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Criss Angel takes magical path to owning rural Nevada eatery

That Criss Angel — he of “Mindfreak,” the master magician and consummate showman — is getting into the restaurant business probably isn’t much of a surprise; many entertainers have taken that path. But what may be positively shocking is that he’s doing it in the adjacent Clark County towns of Overton and Logandale, home to just over 7,000 people, alfalfa fields, livestock and, most assuredly, an unusually high ratio of off-road vehicles to people.

Which, actually, explains a lot once you know the backstory.

“It all started,” said Angel’s assistant, Tom Rutan, “with a 50cc motorcycle.”

Johnny Crisstopher, who at 7 is the elder of Angel’s two sons, has been battling acute lymphocytic leukemia since late 2015 — or nearly the entirety of his young life — which requires daily chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs. So when he asked for a dirt bike for Christmas, Dad and Mom — Shaunyl Sarantakos, which is Angel’s real surname — saw it as a positive, a chance for him to get out into nature and focus on something other than his cancer.

Once he had the bike, they had to find a place for him to ride it and scouted locations in Southern Nevada and Northern Arizona. When they went to Moapa Valley (as Overton and Logandale are collectively known and which are about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas) to celebrate Johnny Crisstopher’s birthday Feb. 16, their lives were about to change.

“We fell in love with it,” Angel said during an interview in Overton. “We love camping; we never did that. In 45 minutes, you’re transported from the stress to an entirely different way of life.”

Community’s center

That first visit would lead to many more. Most times, they’d catch at least one meal at Sugar’s Home Plate in Overton, a restaurant, bar and most importantly community gathering place where, if you’re a local, everybody does know your name. It’s the kind of place where, when a customer comes in to pick up a takeout order, waitress Kristy Perkins is likely to say, “How’s that cousin of mine?” because she has a lot of cousins.

Sugar’s gets its share of people just passing through, maybe on their way to or from Lake Mead, Valley of Fire State Park or the nearby Lost City Museum, but Angel was a different kind of visitor. The locals might have known his name, too, and he stood out. Just a bit. In a place where faded jeans and workshirts are the norm, the ponytailed Angel’s more likely to sport black jeans, T-shirt, leather high-tops and hat and mirrored sunglasses. It was Carhartt meets Armani.

Judy Metz, the septuagenarian who has co-owned Sugar’s with her husband, Ray, since 1991, remembers their first meeting.

“He said, ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ ” she remembers Angel saying.

Her reply: “I’m sorry; I try not to judge.”

He did but she didn’t, and an alliance formed.

“I consider Judy a friend,” Angel said last week, with Metz vigorously nodding.

After getting to know each other through many conversations, Metz mentioned that she was thinking of selling, and Angel offered to buy. Though she had turned down offers over the years because she just didn’t think the buyer would be a good fit, this felt different.

“He really wants to do something for this valley and he wants to be a part of this valley,” said Metz who, besides being the doyenne of community central also serves on several boards.

“These people are all important to me,” she said. “His heart is here. His love for his family is so great.”

The menu

This week, the restaurant that started life in 1935 as the Lost City Cafe (“specializing in fried rabbit”) will begin to transition into CABLP, (pronounced ca-BLIP), but which is an acronym for Criss Angel’s Breakfast, Lunch and Pizza.

He hired as executive chef Amy Coram Reynolds, who’s worked for Wolfgang Puck and Robert Irvine, and Mike Baram, a “pizza mastermind” from New Jersey. His brother, Costa, who used to run their father’s coffee shops, is a partner.

The menu, he said, will be all-American comfort food. Breakfast will include Xritos Yanni’s French Toast, named for his 2-year-old and made with cinnamon bread, as well as pancakes, Belgian waffles, a Western omelet and breakfast sandwiches.

Burgers will include the Mindfreak, with cheddar, barbecue sauce and beer-battered onion rings, plus sandwiches, salads, wraps, pizza including Grandma style, and calzones. Entrees will include Moapa Chicken-Fried Steak, Long Island Fish and Chips, and classic chicken Parmesan.

Beer and wine will be served, along with cocktails including the signature Mindfreeze, made with vodka and any of the 100 flavors of Italian ice Angel is concocting.

“It’ll be served magically smoking,” Angel said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Fun is a key word. He also plans to occasionally “do a set,” and host famous friends doing the same. The backroom will be a sort of magic museum, with memorabilia and the occasional performance, “a fun place to do a luncheon meeting.” He plans a streetside window, “Slices and Ices,” and carside pickup.

Going all in

But Sugar’s is far from Angel’s only investment in the community. He also is working with a program, funded through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, that finds workplace opportunities for older teens and young adults. Angel figures he has four possible sites.

“Kids who want to work in entertainment could work in ‘Mindfreak,’” he said, plus he has a retail shop, studio and the restaurant.

Families with children who have cancer have long been dear to his heart — since 2001, when he was working in New York. When Johnny Crisstopher was born, he’d already been working with kids for 14 years.

“That was the crazy thing,” Angel said. “You do all this work with families, you think you understand what they’re going through, and then you have your own son and you realize what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. My kid is suffering from the very disease I lost so many kids to. It came full-circle for me.”

He helps adults, too. Clea Whitney, a real-estate broker and native of the area, said he’s donated thousands of dollars to help several people who have cancer.

“I think he is an asset to the community,” Whitney said. “I think he is what we needed. He’s a beautiful human being. Anybody who wants an autograph or a picture, he always says yes. He’s a family man.”

Whitney, who ended up selling Angel just under 14 acres in Logandale, admitted, “When he called, I did think it was a prank call.”

Those 14 acres, which have already been cleared and in some places leveled, are between the Logandale Trails off-roading area and verdant alfalfa fields that lay a green carpet in front of the mountains in the distance. He’s planning “a little place for my family” and a retreat of sorts, a place where families with children who have cancer or underprivileged kids can go camping and off-roading free of charge.

“I want to develop it to give these folks the perfect escape,” he said.

Earning respect in new venue

And he’s acquired a lot of believers.

“It’s perfect for the community,” said Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Clark County Commission chairwoman, who represents the area and has been working with Angel on his plans.

“It’s a perfect thing altogether,” she said of his projects. “We already said 2021 would be the year we’d focus on economic development out there. With Criss coming out there, it’s going to be a big help.”

Angel said he just wants to share the wealth.

“I come from humble beginnings,” he said. “I was in the ‘slow’ classes, but I worked my ass off and I was able to reach my dream. I’m very grateful to have had the career I’ve had. I want to use my many blessings to create opportunities.”

And Moapa Valley is where he wants to do it.

“Sometimes I just want to be Dad,” he said. “To sit around a campfire and smell smoke and be dirty, because everyone else is dirty. I love it. On stage, I have to have my hair and makeup done.”

He said the community reminds him of “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” TV shows he watched when he was a kid.

“There’s a simplicity to living, and a charm, and a quality you can’t get from a big city,” he said. “I just feel very at peace out here.”

Busy with the upcoming July 7 return of “Mindfreak” at Planet Hollywood and working on a project with legendary theater director Franco Dragone, he vows to return to Moapa Valley every other weekend when at all possible.

He expects the restaurant to be closed four to six weeks for renovations.

“I’m respecting what Judy built — her rapport with the community,” he said.

“Is it going to change?” Metz asked rhetorically. “Of course. But the world has changed.

“And I’ll be here to cheer him on.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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