Longtime MGM restaurant manager sets sights on new challenge

Steven Katz descends the steps of The Pantry 24-hour kitchen at The Mirage, what is now his old stomping ground.

He carries a framed picture with goodbye messages and signatures from people he worked with as general manager of casual dining, part of a nearly 15-year career with casino owner MGM Resorts International.

“I could have been with MGM the rest of my career,” said Katz, 60. “But this, to me, will be the pinnacle. It’s like a higher power calling me.”

Katz has left his role with MGM for a new challenge: general manager of the upcoming sites for Canter’s Deli, the nearly 90-year-old Los Angeles institution about to re-enter the Las Vegas market.

Canter’s has two sites planned for the valley, one at The Linq, owned by Caesars, and a spot at the Tivoli Village shopping center at Alta Drive and Rampart Boulevard.

“This, to me, is the pinnacle of my career,” Katz said.

During his first year with Canter’s, Katz will fall back on the strategy he has used in the past when launching one of 75 restaurant concepts.

Like when he helped to launch the Pho Vietnamese restaurant at Treasure Island about 10 years ago, he will talk to everyone he can about their expectations for Canter’s, which closed shop at the same hotel-casino in 2012.

Katz wants it to be part of the community. He wants people to think of Canter’s for catering at local events, no matter how small, an attitude that could pay off with the Jewish communities near the 6,400-square-foot location in Summerlin.

He liked the challenge of building not just any restaurant concept in Vegas but one with which he feels a connection.

The sort of food he will sell — corned beef and Jewish cookies — were the treats he grew up with in the North Side of Chicago. It was also there he picked up a constant smile and outgoing personality from his mother, a retired employment counselor now in Summerlin.

He worked his way up in the industry before landing in Los Angeles. There, he worked under longtime restaurateur Bob Morris and learned running a restaurant means putting on a performance.

He left for Las Vegas about 15 years ago. He ran buffets and restaurants at Treasure Island, Luxor and Mandalay Bay, at each hotel-casino for about three years.

He moved to The Mirage in the summer of 2014. The California Pizza Kitchen, Carnegie Deli, Cravings buffet and LVB Burgers restaurants that he managed brought in about $30 million in sales a year for the hotel-casino, he said.

He said his management style at Canter’s will involve him mostly on the floor, asking how everyone’s doing. He believes a constant presence, not to mention handling the inevitable mistakes and miscommunication that comes with restaurants, builds respect for staff and customers alike.

To Katz, the popularity of delis transcends health food fads and culture. He has heard time and time again from visitors who have accepted the cholesterol that comes with a menu filled with meats. He has heard South American and Asian visitors who seek out the bagels with smoked salmon they’ve seen online.

“It’s not so bad for you,” Katz said. “My mother’s matzo ball soup was penicillin growing up.”

When he starts interviewing for the two locations, which probably will employ about 50 people, he is looking for someone with the same passion and panache he exhibits on the job and someone who’s not afraid to ask for help. These are the traits he can’t teach, he said.

“I want people to have a good time,” he said. “You’ve got to have the heart for this if you want to get into hospitality.”

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at 702-383-4602 or wmillward@reviewjournal.com. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.

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