A new diner debuts in downtown Las Vegas on Saturday, November 4 with a vintage-inspired 3,000-square-foot space, an electronic marquee on the wall, and a brand spanking new kitchen. In total, transforming the lot in the Huntridge neighborhood into Winnie & Ethel’s totaled about one million dollars. But its owners, Aaron Lee and Mallory Gott, won an unprecedented contest, awarding them the restaurant and all its contents — for free.
The contest was The Great Las Vegas Coffee Shop Giveaway, a contest put on by Dapper Companies, a real estate development firm in Southern Nevada that has taken a vested interest in a shopping center on Charleston Boulevard at Maryland Parkway. Anchored by the Huntridge Theater, Dapper is pouring money into the center, restoring the historic theater, sprucing up the exteriors on existing businesses, and opening new ones — like the diner’s neighbor, Yukon Pizza.
Lee and Gott were one team out of about 90 to submit applications to win a coffee shop of their own imagining. Lee, a chef who previously cooked in kitchens like that of fellow downtown restaurant, Esther’s Kitchen, and Gott who comes from a background of event design and marketing, submitted their plans for a cozy 24-hour diner that draws on the nostalgia of the historic neighborhood. “The 1940s is really the era where this neighborhood came into existence,” says Gott, who also lives in the Huntridge. “The ‘40s is when that theater first went up. There’s a lot history in this area and it’s a great history to tell.” In May of 2022, the couple learned that they won — along with the team at Dinette Luncheonette, who are opening a diner in the southwest area.
Gott and Lee applied the names of her great-grandmother and his grandmother for Winnie & Ethel’s. The interior harkens to nearly a century ago with subdued floral wallpaper, lacy curtains, vintage pendant lighting, and antique dishes peppering the dining room.
And Lee’s menu draws on comfort foods of yesteryear. One dish is the French dip ($15), made with super tender pot roast instead of the more traditional roast beef. The roll is piled with caramelized onions, provolone, and horseradish mayo and lightly toasted, keeping everything from getting too soggy when dipped into a cup of jus — a beef stock so rich it also goes in the French onion soup, ($11) beneath a baguette-slice crouton and thick melted cheese. As finalists in the contest last year, the diner team served a few dishes in a trial pop-up — one of which, the Nutter Butter French toast ($14) — is now a permanent menu item. It’s stuffed with peanut butter and slathered in caramelized bananas and crushed cookies.
Malted pancakes and malted waffles ($8-13) can be made with chocolate chips and topped with stewed berries and they all come with creamy maple butter. One of Lee’s favorites, the meatloaf sandwich ($15), combines a thick slice of loaf with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, and a layer of lingonberry jam. True to its diner roots, dessert comes in the form of a super-rich chocolate pudding with whipped cream and malted milkshakes — also available in boozy varieties ($12).
Lee describes a diner as a community joint for breakfast on the weekends. “You always get the server who is very loving and always refills your coffee,” he says. To that end, endless cups of coffee cost 25 cents when ordered with an $8 entree. And you can get it with cream or sugar — no fancy espresso machine here. “My hope is that in 25 or 30 years, somebody thinks about being a kid and coming to the diner on Sunday mornings or for birthday breakfast. And if we get really lucky, maybe ‘do you remember when you proposed to me there?’” says Gott. And she really wants someone to get engaged at Winnie & Ethel’s. She designed the floor plan to accommodate a dance floor if the space is ever used to host events.
The owners think that, without the prize money, they still could have made the diner come to fruition — if they won the Powerball or maybe saved up over 10 or 15 years. The prize included the custom build-out and everything needed to get the doors open. Plus local sponsors like Yesco, the maker of Las Vegas’s most famous signs, donated the signage. The Sysco food distributor donated $10,000 in food and $2,500 in other supplies, plus the menu printing and commercial kitchen space for hiring kitchen staff. Other local companies bought gift cards for the diner to provide to customers, a banking partner threw in $5,000 in cash. And other businesses provided lighting, tile, and financial planning support services.
“We have been leap-frogged so far forward, and we’re so fortunate. To be able to come out of the gate with a restaurant that looks the way it looks, the equipment package that we have. It’s unbelievable,” says Gott. “I think we also both take it pretty seriously that we owe the people around us. We want this place to be amazing because we’ve been given this unbelievable gift.”
Starting Saturday, Winnie & Ethel’s is open at 1130 East Charleston Boulevard #140 Wednesday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. In early December, they plan to remain open until 10 p.m. And they expect to serve pancakes, sandwiches, boozy shakes, beer, and cocktails like vodka-based cherry limeades and Moscow mules 24 hours a day starting next year.