After several years of experimenting with leased venues and private contractors, Station Casinos is back to running most of the restaurants at its properties.
The resort chain recently took over ownership and operation of several casino restaurants previously run by outside partners. Executives also renamed and redecorated a number of eateries to create consistent companywide brands.
• Station-owned Grand Cafe soon will replace the privately owned Original Pancake House at Green Valley Ranch. The flapjack chain closed locations at Green Valley Ranch and Aliante Station at the end of October. Green Valley Ranch previously housed a Grand Cafe, but that restaurant closed abut three years ago when Station outsourced the business to the Original Pancake House.
• Metro Pizza moved out of Boulder Station’s food court and was replaced with Slices, a Station-owned pizza parlor and fast-food counter.
• Station last month rebranded its Italian restaurants at Sunset Station, Palace Station, Aliante Station, Texas Station and Boulder Station. All are now Pasta Cucinas. Station owned the restaurants’ predecessors but wanted to change their names to provide a consistent and recognizable brand to customers across properties.
• Similarly, company officials took over the former Camacho’s Mexican restaurant at Aliante Station, which was privately owned, and transformed in-house Guadalajara Mexican restaurants at Sunset and Boulder Stations into Cabo Mexican Restaurants. Cabo locations already were in place at Red Rock Resort, Palace Station and Santa Fe Station.
Mark LaVoie, Station’s vice president of food and beverage, says customers prefer company-owned restaurants and like knowing what to expect when they sit down for a meal. Eateries controlled by the company, as opposed to those operated under contract, allow for consistency across properties, he said.
“As the company grew, we realized we had similar restaurants under different names that were successful to different degrees,” LaVoie said. “It made sense to take the strongest brands — with their recipes, color profiles and designs — and expand them.”
Cross-branding gives Station “more bang for its buck” when developing recipes and building marketing campaigns, LaVoie said, and allows the company to incorporate restaurants into hotel and casino promotions.
But the changes in restaurant operations signal a shift in thinking for the Fertitta family, the Station properties’ owners. The Fertittas began divesting of Station restaurants in the late 2000s when Las Vegas sank into a recession and the company’s profits fell.
Starting in 2008, in an effort to save money, Station replaced almost a dozen in-house cafes at six properties with Denny’s and Coco’s. Casinos commonly outsource restaurants to reduce their risk and expenses, but such a move can also remove casinos’ control over quality and service.
The shift saved Station money, but the decision didn’t sit well with workers or the Culinary Union. Station spokeswoman Lori Nelson said at the time the company struck a deal with the chain operators to retain a majority of Station workers at equal pay and hours, but union members claimed the change resulted in longtime employees being fired. They also complained that health premiums for remaining workers skyrocketed.
Station Casinos for years has waged a vicious battle with the union. The Culinary has tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to unionize Station’s 13,000 workers, and the fight has intensified in recent years. Union members allege the casino group, which owns or manages 18 valley casinos, mistreats Latino workers and has violated dozens of federal labor laws. Station Casinos accuses the union of engaging in an ongoing campaign of harassment.
Only since restructuring financially has Station found enough footing to once again take on the risk of running most of its properties’ restaurants. The company filed bankruptcy in July 2009, and CEO Frank Fertitta III and his brother Lorenzo Fertitta invested nearly $200 million to reorganize. The process allowed Station to shed more than $4 billion in debt, and the Fertittas emerged its largest shareholders with a 45 percent stake.
As the economy began to improve this year, Station announced it planned to hire 1,000 people, take back leased restaurant space and improve service. Three hundred of those jobs went to workers in five Grand Cafes that returned to space previously leased to Coco’s.
“Even though there are financial ramifications, we talked to our guests and that’s what they wanted,” LaVoie said. “How can you not listen? We’ve been successful with restaurants in the past, and it was time to go back.”