Thomas Keller bullish on Las Vegas restaurant industry


Thomas Keller is optimistic about the future, not only for his local Bouchon outpost at the Venetian, but also for the restaurant industry as a whole.

“The resurgence of people’s desire to go out is truly overwhelming,” Keller said this month, on Bouchon’s outdoor patio adjacent to the Venetian’s secluded Venezia Tower pool deck. It was his first visit to the restaurant, or to Las Vegas, since before it closed last year, and he was cheered on by the crowds.

“Today we did over 500 people for brunch, which isn’t quite equal to what we would do at a weekend brunch before the pandemic, but it certainly is. whether we would do a Thursday or a Wednesday. And 500 people is a lot of people walking through your door.

The classic French bistro has been busy enough to reopen for dinner five days a week and brunch for three. That’s down from the 14 meals a week he had before COVID-19, as well as private functions that have since dried up, but enough to bring back about half of the restaurant’s 200 employees.

Keller, for his part, never stopped working. The original Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, Calif., And its Miami restaurant, The Surf Club Restaurant, have never stopped serving customers, though both have spent some time on take-out only. And the chef also lobbied and spoke to government officials at all levels on behalf of the restaurant industry.

“You know, the visit with the (former Trump) administration… was very instrumental in changing the (paycheck protection program),” he says. And while his efforts to have pandemic closures covered by business interruption insurance have been “a little frustrating” and less successful than he had hoped, Keller says he has. “Learned a lot and we have made a lot of progress”.

Despite these advances, the chef’s culinary empire has not emerged unscathed from the pandemic. In New York, he was forced to shut down four of his five businesses. So, while Per Se, three Michelin stars, once again delights customers with the most refined creations of Keller, the three outposts of Bouchon Bakery in New York and the upscale and upscale TAK Room are now definitely closed. (TAK Room had opened in the Hudson Yards development in Manhattan almost a year to the day before the city closed.)

“Hudson Yards itself was a struggle early on with bad press, then COVID hit,” Keller notes of the latest project, which raised eyebrows and made headlines for its continental fare prices at the map. “So what do you do with a restaurant that is one year old and is facing an indefinite pandemic?” We weren’t the only casualty at Hudson Yards. There are so many more, whether it be the retail space or restaurants, that have ended up shutting down and giving up.

TAK Room may have closed, but its spirit endures. The Miami Surf Club is considered by many to be a sister restaurant, offering a similar menu and style. But what about Las Vegas?

“When I came up with the idea for TAK Room in 2006, there were three cities: New York, Miami and Las Vegas,” Keller explains. And before the pandemic, a local TAK room at Wynn Las Vegas was among the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2020. Local foodies were abuzz with rumors of how Keller was transforming Wynn’s former Country Club space to accommodate the concept.

When asked about the project, Keller concedes that “a lot has changed in the past year, with COVID.” But he is optimistic.

“We are delighted to come to Las Vegas,” he says of TAK Room. “And sure, we love Wynn. It’s just an ongoing conversation. We are very positive about it and hope to be there soon.

In the meantime, Keller is more excited than ever about his relationship with The Venetian, which was recently sold in a $ 6.25 billion deal. In fact, he says he spoke to several Venetian / Palazzo executives during his visit, and they all seemed excited about Bouchon, a 17-year-old resident at the resort and the holder of a 10-year lease signed two years ago.

“As long as we play, as long as we are responsible and take care of the restaurant, we take care of the finances, we take care of the staff, I don’t think there is any concern that someone will come in and say ‘You don’t do a good job, “Keller says.” At the end of the day we have a restaurant that’s in a unique place that not everyone can do, and people come. “

The chef attributes Bouchon’s continued success first and foremost to his staff: “From the start we have had a very strong team here. Beyond that, he believes the restaurant’s classic French cuisine continues to resonate, despite changing tastes.

“It’s food that has benchmarks,” he says of the menu. “It’s a roast chicken. It’s almond trout. It’s onion soup. It’s pate. It’s profiteroles. It’s all the things that aren’t intimidating. In a way, it’s a matter of comfort.

Finally, he thanks Las Vegans for adopting his Strip establishment, in particular his brunch.

“At the start I told the team that we want to make sure the premises are important to us. It’s not just about visitors to Las Vegas, but locals as well. And our local brunch business makes up about 30 percent of our guests. I’m really proud that the locals love to come here on the weekends and have a wonderful brunch.

Brunch is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; dinner is served from Thursday to Monday.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, the former CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

Contact Al Mancini at [email protected]. To follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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Cecil N. Messick