Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Adam Gewanter’s been at Tao Asian Bistro since the very beginning, ten years ago when the nightclub and restaurant made its debut at the Venetian and changed the dining landscape in Las Vegas. Celebrities galore have made this Asian restaurant a must-stop when they pass through town, celebrating life milestones.
Gewanter went into the hospitality industry despite his grandfather’s discouragement. His grandfather's hotels and restaurants suffered through the Great Depression and the elder tried to warn his grandson against a career in the same field. Gewanter couldn’t be stopped, though, and attended Johnson & Wales in Providence, R.I., working his way through college at a concert venue called Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. He later partnered with his cousin in Savannah, Ga., to open a restaurant and bar in an established pool hall. He returned to New York to work at the Regency on Park Avenue, and by 1999, joined culinary great Jean-Louis Palladin when he opened his first New York restaurant. It only took Tao co-owners Marc Parker and Rich Wolf three weeks to move him from Rue 57 over to Tao New York. Here he talks about what it takes to be the general manager of Tao Asian Bistro, the restaurant that topped the list of biggest restaurants based on sales in 2013 with an estimated $64.6 million rolling in.
What’s the busiest time right now?
We are always crowded, but our busiest times are usually during the larger convention periods, especially CES.
Did your customers get this concept right away?
It was an immediate attraction to the concept and we have been packed from day one.
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried?
We have certainly been offered some crazy gifts but have always told our guests they need a reservation and our tables aren’t for sale. We try to never turn guests away and have always offered to accommodate them in the lounge, sushi bar or at a later time from the one they’ve requested.
Tell me about your VIPs.
We have some fantastic guests that I’ve had the pleasure of looking after over the years. It is very satisfying to have VIPs come back on a regular basis because it means we are really doing things right.
Tell me about your favorite customers.
My favorite guests are those who have allowed us to help them in creating memories, have assisted us in being able to celebrate ten years and beyond in Las Vegas.
How about celebrities?
We have seen many and have had the pleasure of getting to know some of them extremely well. They know we look after them properly and with the utmost discretion.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give?
We make them feel comfortable while waiting for a table to open as we do for all of our guests.
Tell me about the craziest times at Tao.
The craziest for me was probably the all star weekend celebration of the Two Kings dinner. We had a table set on each side of the Buddha, one for Jay-Z and the other for LeBron James. The amount of star power in that room was amazing and the night was fantastic. On another night more recently, the entertainment world and the financial world all seemed to come to Tao to celebrate together. The best of the evening was how relaxed and memorable it was to look after all of them.
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated at Tao?
I was asked once if I could tell a guest a place to go and get flogged. Honestly I had never heard that word and had to ask the guest to explain the meaning. I wasn’t able to assist him with finding the proper place to go but thought that was one of the top requests I was ever asked to assist with.
What's the most popular dish right now?
Hands down the Chilean sea bass.
So, when you're not at Tao, where are you eating these days?
Other Mama and Buddha Belly Deli.
What's the must-order dish at Tao?
For me that’s the duck, no questions asked.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
Exceeding guests expectations by providing excellent service has always been a priority for the Tao team.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
Passion for the job and the support of good friends and family.