Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater Vegas talks with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.
Chef Jamie Tran, Andy Hooper and Jon Schwalb, the three partners behind The Black Sheep, debuted their media darling a year ago last May in the southwest part of Las Vegas at 8680 W. Warm Springs Road, taking over a former Soulfish Poke space in a strip mall. Once the trio discovered they had a hit on their hands in a small space serving only dinner with a menu of modern Vietnamese cuisine, they had to figure out what was next. Back in December, The Black Sheep won an Eater Award for Restaurant of the Year while Tran earned an Eater Award for Chef of the Year. Here, Tran shares some of her thoughts about the first year of business at The Black Sheep and what’s to come next.
How has business been going for you in the first year?
It has really been an amazing year for our team. The community has embraced us and what we’re bringing to the neighborhood, so we’re grateful for how things have been going and the support we’ve received.
Do you predict an expansion?
Having all made the transition from big successful Strip venues, my partners Jon and Andy and I know that the “right” project takes time to come together. We have some exciting ideas that we spitball and are regularly approached by landlords/developers. Our focus right now is continuing to deliver a great Black Sheep experience and improving it to get even better.
What changes do you predict in the next year?
We will continue to make seasonal changes to the menu, create new cocktails, and bring in new wines. We want our guests to feel familiar with the menu, but have new items to try and explore. Plus, we have fun with experimenting with new ingredients and flavor profiles.
When can people expect this?
The menu will change seasonally, and the next version will appear in mid-October. As for the tasting menu and events, stay tuned to our social media pages.!
Any other mistakes you’ve made with The Black Sheep that you won’t repeat?
Definitely our fair share of mistakes, but those mistakes have created opportunities for us. We originally planned for lunch and brunch, but the parking in our center is challenging and wouldn’t have created a good guest experience during the daytime. By miscalculating how much of an impact parking might have, we committed to being exclusively an evening restaurant. This allowed us to invest more heavily in the dinner period with enhanced service and a more focused, exciting menu.
What can you tell us about the menu?
The menu is comfort food influenced by my Vietnamese culture. It’s a spin on the food that I grew up with. I like to mix my classic French training with my mom’s home cooking to give our guests a modern take on seasonally inspired Vietnamese. My favorite is to use the Strip-quality ingredients I love working with but balanced with more reasonable neighborhood prices.
What’s the most popular food on the menu?
Since we’ve opened, the grilled octopus and slow-cooked short rib are consistent best sellers that we reintroduce every few months with changing seasonal vegetables and flavors.
What are some of your personal favorites on the menu?
The imperial spring rolls for sure. I ate this as a child and the rest of the team jokes about how it’s the only thing they see me eat when I need a snack.
What are you most proud of on your menu?
I’m proud of the consistency we have been recognized for. Our team has gelled over the last year and we are keeping standards high in our little place. To crank out the amount of food we do in the small space we have is a tribute to everyone. I’m proud of the bar team for continuing to expand the beverage program, with our ever-evolving cocktail list.
What adjustments did you make to the menu?
Overall, we’ve stayed true to ourselves and been consistent on the menu, but one of the major changes we did was recognize the desire and need for vegan and vegetarian options. We expanded from one item to many more, and made them more visible on our menu.
So what’s fun to get in from your suppliers?
I’m very into micro greens. I love when people bring them in from their farms and I get to meet them and learn more about their history and what they’re producing.
What significant challenges did you face in the first year and how did you overcome them?
Getting into a rhythm and flow of the restaurant and how it would all work, in terms of staffing levels and labor costs can be the make or break for many restaurants.
Tell us what you’ve got planned for the late summer and fall menus.
I’d like to introduce some different types and cuts of meat. We offer duck confit on the current menu, so maybe veal or lamb. I like the heartiness of fall and comforting dishes, so incorporating squash and root vegetables, along with citrus. I love those flavors.
With the first year out of the way, what will you focus on next?
Continuing to learn and listen is our strategy. Our guests have been amazing supporters and we want to keep being a destination for them. The challenges of the first year are behind us, and now our job is to keep delivering and rewarding their loyalty. New dishes, new cocktails, new desserts with the same attention, same service, and same value.
• All Coverage of The Black Sheep [ELV]