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Ex-Tao Group executive planning 2 restaurants in Las Vegas

After eight years as West Coast corporate chef for Tao Group, Marc Marrone is no stranger to celebrity moments. When asked to share some star stories, he recalls one evening at Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, following the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.

“Ariana Grande was in the private dining room. And (celebrity chef) Chris Santos and I were bringing out food. So I brought food to her and turned around and literally bumped into Madonna. Then I went around the corner and Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian were sitting there going ‘Hey, Chef.’ I just remember going into the kitchen and thinking ‘What the hell business am I in? What am I doing?’ ”

In addition to overseeing Santos’ local Beauty & Essex, Marrone’s position put him directly in charge of dining at 13 other restaurants and dayclubs in Tao Group’s international portfolio of more than 30 venues. The largest, Tao Las Vegas, consistently tops Business Insider’s list of the top-grossing independent restaurants in the world, with sales of $43 million last year. This month, at age 33, he left Tao Group in an amicable split to pursue other ventures.

“The job that I had at Tao is really one that, for most people, you’d work your career up to, and that’s the job at the end. I kind of did it backward. And being 33, I just said ‘Do I stay here and keep a great job? What is the end goal?’ ”

Marrone, who began his career with the Tao Group a dozen years ago as a sous chef at Tao New York, came to Las Vegas in 2009 to work at Lavo at Palazzo, which was transforming from a Mediterranean menu to more classic Italian cuisine. The plan was for him to stay for three months to learn the restaurant, then return to New York to open a Lavo there. He never went back, however, and Las Vegas has been his base of operation ever since.

He’s seen Lavo shutter its nightclub operation, while Tao’s has evolved. He was here for the opening of Marquee nightclub and dayclub at the Cosmopolitan. He spent six weeks in Singapore opening that Lavo location. And in Los Angeles, he oversaw the openings of Tao L.A., Luchini Pizzeria, and The Highlight Room and room service kitchen at the Dream Hollywood hotel.

“The role kind of grew into what I do now,” he said of the corporate chef position during his final week at the job. It’s a position that often kept him occupied from 8 a.m. through well past midnight, and saw him log 127,000 travel miles last year.

While he oversaw a massive international operation, Marrone credits the 60-seat Highlight Room with inspiring his next moves.

“The rooftop at the Dream Hotel really didn’t have a concept,” he explains. “There was no restriction on what it was going to be. It wasn’t a pre-existing brand. So I just got to have fun: go to the market, check out food, bring in great products and just make kick-ass food. And I was like ‘This is what it would be like to get to do my own (thing).’ ”

He’s also convinced that Las Vegas is coming into its own as a culinary city and wants to be part of it.

“I think the time is right. Before they keep importing restaurant concepts from other cities, I want to contribute the best I can to show that Vegas chefs and the Vegas scene are just as qualified and just as talented, and we have our own little niche and scene.”

Marrone has a pair of projects in the works. The first is a “hand-crafted Italian” spot called Italian Graffiti with an attached pizza window at the The Bend, the retail center expected to open next year near the 215 Beltway and Durango Drive. The second is a still-unnamed rooftop collaboration with Fukuburger’s Colin Fukunaga at Las Vegas Boulevard and Carson Avenue downtown.

It’s too soon to predict an opening date for either, but Marrone expects Italian Graffiti to debut in 2020. If that proceeds on schedule, he expects the second restaurant to open three to four months later.

In the meantime, Marrone will work on various projects, such as pop-up meals and special events, with other local chefs. He also hopes to spend a lot of time with his wife and 2½-year-old son, Ace, another major inspiration for his move.

“The traveling and all of the stuff I was doing was a lot of time away from him,” he says. “He’s getting older, and (that’s) a big part of it.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palzazzo.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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