Free parking, speedy Wi-Fi, maybe a heated pool might entice you to stay at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. But it’s something else altogether that may mean you’ll never leave.
Take the successful Block 16 Urban Food Hall that the hotel opened in September.
The collection of mini-restaurant stalls is sandwiched between L.A.-based Eggslut and chef Jose Andres’ China Poblano restaurant on the resort’s second floor. Nashville’s Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, New Orleans’ District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., Portland’s Lardo and Pok Pok Wing, Vegas-based Tekka Bar and an outpost of New York tequila bar Ghost Donkey are pressed together in a 4,000-square-foot space.
“Sticky” is the word hotel operations executives use to describe elements that entice their guests (and their wallets) to hang around. You like the convenience and choices for a good grab-and-go meal; they like the dollars you’re spending.
“When we opened Eggslut and saw the long lines, we quickly realized there was strong unmet demand for food in the $15-$20 price range,” said Simon Pettigrew, the hotel’s senior vice president of resort operations.
“We were looking for a way to be stickier. Keep[ing] your customers within your four walls has been the name of the game in Vegas forever. Comped suites, show tickets, dinners at your best restaurants — we’re always looking to create new ways to entice people to come here and stay once they get here.”
Since opening 10 years ago, the 3,000-room hotel has been a beacon for the L.A. crowd. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports that about a quarter of Vegas’ visitors drive or fly from the Southland.
At the Cosmopolitan, though, that number is nearly 40%, Pettigrew said. Instead of opening Vegas outposts of familiar L.A.-based restaurants,, the hotel chose to recruit fast-casual favorites from outside the region.
Each mini-restaurant serves grab-and-go options designed with convention attendees, budget travelers and the late-night crowd in mind.
Rick Gencarelli, the owner and chef behind Lardo, whose specialties include a roasted, crisp-skinned porchetta sandwich and twice-fried french fries, said he couldn’t say no to an opportunity to expand his Lardo brand to Vegas.
“Portlanders can be very possessive of their restaurants and feel like you’re a sellout if you open outside of Portland,” Gencarelli said. “But that hasn’t been the case here.
“Casual counter service is where everyone’s going these days, and there’s nothing like this anywhere else in Vegas. It’s kind of crazy to think I’ve gone from a food cart to being in the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and just six years.”
Andy Ricker, the chef and owner of Pok Pok Wing, said, “These guys really curated something special here.” He closed Pok Pok L.A. last year and shut down Pok Pok New York in September after a six-year run, the same weekend Pok Pok Wing opened in Vegas.
If Pok Pok Wing is successful at Cosmopolitan, Riker said he would look at expanding it beyond the West.
“Ithought we could use this as a test to see if the concept worked to roll out to other markets,” he said.
The owners of District, Hattie B’s and Lardo say they, too, will use their experience at Block 16 to chart future expansion opportunities.
“This is our first store out West, and we weren’t sure people out here would understand the hot chicken thing,” Hattie B’s co-owner Brian Morris said. “But guess what? They sure do.”
Morris said he’s looking at opening Hattie B’s units in Dallas and Austin, Texas.
“The Cosmopolitan demographic is the same as ours on Magazine Street [in New Orleans], and the line for coffee and donuts never stops,” said District co-owner Aaron Vogel, who adds that he’s now considering opening in other markets beyond New Orleans.
The Cosmopolitan’s Pettigrew said sales and customer traffic at Block 16 have exceeded their expectations too.
“Resorts are designed to be sticky, and Egglsut was our ‘aha’ moment,” said Pettigrew, who oversees Cosmopolitan’s resort operations.
“We realized that not every meal needs to be a sit-down, $90 meal. People want to get in and out in 30 minutes, especially our convention visitors and late-night crowd.”
Michael Hiller writes about restaurants, chefs, hotels, travel and Las Vegas. Follow him on Instagram @CheckingInCheckingOut.