In a full-circle moment, acclaimed chef Alon Shaya is returning to the city where he got his start — and this time he’s opening a restaurant of his own. More than 20 years after his time in Vegas, Shaya is returning to Las Vegas to open a restaurant at the Wynn Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip, slated to open in winter 2023. The chef behind acclaimed Israeli restaurants is taking over a former nightclub to serve his award-winning modern Mediterranean cuisine.
After graduating from culinary school in 1998, the Israeli-born chef started interning at Napa at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, one of the first true French dining rooms in a casino. under the legendary chef Jean-Louis Palladin. The French chef is often credited as the one who put fine dining on the proverbial map. “Vegas really holds a special memory for me and the way my career kind of got started,” says Shaya. “It really kind of opened my eyes to the possibilities of the industry because, in Vegas, everything is so over the top.”
The new Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant will be the fourth for Pomegranate Hospitality, the restaurant consulting business founded by Shaya and his wife, restaurateur Emily Shaya. At their acclaimed restaurants, Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver —saba and safta are the Hebrew words for grandfather and grandmother, respectively — Shaya prepares the traditional home-cooking that he grew up eating. “I expect to bring my style of cooking out to Vegas and make something really, really special,” he says.
Details about the new restaurant — including its name — are few at the moment. He’s still thinking through what the menu at his Las Vegas restaurant will look like, as well as the design. His restaurant will take over the former Intrigue nightclub when it opens in winter 2023. The 14,000-square-foot nightclub featured intricate lighting, high ceilings, and an outdoor space that led to a cascading 90-foot-tall waterfall. “The restaurant is really going to have to live up to that space,” says Shaya.
Shaya moved from Israel to Philadelphia with his parents when he was just four years old. “It was a tough time to be different,” says Shaya. “When you’re that age, you just want to be the same.” He found himself home alone often as a child, and sought comfort in the kitchen. By seven, he was cooking at home, often using the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes his grandma cooked. “It’s very soulful cooking, it’s not overly contrived,” says Shaya. “A lot of spices, a lot of grains, a lot of roasted meat. And that’s going to be kind of like the base of it all.”
Shaya has been working in food service for 30 years, since he was 13, and in that time he has cooked French, Italian, American, and all sorts of other cuisines. In 2015, he won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: South,” after opening the Italian restaurant Domenica in New Orleans. But it wasn’t until the last ten years or so that he started rediscovering the cooking of his upbringing. He says that at Saba, in New Orleans, he cooks a lot of wood-fired pita bread with hummus and spice-driven vegetables. The menu at Safta boasts several varieties of hummus and spreads, plus plates of falafel, lamb kebabs, and crispy eggplant.
What he does know is that his new restaurant will continue the legacy of making the food he grew up cooking, but with his own twist. “Vegas is, to me, like a homecoming,” says Shaya. “It’s a full circle to be able to come back and express myself for this cuisine.”