“Change is always more difficult than you remember.”
Dan Krohmer is nursing a whiskey at Atomic Liquors, just a block from the ongoing construction on his two new restaurants in Fremont Street’s Fergusons Downtown complex, grasping for a reply to an inquiry about how he’s doing. After a few more seconds, he becomes a bit more direct.
“I’m doing a whole lot better now,” the chef/owner of the popular off-Strip seafood spot Other Mama continues. “I was in a funk for a while. I’m not really sure why. The restaurant was going great, and I was frustrated with myself that I wasn’t feeling it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being there. But it was like, ‘What next?’ ”
That funk was almost certainly amplified by the fact that Krohmer, whose career has included time in celebrity chef kitchens and on the road with rock and pop superstars, was realizing he’d become addicted to pain pills.
“I’ve always been one just to go (all out), especially doing the music tour stuff. It was like, (for) seven weeks I can do anything. I can crush. I can do whatever, I can live on whiskey. I’ll make it.”
But those periods, he’s quick to note, had natural conclusions. His newfound status as an independent businessman and leader of the off-Strip dining renaissance wasn’t a tour that he could follow up with a self-imposed sabbatical in a tropical locale with no cares except recharging his batteries. Now, as potential partners were approaching him about new projects, he found himself asking “What does 38-year-old Dan want, not 22-year-old Dan?” And all the while, he was slipping deeper and deeper into the grip of the pills.
The wake-up call came when he decided to partner with Fergusons, a former motel that’s becoming a market square for the downtown community. Currently home to the monthly Market in the Alley art, food, music and fashion festival, it’s in the midst of a buildout that’s expected to add a recording studio, art studio, coffee shop and office space. Fergusons curator Jen Taler asked Krohmer to serve as director of food and beverage and create a pair of restaurants.
For the chef, who had recently moved downtown, it offered a chance to provide his new neighborhood with the kind of casual but smart dining options he thought the area lacked: a Mexican street food spot called La Monja and a Japanese izakaya — or pub — called Hatsumi.
It will also take Krohmer, no stranger to awards and accolades, out of the spotlight and put him behind the scenes, creating restaurants hand-in-hand with the chefs who will run them. And that shift seems to be exactly what 38-year-old Dan was looking for.
“I hate the singularity of food. I think it’s such a disease,” he says of the desire for fame and recognition that often fuels the culinary industry. “If you try to make it all about yourself, you build your own prison. I’m tired of doing that. I’d rather help people by putting them in great positions, and use my input and philosophy to work together.”
He’s received his share of accolades, saying “sending that stuff to my mom has probably been the best thing about it.” This position offers a chance to create places where he could take pride in acclaim, but for an unselfish reason.
“In a year, when these places win some crazy awards, I’m not going to accept them. It’ll be whomever is there daily. It’s not about me. And that thought makes me feel good. Thinking like that makes me feel better.”
There was still, however, one problem.
“I signed this contract with them last June, (when) I was still flying high,” Krohmer confesses.
“After signing this and seeing the support from these guys, and realizing how much I was responsible for their well-being and these future projects and how much they believed in me, that’s what made me want to work on myself. Because that’s how I could show my respect for them.”
After a month on a local farm, under the care of a doctor who specializes in opioid recovery, Krohmer has emerged free of the drugs, rejuvenated and with a clear head and newfound enthusiasm. Touring the construction on the new sites, he enthusiastically points out small details on restroom doorways that excite him, and makes notes of potential problems at the yakitori bar. He paints a verbal picture of locals hanging out and socializing in the communal courtyard. He believes Fergusons has the potential to be a game-changer downtown, and for him personally.
“Somebody asked me what I’m most proud of, and I said creating jobs. When I sit back, I’m blown away. I think of myself still as this 16-year-old stoner, and all I could think about was (girls) and where to get some (drugs). And now people are actually looking at me to make sure their children are fed. That’s pretty intense.”
Contact Al Mancini at amancini @reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.