Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Dining and entertainment converge at Sake Rok, the Japanese restaurant with a convivial vibe that keeps diners partying through dinner. Last April, owner and CEO Albert Mack unveiled his restaurant at The Park. Here he talks about how diners have reacted to the restaurant’s performers, what dishes to order right now and what’s happening in the future.
How did Sake Rok come together?
After being in food and beverage for years, we always thought there was something missing in dining, which was the entertainment aspect. People don’t just want to go to dinner anymore. They don’t just want to see a show anymore. They want to have an event; they want to have an experience, so it made sense to try to marry the two. Sake Rok is an amalgamation of fine dining, social dining, entertainment and attractions.
What have you learned in the first year of running the restaurant?
I learned that it is not easy to have performers become professional servers, but the talent level in Las Vegas is incredible, and the performers that we feature have shown incredible drive to learn and excel in an avenue that is not the norm for them. We are so grateful for a team that has worked really hard over the past year. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
We were thinking Japanese industrial warehouse that has been vacant and left alone for years, so you have the graffiti artists that come along and just tag up the joint. You have exposed steal and a lot of concrete that looks like it’s been used over the years. We wanted something that was going to give this really cool, gritty, industrial and of course Asian feel.
What was the menu testing process like?
The testing process was difficult. You need your executive chef have a vision of a venue that isn’t there yet. We were under construction the whole time we were creating and testing the menu. We couldn’t even step foot into the building until 3 days prior to opening. So, to test the menu, we were using an offsite location that was actually a bar that had nothing to do with Japanese food; it had nothing to do with our style, so the culinary team and management had to literally visualize the entire menu, this whole process and experience with not ever being in the restaurant. It was difficult, but I give them all the credit in the world. They came out with a killer menu, and from the very beginning people absolutely loved the food.
Has Las Vegas embraced the restaurant?
Without a doubt, and we are really grateful for that. Locals, hospitality industry professionals and tourists not only love it, but they are talking to friends and family about it and letting people know that this is a dining experience that is different than anything else in the community.
Six months in, what changed?
Six months in we started to fine tune. The first six months was a bit of controlled chaos. We had eight to 12 different performances, we had our menu, our servers, our performers and a mix between the two, and we had to figure out how to get them all to jive together. What we found was that some of those performances didn’t work, while some of them were the absolute best. We nixed the ones that didn’t work and made sure we did the favorites more and more. Same with the menu — some of the food didn’t get ordered, and some of the food would sell out of every night. A lot of that first six months was finding our groove and trying to provide the very best to our guests based on what our guests showed us they wanted. It was all about listening and constantly making changes while showing people the ultimate Sake Rok experience.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in the first year?
Bruno Mars coming in for dinner because he heard it was amazing and wanted to see the performances. It was surreal and extremely unexpected.
How about the craziest thing?
The craziest thing that has happened this year is seeing the amount of response we’ve gotten from locals and tourists alike. Las Vegas — both on and off Strip — has no lack of amazing restaurants. We are really fortunate that people choose to spend their time in our venue.
What's the must-order dish of the moment?
My favorite dish right now is the togarashi seared salmon. It’s thinly sliced, seared and served with an incredible truffle oil sauce that you’re not going to want to give up. That said, I also really love the new steaks we just added to the menu. The A5 Wagyu New York strip and tenderloin are out of this world!
What’s on tap for the future?
We would love to roll Sake Rok out to a few different cities as well as introduce some new concepts — all that include entertainment and dining with different genres of food — here in Las Vegas. We’re working on it, so stay tuned.
• All Coverage of Sake Rok [ELV]
• All One Year In Features [ELV]