Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos and visionary financial backer of Fremont East’s restaurant, bar, and cultural arts scene, died on Friday, November 27. He was 46.
Hsieh died from injuries he sustained in a house fire at a home in New London, Connecticut, on November 18, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The city’s fire department chief Thomas Curcio tells the paper that firefighters responded to a burning waterfront home at 3:34 a.m. on November 18 and removed the victim, who suffered burns and smoke inhalation. After performing CPR, medical personnel flew Hsieh to the Connecticut Burn Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
While Hsieh, one of three sons of immigrants from Taiwan, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Harvard, he found early success co-founding an online ad company that he sold to Microsoft Corp, for $265 million in 1998. He went on to invest in an online shoe company later named Zappos, selling it to Amazon in 2009 for more than $1 billion. He stayed on as CEO through last August, when he retired and invested in properties and focused his new interests in Park City, Utah.
Although many remember Hsieh for Zappos and its motto of “delivering happiness,” it’s his investments in Downtown Las Vegas that changed Fremont East from a tough-and-tumble neighborhood into a collection of restaurants and bars fronted by his $350 million Downtown Project, later renamed DTP, that he founded in 2012. The $200 million in parcels of land he purchased resembled a llama on a map, and the alpaca became not only a mascot for Hsieh, but one of his personal pets.
He funded restaurants that needed startup capital. Natalie Young opened Eat using a $225,000 loan from DTP to fund the breakfast and lunch restaurant in 2012.
“No words really,” Young writes on Facebook. “Tony changed my life . He believed in me when very few did .. I will forever be grateful.. R.I.P Tony .. I will honor you and your spirit by helping others.. do well so you can do good.”
Other new restaurants followed through a $50 million investment fund, including VegeNation, Bin 702, and Cheffini’s Hot Dogs in the Downtown Container Park, another DTP venue fronted by a praying mantis that blows fire at night. The organization also owns The Goodwich, Corduroy, The Smashed Pig, Oak & Ivy, Fergusons Downtown, and Big Ern’s BBQ, among others. The landscape of Fremont East changed from a rugged neighborhood to one that families and friends frequented.
“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world,” a spokeswoman for DTP writes. “Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.”
Hsieh was also one of the founders of Life Is Beautiful, the music, food, and arts festival in Downtown Las Vegas. “We are devastated and heartbroken by the passing of our dear friend, Tony. Tony was the driving force behind the formation of the Life is Beautiful Festival and the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas. Tony, we promise to keep seeking and building beautiful,” festival organizers wrote on Twitter.
We are devastated and heartbroken by the passing of our dear friend, Tony.— Life is Beautiful (@lifeisbeautiful) November 28, 2020
Tony was the driving force behind the formation of the Life is Beautiful Festival and the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas.
Tony, we promise to keep seeking and building beautiful. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Lep9sfB99L
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodwin recognized Hsieh’s contributions to Downtown, where he relocated Zappos in the former City Hall building in 2013. “What a tragic loss,” she wrote on Twitter. “Tony Hsieh meant so much to Las Vegas. He was always dreaming, working to inspire and leading others to create a new vision for tomorrow. Our prayers and sympathies to his family.”
What a tragic loss. Tony Hsieh meant so much to Las Vegas. He was always dreaming, working to inspire and leading others to create a new vision for tomorrow. Our prayers and sympathies to his family. pic.twitter.com/TeTwk3BGey— Carolyn G. Goodman (@mayoroflasvegas) November 28, 2020
Gov. Steve Sisolak also recognized how Hsieh, famed for living in an Airstream behind Fergusons Downtown, was a pioneer of dramatic changes in the district.
“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas. Kathy and I send our love and condolences to Tony’s family and friends during this difficult time,” he wrote on Twitter.
Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas. Kathy and I send our love and condolences to Tony’s family and friends during this difficult time https://t.co/7TXBUDWZe0— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) November 28, 2020
Derek Stevens, who owns D Las Vegas, the Golden Gate, and the new Circa in Downtown Las Vegas, says that Hsieh left an indelible mark on the city. “Supporting this City and the people within it, Tony Hsieh changed the landscape of Downtown Las Vegas. Our community will miss him greatly, rest in peace. I will miss him greatly,” he writes on Twitter.
Supporting this City and the people within it, Tony Hsieh changed the landscape of Downtown Las Vegas. Our community will miss him greatly, rest in peace. I will miss him greatly. pic.twitter.com/eWmAvgLyPM— Derek Stevens (@DerekJStevens) November 28, 2020
The Fremont Street Experience paid tribute to Hsieh on its canopied screen on Saturday night.
One of Hsieh’s final marks on Las Vegas led him to buy out James Beard Foundation finalist Dan Krohmer’s izakaya Hatsumi, Mexican restaurant La Monja, his farm in Pahrump, and a portion of his outstanding seafood restaurant Other Mama so Krohmer could become head of food and beverage for Hsieh’s future Park City developments. At the time, Krohmer says Hsieh wanted to bring more arts, culture, and food to the city.