Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one-year anniversary.
Jeffrey Bank [Photo: Carmine's]
Carmine's debuted last July with one of the biggest restaurants to open in Vegas, a mammoth tribute to all things Italian. At 28,000-square-foot, the two-story restaurant at the Forum Shops at Caesars serves up big parties with ease, touting a 25-year-old menu of dishes your Italian grandmother made for Sunday dinner in portions meant to satisfy four to six. And if the size of the dishes doesn't impress, then maybe the 125,000 meatballs, the 12,000 softball scoops of ice cream, the 14,869 pounds of garlic, the 9,915 chicken parmesans, the 22,654 pounds of Romano cheese or the 25,362 gallons of marinara sauce served will. Here, Jeffrey Bank, the CEO of parent company Alicart Restaurant Group, talks about the first year of this mammoth triumph on the Strip.
How did Carmine's come together?
The original in New York City is one of the busiest restaurants in New York state with 1.2 million diners per year. What's another town that would have that amount of people? Vegas and Orlando. Vegas we loved. It's not easy to find a good space for us in the 28,000-square-foot range. We don't turn into a nightclub at night. We're straight meatballs, not bottle service.
We saw the prices were high on the Strip. We knew we could come in with value. What's been going on this first year is the locals who come to the Strip to eat at a reasonable price point. If I show up with four or five or six people, this is the best place to pick up with the check. Everyone's loving our food check system. You can go see Celine, go shopping and pick up your food on the way out.
We've been doing a ton of parties. We have conventions, locals, tourists — it's a dense population in a small area.
How has it been different in Las Vegas than in New York?
The quality of the staff is great. New York has great staff, but it has 80 million people. Three are great out of 10. In Vegas, you have nine out of 10. There's really a hospitality mentality here.
It's more transient here than in New York. In New York, they've been here for 15 years and still want to be an actor. There's some movement. The quality of chefs is great. It's a small town as big as it is.
What have you learned in the first year?
That it doesn't matter when someone tells you it's a dry heat. When it's 177, it's hot. It's the only job I've gone to in shorts and a T-shirt and changed when I got to work.
It doesn't matter if the sun goes down. It's 99 at midnight. Where's my Carmine's water bottle?
People appreciate value and we get so many customers coming back and eating twice in one trip. I want to experience so much when I travel. We have people coming back a day or two later. That's fun. You don't get that as much in New York City or other places.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
It's all about the wow factor — the food, the quality of food, the space. It was created with a wow factor in mind with 65-foot ceilings, a huge bar, a mezzanine, nine private dining rooms, a balcony overlooking the Linq. When we have 200 to 300 at lunch it seems jamming. Then we have 800 at night and it seems jamming.
What was the menu testing process like?
We haven't changed the menu in 25 years. We use our own marinara with every order made from scratch. Chef Michael is fantastic. The chicken parmesan here is the same as the chicken parmesan in New York. We have such a stable kitchen. It's great to be able to order calamari, the chicken parmesan and it's great. It's the same everywhere. That's kind of unusual when you're not McDonald' and serving frozen food.
I think we have a couple more drinks on the menu. We thought possibly people would drink more in Vegas. Maybe if they drank in D.C. there wouldn't be so much disagreement.
We have a 46-ounce porterhouse for $89 and four people are eating that. That's $23 per person. You can't eat for $23 and I'll put my steak up against anyone's. If you have four or six or more people, you should be eating at Carmine's.
No restaurant wants 12 people walking in. We can seat 23, 15 and 19 at the same time mixed in with everyone. Grab the two people behind you and eat and they can eat for free.
Six months in, what changed?
The calendar. That was January. Convention season took off. When we first opened, we didn't book a lot of conventions. During CES, we were jamming on top of our regular business. We'd have a 6:30 seating with 800 people who would leave in an hour, then another 800, then 400. We had 2,000 in four hours and we're done, fast and efficiently.
What's the must order dish of the moment?
The steak Contadina, penne al vodka, chicken parmesan, the Caesars salad, the calamari. The Titanic is trending on Instagram at #CarminesTitanic. The tiramisu is fantastic. We have great fish dishes.
What's on tap for the future?
I'm going to wait for it to cool off here. I'm trying to figure some things out. Our big brand is Carmine's. It makes sense for us to follow with a Virgil's. If we're here, we're here. It's logical for a Virgil's to be next.
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· All Coverage of Carmine's [~ELV~]
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