For Coast, practical equals palatable - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

As restaurants with pricey menus become ever bigger profit centers for casinos, the Coast Casinos chain is choosing to stick to a tried-and-true strategy at its upcoming South Coast resort that will instead emphasize value and comfort over glamour.

Christopher Johns, the executive chef at the Orleans hotel and casino for the past nine years, was recently appointed director of food for the South Coast and is assembling a team of chefs who will oversee the resorts six restaurants.

"Some of the older chefs in the business still use the term loss leader, Johns said. "Some of the newer chefs dont understand the concept. We want the customer to feel comfortable and relaxed and to get a good value for their money."

The $600 million South Coast, which opens early next year at the southwest corner of Silverado Ranch Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, is the most expensive neighborhood casino to date for Coast and parent company Boyd Gaming Corp., which acquired Coast a year ago.

It will open with 660 rooms, a bowling center, 16-screen movie theater, showroom, convention center and outdoor activity area. It eventually will expand to 1,350 rooms, adding a spa and fitness center.

The casino also will be the first in town with an equestrian center that will feature 4,400 seats, horse stalls, cattle pens, a feed store, veterinarian clinic and a hospitality suite.

Boyd has big expectations for the resort, the first to open along the growing "South Strip" corridor south of Mandalay Bay. The property is expected to attract a potentially lucrative mix of locals moving into new neighborhoods as well as tourists driving into Las Vegas from Interstate 15.

Half of the restaurants at the South Coast are adaptations of existing restaurants at other Coast properties that have successfully catered to tourists as well as locals.

"Coast has always presented a quality product at a value price for customers," Johns said. "We intend to continue that reputation down here."

Don Vitos Italian and Seafood, a dinner spot that will serve traditional and more modern Italian dishes, is a takeoff on Vitos, a now-closed Orleans restaurant.

Baja Miguels Mexican, a restaurant serving lunch and dinner that will feature traditional and modern dishes, is a variation on Miguels restaurants at the Orleans and Suncoast properties.

And Big Sur Oyster Bar, a lunch and dinner spot modeled on popular oyster bars at the Orleans and Suncoast, features an open kitchen where fresh fish are cooked in kettles and meat is also on the menu.

While tourists will be a big component of the resorts business, the restaurants also will appeal in large part to locals.

A 700-seat buffet and a 24-hour cafe, in particular, are intended to be loss leaders that cater to locals. The buffet will change its menu regularly so that returning customers will see something different several times a week, Johns said. The cafe will feature some sort of prime rib special as well as graveyard specials, he said.

The company has learned that locals can be picky.

Regulars at the Suncoasts Senor Miguels restaurant were put off by changes made to the menu, for example.

"We tried to get a little too creative," said Tom Mikovits, marketing director of the Suncoast who recently was appointed to that position at South Coast. "That lasted about two weeks."

A centerpiece of the South Coast is Dukes Steakhouse, a restaurant that will serve dry-aged beef shipped in from Nebraska. The steakhouse also will have an extensive wine list and an upscale desert menu, all served in an elegant setting.

While the steakhouse and 24-hour cafe are important for a casino setting, all of the restaurants will serve a valuable function in that they aim to draw repeat business, Johns said.

"A lot of (casinos are) too pretentious at the opening," he said. "We found out through experience that when a customer comes in theyre looking for quality and consistency. You start off giving a quality product and do the best you can and develop from there with a more extensive menu."

All of the restaurants will be owned and operated by Coast, though there may be an opportunity later on for a leased operation, Johns said.

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