Chef’s not leaving Las Vegas, thanks to Downtown Project

by Jul 20, 2012Downtown Project0 comments

The Review JournalChef Natalie Young was packing her bags to move back to Santa Fe, N.M. when Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornthwaite introduced her to Tony Hsieh.

Cornthwaite wanted Young to stay in Las Vegas and thought the chief executive might have an offer the chef couldn’t refuse.

“The first time (Hsieh) ever met me, he said, ‘What size restaurant do you want?’ ” Young said, recalling her chance encounter at Cornthwaite’s downtown lounge.

Hsieh’s downtown revitalization group, the Downtown Project, works with small businesses interested in setting up shop downtown. The group’s $50 million small-business fund invests in entrepreneurs like Young, helps them craft business plans, find space for their new ventures and research back-end services like point-of-sale systems.

The Downtown Project’s offer of help persuaded Young to stay. In September, she will open Eat, a breakfast and lunch spot on the ground floor of an apartment building at 707 Carson Ave.

Young will serve American cuisine with New Mexican influences and a bit of French flair she picked up as a chef at the Paris’ Eiffel Tower restaurant. Prime rib hash with Hatch green chilis will be a signature dish.

“Is it community-driven?” he said. “Is the person passionate about it? Do we think they can execute it? Is it sustainable? If it meets that criteria, with community and passion being the two most important, we’ll sit down and talk.”

Since the Downtown Project’s $350 million investment pool became public last year, Welch said hundreds of businesses have expressed interest in moving downtown. Welch’s team now accepts video pitches for funding and tries to respond to every submission.

Eat is the fund’s first project. Two others, a studio, and film production company, and a boutique have been signed. A handful of others are in negotiations.

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