Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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The state of local restaurants: The menu has changed

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Iris Dumuk

One of the things Jerry Mannino has kept from the previous incarnation of his Italian restaurant is the gelato bar.

Jerry Mannino’s Italian restaurant, Pizzeria Enzo, isn’t doing nearly as well as he hoped, but you wouldn’t know that from his smile. He recognized that just to be operating a business in this climate is an accomplishment. And Mannino has come to realize that even in the worst of times, attitude is important. You will rarely not see him in his restaurant, walking the floor, greeting customers, working behind the counter, always with a gracious attitude.

“I do think there will be more restaurants shutting their doors, but those who focus on cost, service and great food, those people will make it.”

Mannino has learned this in the hardest way possible. This is a guy who, in the 11 years he’s lived in Las Vegas, has run three successful restaurants in the Venetian; at one time he had five partners in his current space in the Silverado Center on Eastern Avenue when it opened as La Golosita in 2007. But even Mannino could not have imagined how quickly things would turn sour in the Silver State.

In those heady days, Mannino says, the partners didn’t think twice about offering an upscale menu at an upscale price. “We wanted fine dining like at the Venetian, but at half the price,” he says. And even though that came out to about $25 per person, it was too expensive for a population losing jobs and homes. Despite Mannino’s urging to lower prices, the partners couldn’t come to an agreement. “Partners get along great when you’re making money,” he says, grinning.

Mannino bought out his partners and now runs the space by himself, with significantly reduced prices. “Most restaurants will design a menu, figure out the costs and establish a price point, but I did it in reverse. I started with, ‘What can I offer for $10 to $14?’”

He was careful this time. Before he reopened on September 9, he spent six months studying the area’s restaurants and prices, noting the fate of most of the other restaurants in Silverado Center—only two of the restaurants that opened in 2007 are still there. Others have changed owners at least once; some have changed four times.

“I think restaurants in this area were hit hard because people were buying homes they couldn’t afford, and rents for businesses were more expensive [in 2007],” Mannino says. “There are now lots less people living here.”

One of Mannino’s original objections to La Golosita was the name. “I just thought it was too hard to remember.” But choosing Pizzeria Enzo as a name presents its own potential for confusion—there’s an Enzo’s Pizzeria on Sunset and a Pizzeria da Enzo in the Venetian, neither of which are associated with his eatery.

Add to all this Mannino’s reliance on word-of-mouth advertising, and it’s clear he faces an uphill battle.

“I’m still not at the point I want to be, but I believe I will make it.”

Katherine Jacobi, president and CEO of the Nevada Restaurant Association, says while numbers for restaurants across America are up slightly, Nevada has not fared so well.

High-end restaurant revenue was down a whopping 45 percent in 2009, while local restaurant revenue was down from 14-20 percent, depending on region, Jacobi says. Restaurant closings are hard for Jacobi’s organization to gauge since they only have numbers for members; membership in the association dropped 17 percent in 2009. However, Jacobi says that doesn’t necessarily mean the restaurants closed. Membership in the association is expensive, and members could just be canceling it to save money, she explained.

“We are hopeful,” she says. “The cost of goods are stabilizing. We expect there will be an uptick [in business] closer to the third quarter of this year.”

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