Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Owners Chris Holding and Van-Alan Nguyen opened their 595 Craft & Kitchen as a warm and welcoming place for beer nerds, familiar neighbors, curious customers, or just someone who happened to be in the area searching for a great meal and a cheap pint. Now one year after opening, the duo looks back on the restaurant. Here, Nguyen shares some of his insights from the past 365 days.
What made you decide to open 595 Craft and Kitchen?
Our dream was to open a neighborhood and community oriented place with craft beer as a central focus. All of our favorite places to hang out with friends at are casual places where you can come in, grab some great beers and bites, hang out with your friends, and appreciate the liquid in the glass. After visiting Las Vegas over the course of two years to learn about local craft beer community, we saw how tight knit it was and saw an opportunity to contribute as on the retail side.
What have you learned in the first year of running 595?
Whether it’s ensuring compliance to city codes, dealing with staffing issues, sourcing product consistently, or building sales, there’s a million reasons a restaurant can fail. We learned that by protecting the quality of our products, employing an amazing team of service-minded people who can build genuine relationships with our guests, and creating a warm and welcoming environment for people with all walks of life to call their home bar, we have overcome every obstacle that we’ve been challenged with. We believe that by focusing on those core principles for our business, we have an honest shot to thrive in the community.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
Because we inherited an existing restaurant space, we didn’t have much flexibility in terms of layout of the bar and dining area. We knew that craft beer took precedence above all else, so we figured out what needed to happen to have a high quality draft system installed, and molded everything else around that. The need for the draft system and the refrigeration space that it occupied ultimately shaped our menu. We had to convert our freezer into a regular cooler, which forced us to rethink our menu, which resulted in a some unexpected but welcomed surprises.
Did you change the menu at all? If so, what was the menu testing process like?
Conceptualizing the menu was a collaborative effort between me, Chris, and our good friend chef Walter Manikowski, who was the executive chef of the Currant American Brasserie with nine years tenure at the time. We explored taking traditional pub food favorites like burgers, fries, wings, and salads, then incorporating them with Asian flavors like fish sauce, soy, ginger, lemon grass, and gochujang. The result was an eclectic menu that offered a couple fun and funky flavors but was still approachable enough for guests to dive into.
After that, the biggest change resulted from converting our freezer to a refrigerator. Our philosophy drastically changed from offering great products that were quick and easy to execute, to serving the freshest products possible to our guests. That then sparked the passion for us to take pride in the kitchen operations and opened our eyes to understand how different the quality of foods are when you create them from scratch versus frozen or pre-made. Long story short, we partnered with companies who deliver fresh products to us six days a week (distributors don’t like to work Sundays), and create as much as we can from scratch.
Has Las Vegas embraced the location?
We have been fortunate to have the craft beer community and the locals to welcome us into the neighborhood. Because Las Vegas is in many ways still a small town, our beer distribution partners helped us get the word out and sparked interest from many craft beer fans, which gave us a bit of momentum right out of the gate. From there, we focused on the quality, service, and consistency of our operation, which will forever remain the focus for us. The feedback we’ve been receiving is largely positive to what we’re trying to accomplish, and we’re confident that our neighbors and the community sees the effort in our day to day operations.
Six months in, what changed?
From the customer’s perspective, we don’t think much has changed much since we opened. We’ve carried a great selection of diverse beers from day one, and we have been sourcing phenomenal beers every week since. Our food and beverage menus have remained largely unchanged with the exception of the constantly evolving beer menu. The focus on building relationships and a reputation in the community organically hasn’t changed either.
Our biggest changes has to be from the staff turnover. We opened the place with 45 people and we’re now down to 16 people. That’s not including the 20-plus people who were brought on after we opened. We’re thankful for having a team that put in tremendous effort to create a consistent guest experience despite all the chaos internally. Thankfully, things have stabilized and we are firing all cylinders.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in the first year?
The most unexpected thing that’s happened is the amount of regulars that we’ve built relationships with in such a short time. We’ve always envisioned being a neighborhood/locals pub, but we expected it to take years to earn that trust with the surrounding communities. Thankfully, we have a great regular customer base to hold us accountable and keep us motivated to deliver an exceptional experience every time. We have also been receiving a surprising amount of tourists visiting from around the globe who come in just to enjoy the craft beer selection and share unique stories with.
What’s the must-order dish of the moment?
Since we put on our pulled pork tacos on the menu, our pork shoulder usage has quadrupled. It comes with a tangy cilantro lime crema, pico de gallo, and chunky guacamole. Simple, clean, and super tasty.
What’s on tap for the future?
The most exciting local beer we are tapping is Joseph James’ Suave Felon, a farmhouse ale with apricot and peach, aged in merlot and chardonnay barrels for two and half years. It might be the best local sour beer we’ve tasted. We also received a keg of the Big Dog’s G-IRL Power India Rye Lager. The beer was a collaboration between the members in the Barley’s Angels group, a craft beer group comprising of female craft beer connoisseurs. Outside of that, we have an amazing lineup of barrel-aged beers from Founders Brewing Co, which includes their CBS, KBS, Dankwood, and Backwoods Bastard, which we are hoping to do an event with in the future.
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