Thomas Keller is optimistic about the future, not just for his local Bouchon outpost at The Venetian, but for the entire restaurant industry.
“The resurgence of the desire to go out is really overwhelming,” said Keller last Friday on Bouchon’s outdoor terrace next to the pool deck of the Venetian’s remote Venezia Tower. It was his first visit to the restaurant or Las Vegas since it closed before last year, and he was encouraged by the crowd.
“Today we invited over 500 people for brunch, which is not exactly what we would do with a weekend brunch before the pandemic, but certainly what we would do with a brunch on Thursday or Wednesday. And 500 people – that’s a lot of people coming through your door. “
The classic French bistro was packed enough to reopen five days a week for dinner and three days for brunch. That’s less than the 14 meals a week before COVID-19, along with private events that have since dried up, but enough to bring back about half of the restaurant’s 200 employees.
For his part, Keller never stopped working. The original Yountville, Calif. Bouchon Bakery and its Miami restaurant, The Surf Club Restaurant, never stopped serving customers, although both of them spent some time just taking out. And the chef has lobbied and spoken to government officials at all levels on behalf of the restaurant industry.
“You know, the visit to the (former Trump) administration … was very helpful in changing the (paycheck protection program),” he says. And although his efforts to cover pandemic closings with business interruption insurance have been “frustrating” and less successful than he’d hoped, Keller says he has “learned a lot and we’ve made great strides.”
Despite these advances, the chef’s dining empire has not emerged unscathed from the pandemic. In New York City, he had to close four of his five companies. While Per Se, which has been awarded three Michelin stars, is once again delighting customers with Keller’s most sophisticated creations, all three outposts of the New York Bouchon Bakery and the top-class, high-quality TAK room are now permanently closed. (TAK Room had opened in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards housing estate almost a year before the city closed.)
“Hudson Yards itself has been struggling with bad press from the start and then with COVID success,” notes Keller of the latter project that raised eyebrows and made headlines over the prices of its continental dishes a la carte. “So what do you do with a restaurant that is a year old and is exposed to a pandemic for an indefinite period of time? We weren’t the only ones killed at Hudson Yards. There are so many others – whether it’s the retail space or the restaurants – that ended up simply closing and giving up. “
The TAK room may be closed, but its spirit lives on. Miami’s Surf Club is viewed by many as a sister restaurant that has 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,” says Keller. Prior to the pandemic, a local TAK room in Wynn Las Vegas was among the most anticipated restaurant openings in 2020. Local foodies were rife with rumors about how Keller redesigned Wynn’s old country club space to suit the concept.
When asked about the project, Keller admits that many things have changed with COVID in the past year. But he’s optimistic.
“We’re excited to be coming to Las Vegas,” he says of TAK Room. “And of course we love Wynn. It’s just an ongoing conversation. We are very positive about this and hope to be there soon. “
Meanwhile, as always, Keller is delighted with his relationship with The Venetian, which was recently sold in a $ 6.25 billion deal. In fact, he said he spoke to several executives from Venice / Palazzo during his visit and everyone seemed delighted with Bouchon, a 17-year-old resident of the resort and holder of a 10-year lease signed two years ago.
“As long as we perform, 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 anyone here is concerned about anyone walking in and saying, “You’re not doing a good job,” says Keller. “Ultimately, we have a restaurant in a unique place that not everyone can do and people come.”
The chef attributes the continued success of Bouchon primarily to his employees: “We had a very strong team here from the start.” He also believes that the restaurant’s classic French cuisine will continue to resonate despite changing tastes.
“It’s food that has points of reference,” he says of the menu. “It’s a fried chicken. It’s trout almond. It’s onion soup. It’s pate. They are profiteroles. It’s all the things that aren’t intimidating. In a way, it’s about comfort. “
After all, he credits Las Vegans for embracing his strip establishment, especially his brunch.
“At the beginning I told the team that we want to make sure that the locals are important to us. It’s not just about the visitors to Las Vegas, but the locals as well. And our local brunch business makes up 30 percent of our guests. I’m really proud that the locals love to come here on the weekends and have a wonderful brunch. “
The brunch is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner is served Thursday through Monday.
The review journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, the late CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian and Palazzo.
Contact Al Mancini at [email protected] Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.