John Curtas knows Vegas. The dude’s blog, Eating Las Vegas, is a must-stop for visiting food lovers. Sometimes he ruffles feathers (Sushisamba), other times he becomes a cheerleader (Lotus of Siam, Twist) that only serve to promote the food and wine scene in his beloved desert city. On the way to the airport recently, I asked Curtas about the “new reality” in Vegas, which means more chefs are being asked to pony-up some type of investment, if not spend more time at their properties. The days of casinos giving the keys to the kingdom away seem almost quaint these days, as more and more properties want them to have a little “skin” in the game.
“I think it’s becoming more like hotels, where they’re looking for equity partners,” said Carl Halvorson, the Managing Director of Michel Richard Restaurants. “There seems to be a wave of change coming. I can see in five years time more semi-leased or partner arrangements.”
Halvorson just opened another Central four weeks ago in the lobby at Caesars Palace, and unlike the blockbuster deals offered to big names like Flay, Puck and Batali, where the casinos do the build-out and the restaurant makes a profit on Day One, this time around Halvorson says he has a full lease arrangement, which meant he had to go out and raise the $4.5 million necessary to build-out the restaurant.
“Michel and I wanted to show people that we could do a rennovation for a reasonable amount of money and be thrifty,” he said. “It’s not a lot by Vegas standards [where many restaurants cost more than seven million] but for the 10,000 square feet we have, we got quite a bargain.” Halvorson says the days of management fee deals – where a chef lends his or her name to a property and shows up a few times a year – seem to be few and far between. For the current deal with Caesars, Richard must appear at least eight times at the restaurant during the first year, then six times at a minimum each year thereafter. But he adds that “Michel loves his restaurants, so he comes a lot more.”
The Vegas property is about 75% the same menu as the Washington D.C. location, says Halvorson. Part of that is due to the fact D.C. is more finnicky, and “Vegas likes bigger things, so we just play to that market, with bigger portions.” They’ll also offer more Mexican and Latino dishes in Vegas. With current projections, Halvorson hopes to earn back the investment in five to six years, and as of now, he says they’re on track.
“It’s an eccentric town. You’ve got walk-by traffic, but you can’t take it for granted,” he said.
Incidentally, Curtas also shared some of his current favorites (on and off of the Strip) just in case you’re interested:
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
3500 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas NV 89109
10740 S. Eastern Ave. #155
Henderson, NV 89052
4180 S Rainbow Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89103