kerry Simon, a friend of about 10 years.
“Kerry has been one of those guys, for the last three or four years, who has always wanted to get involved with downtown,” Cornthwaite said. “We knew we were going to do a restaurant in the Container Park. We asked Kerry. Even though it’s small and not what he really does, he was excited to collaborate with us, and we were excited to collaborate with Kerry.”
They chose the Pork &Beans theme for the obvious link to comfort food, she said, and for its possibilities.
“We wanted to do something that had a little bit of an artisanal flair, that we could do locally,” she said. “We buy all of our sausages from a locally owned company. When you were a kid, your mom gave you baked beans and hot dogs. How could we elevate that and be really creative with this kind of comfort food and make it more interesting?”
Pinches Tacos ended up at Container Park almost accidentally, co-owner Miguel Anaya said. The company, which opened its first restaurant seven years ago on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, has four locations in L.A. as well as the one in Las Vegas.
“We’ve been impressed with Tony (Hsieh) for a long time,” Anaya said. “Originally we were going to do a free-standing location. When it turned into Container Park, we were all for it. When we realized it was community-based as well, we knew it was a good idea.”
Anaya said the response so far has been “amazing — fully embraced by the community.” The most popular items, he said, are the tacos, which are folded in handmade corn tortillas. The asada tacos, he said, are made with Angus beef and are more like steak tacos than a conventional beef taco.
“Amazing” also was the word that Kat Thomas, wine goddess and general manager of Bin 702, used to describe the public’s response so far. She said one of the partners in Bin 702 is Sonny Ahuja, who had Bleu Gourmet in the northwest valley.
“It’s been fun and exhilarating to see how people are reacting not only to the 12 wines that we have on tap but to expand their interests in different varietals that I would say most people aren’t normally able to try,” said Thomas, who’s a sommelier.
As for food, she said, their charcuterie features products made by Echo &Rig in Tivoli Village, including country pate, Black Forest ham and liverwurst.
“Weekly, we’re going to try to see what the head butcher wants to do,” she said. “We get to add that to our charcuterie. The cheese and charcuterie are stellar. It’s a simple concept but with really great product.”
While the owners of the other restaurants had experience in the industry, Ernie Loya, proprietor of Big Ern’s BBQ, didn’t.
“Barbecuing is just something I love to do,” Loya said.
He was working in the Zappos’ call center and doing catering, going to farmers markets and other events with his barbecue. While he was delivering salsa, he ran into some representatives of the Downtown Project.
“And that’s how everything got started,” Loya said. “They basically sponsored me, I guess you could say. Once they committed and kind of like endorsed me, I had to bridge the gap.”
He opened a stand on Seventh Street, across the street from where the Container Park would be built, and was open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
“I’d do one brisket, a rack of ribs, and just hope I had enough people to sell it to,” he said. “But what it did was serve as my schooling — ordering, inventory, getting help and what have you.”
While the Container Park spaces are, by definition, pretty tiny, Loya’s not complaining.
“I didn’t have any expectations — my grand kitchen I had designed or a dining room or a certain design,” he said. “This is like twice as much room, and I have a roof over my head. This is great.”
Loya said the stand also helped him build his business.
“Since we had the stand and did catering events downtown for the past year, we were very fortunate that when we opened our doors three months ago, we had a built-in clientele,” he said. “We opened our doors to a line. We get a lot of those people still coming in right now, but we get a lot of people from out of town and from out of the country. It’s a good mix.”
In that mix last week was a trio dining on the porch in front of Big Ern’s. Denise Gibbs said she’d been to the Container Park “a couple of times” and always eats at Big Ern’s.
“I love barbecue,” she said. “I’m from the South. I know barbecue.”
It was Shannon Rooney’s first time, and the second for Brenda Herbstman, who had their next move all planned out.
“We’re going to Pork &Beans for chocolate-covered bacon afterward,” she said.
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.