Restaurants in the Arts District thrive on the spirit of independent owners


There is a truism among the redevelopment package that when a neighborhood begins to recover, cafes come first, followed by restaurants.

“I would definitely agree with that assessment,” said Josh Molina, co-owner of Makers & Finders on Main Street, which in 2014 became the first café and hospitality industry’s second company to establish itself in the area. of the arts during this would become a new wave of growth.

In 2012, Molina had recently graduated from UNLV and was setting the stage for a business.

“At the time, Fremont East was sort of at its peak,” he said. “I was very interested in Fremont East, did a lot of research and spoke to real estate agents. It was already overpriced. We had to face the fact that we are a startup and cannot afford high real estate rates.

So he started looking elsewhere, but nearby. When Velveteen Rabbit first opened on Main Street in 2013, he noticed how crowded it was.

“The arts district was emerging,” Molina said. “The neighborhood pioneers were independent operators. I thought, “Maybe this will be a neighborhood of independent operators. I had seen him in other towns across the country. “This is a neighborhood that is being redeveloped, and we need to be part of it.” “

Today, Molina has four stores in Southern Nevada, and the Arts District’s exponential growth has been built on by its many independent businesses.

‘It was a little scary’

Pamela Dylag, who owns Velveteen Rabbit with her sister Christina, said they chose the Arts District because of what it wasn’t.

“It was just the energy of Fremont at the time” that kept them from moving there, she said. “It’s more connected to casinos. We didn’t want to be the bar for the late night party, taking shots. We wanted to have a more relaxed cocktail bar.

But she will admit some doubts.

“The first two years it was a little scary,” Dylag said. “We were like the only place open at night, on our street mostly, but in our neighborhood. And that was our first deal, so it wasn’t like we had all that confidence. We didn’t have a lot of support at the start. Some people thought we were crazy.

Jennifer Cornthwaite knows the feeling. Her husband, Michael, had been a pioneer in Fremont East, opening the Downtown Cocktail Room in 2007: “He was the crazy bastard who opened a bar there. She was involved in business there and is now a community manager for Jonathan Kermani, who owns the Arts Factory, Art Square and other Arts District properties.

Fremont East’s growth came quickly, guided by late Zappo founder Tony Hsieh and his pet Downtown Project (now DTP). “I certainly think there is merit in the fact that Fremont East had such a blow in the arm with the Downtown Project,” she said. “But these rents have started to increase; naturally people will look closely but elsewhere. Cornthwaite said she believed the multiplicity of landowners in the Arts District helped fuel her streak of independence.

Ready for a restaurant

James Trees, who opened Esther’s Kitchen on Casino Center Boulevard in 2018, agrees with the theory about moving business forward in a redevelopment area. He saw cafes open, antique shops, other galleries.

“You had all of these great places up and down Main Street,” Trees said. “The only thing preventing people from being here is that they have nowhere to eat. You had to leave the neighborhood to really have a substantial meal.

Trees, who had just returned to his hometown of Las Vegas after a decade in Southern California, felt the Arts District was ready for a restaurant.

“One of the things that I saw and really liked was that you didn’t just have the Juhl and the (residential) towers that are around here, then you had the Scotch of the 80 years ; it’s another great neighborhood, ”Trees said. “The area of ​​downtown Huntridge is just fantastic. OK, so this is where the cool Las Vegas people live. Why wouldn’t you want to open a neighborhood restaurant for these people? And which restaurant is found in each neighborhood? Cal-Italian, market driven, with some really classic but simple stuff.

Ergo, Esther’s kitchen.

“The whole point of Esther’s is being a neighborhood restaurant,” Trees said. He pointed out that even as the Las Vegas Raiders played at home on Monday night, a game broadcast on TV, Esther’s was still full.

“There is such a diverse crowd here that we are busy every day,” he said. “The only way this restaurant is successful is that the people of Las Vegas eat there every day.”

And like other operators, Trees said it welcomes competition.

“I love to see all the new restaurants popping up and doing amazing things,” he said. “Across (California Street) is the best brewery in town at CraftHaus. Garagiste is the best wine bar in town one kilometer away.

“The local feeling”

Garagiste, also on California Street, is owned by Mario Enriquez, a certified sommelier, and Eric Prato, an advanced sommelier. Enriquez said they did not consider Fremont East; “We didn’t want to include anyone else in our business. They looked in the suburbs, all over the valley. The numbers in the Arts District weren’t quite there.

“It just hadn’t developed a downtown wine market and the median income of a luxury business,” he said. But they saw potential.

“By being right here and seeing what Esther’s, Velveteen Rabbit could have done, seeing the buzz in the area and knowing it was about to explode, we made the decision to open in the arts district, ”he said. “So far it has turned out to be the best choice we’ve made.”

He attributes the strength of the neighborhood to the people who live there and nearby.

“I think the greatest strength of the Arts District is the overwhelming sense of local culture,” he said. “We are surrounded by many very touristy areas. I think the local feeling is its biggest draw. And everyone here is a local business owner.

Including Kim Owens, who opened Main St. Provisions in December after a career spent primarily with Double Eagle Steakhouse in Del Frisco, where she eventually served as National Vice President of Operations. Owens said she too looked across the valley.

“I fell in love with the Arts District because business owners are operators too,” she said. “They are in their spaces all the time. They didn’t just open up and walk away from them. I was looking for a community to be surrounded by, and felt that this was the perfect community to be around.

‘So proud of this’

Ryan Matson is one of the neighborhood’s newest business owners, having opened Bungalow Coffee Co. on East Charleston Boulevard in March. This is one of at least five cafes in the Arts District, but he’s not intimidated by the fact.

“I think everyone has their own little market,” he said. “We created a space where people could collaborate and come together. He said he had just attended a meeting for a construction project in which blueprints were spread out on his conference table.

“I think it all comes together,” Matson said. “Cafes bring daytime traffic, breweries bring night traffic, for an ever-changing rotation of people. I think we are all important pieces here.

“I am so happy and thrilled,” Dylag said. “I can’t repeat this enough, with everything that has happened in our neighborhood. I can’t even follow the opening of the businesses, and they are my neighbors. There are young business leaders, young women. Lots of diversity. I am so proud of it.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at [email protected] To follow
@HKRinella on Twitter.

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