Guy Fieri isn’t a native of Las Vegas (and no, he doesn’t play one on TV). He grew up in Ferndale, in Northern California, but considers the three years he spent at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the late ’80s as among the most important in his life.
“People say, ‘Is Vegas your hometown?’ ” Fieri said in a recent phone interview. “Las Vegas is one of my hometowns. When you were in Vegas before The Mirage was built, you’re a local; you’ve got some tenure.”
And now he’ll have a Las Vegas restaurant as well. Fieri and Caesars Entertainment Corp. have announced that Fieri’s Strip-side restaurant will open late this year at The Quad, the former Imperial Palace. The restaurant, which is in the early stages of development, has yet to be named.
While today’s UNLV hospitality-management students may dream of someday having a restaurant on the Strip, that wasn’t among Fieri’s college fantasies. In those days, he said, dining-out choices generally meant whether to go to a low-end buffet or a high-end buffet.
“That was the difference between the majority of the restaurants,” he said. “It was so crazy. The Four Queens downtown was doing a fine steakhouse, Caesars had one, and that was it. I remember when the Flamingo was all that and the Dunes was all that. I was there before the revolution. It’s amazing now. It’s changed quite a bit. I never thought that people were ever going to see food as a key to the experience of Vegas. Vegas was always gambling and the shows.”
But he added that it’s not only in Las Vegas that dining has changed.
“The culture’s changed,” Fieri said. “The whole world of food has changed. The whole food revolution, thank God, has happened. It’s from all the great chefs, the Food Network, food magazines and education.
“We lived for two decades working on how we can make food faster, cheaper and more convenient. And if it happened to taste good, that was a benefit. We really ran it into the ground. Now we have childhood obesity and all these processed foods. Where have we gone wrong?”
So he’s glad to see the pendulum possibly swinging back.
“The food revolution has been amazing,” he said. As for what’s driving it, “people are the ones. We expect more.”
Fieri is especially pleased about the new restaurant’s location.
“At the Quad, and the Linq right next door, and the world’s largest Ferris wheel, and all of that tied together,” he said. “And I get to be the restaurant in the front of it? I’m stoked.
“And the restaurant’s beautiful, with high ceilings and huge glass windows overlooking the Strip,” plus a lot of wood and raw metal.
Fieri said the project has been a couple of years in the making, a process of looking at what’s going on in Las Vegas and at what works and doesn’t.
“I’ve got something that I think is gonna fit,” he said. “I know when I go out, I like to have my high-end experience, I like to have my quick-and-easy experience, but I often want something in the middle. You’ll feel like you’re sitting in one of your favorite places,” with “an eclectic mix of food in a real fun environment.”
Which will include a UNLV component. Fieri not only graduated from UNLV in 1990, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the school last year, and he said the gown he wore for the latter ceremony will hang in the restaurant.
“I’m proud of UNLV,” Fieri said. “I was there when we won” the national basketball championship. “I’m a big fan of the program and the school. There’s definitely going to be an area or parts of the restaurant that are going to say UNLV.”
Fieri, who found national fame through his various Food Network shows and appearances, such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” — which has featured numerous Las Vegas businesses — and as host of the game show “Minute to Win It,” said he has a diverse group of followers.
“My fan base is little girls to grandparents,” he said. “Girls to the dudes at the tailgate. On that alone, it will have a mixed audience.
“Because of where it is, I think it’s going to get everybody. I want to be open late, I want to have a really good bloody mary brunch program in the late morning so when people get up and think, ‘Where can I go?’ I want to be that spot. I want to be their hangout when they come to Las Vegas. It’ll be a great spot not just for my fans but for my friends in Vegas.”
Rick Mazer, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Corp., said dining remains a “very important” component of the business, and he was enthusiastic about the addition of Fieri to the company’s restaurant portfolio.
“He’s very recognizable, very popular for his TV shows,” Mazer said. “The shows are all about that approachable casual dining and all the unique things you can find about it.
“He’s very proud of his Las Vegas ties. It makes a ton of sense for him to be here and to be part of us, and he’s excited about it, as we are.”
“It’s not just about gambling anymore,” Fieri said. “There’s so much going on. Anybody who gets to play in that arena from the owner’s perspective is to be honored.”
And there might be a little plus for one member of the family — Fieri’s son, Hunter, who’s a sophomore in high school.
“He thinks it’s his golden ticket,” Fieri said, “to UNLV.”
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.