2017 UNLVino Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence Honorees and a Chat with Martin Koleff, Consultant to Aburiya Raku Las Vegas

This year, UNLVino honors three new recipients of the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. Read on for a brief bio of each honoree, and a special interview with Martin Koleff restaurant stylist of Raku.

Saké Fever: Mitsuo Endo

Chef Mitsuo Endo is probably most well known in Las Vegas for his restaurants Aburiya Raku and Sweets Raku. Endo started as an apprentice in Tokyo in 1988, learning Kaiseki Japanese cuisine. At 30 years old, he decided to follow his dream and move to the U.S. to open his own restaurants. After working in Seattle and New York, Endo met Chef Koji Imai in 2002, who became his mentor and joined his group as Executive Chef of MEGU Tribeca and Midtown.

After 5 years, Chef Endo decided it was time to branch out. In 2008, Endo debuted his very own Aburiya Raku. The concept took off almost immediately, as the Izakaya concept was new to Las Vegas at the time. In 2013, Endo opened Sweets Raku, which was highly innovative, being a restaurant that served a prix fixe menu of desserts only.

Chef Endo at Saké Fever has participated as one of the first locally owned independent Japanese restaurants since the Saké-themed event first began. Both Aburiya and Sweets Raku booths draw an endless line of people at UNLVino waiting patiently for the delectable charcoal-grilled skewers and desserts.

Bubble-Licious: Jon Taffer

You may know him as the “Bar Rescue” guy, but Jon Taffer is well-respected for his hospitality consulting. Restaurants/bars are the focus of his popular TV show; however, Taffer has consulted for many other venues nightclubs, entertainment venues, resort facilities, etc..

After taking on a part-time job as a bartender while in school for political science, he began management positions at The Troubador and Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. From there, he began consulting and then entrepreneurship with his own bar in 1989, the first of many businesses to come.

As President of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, which puts on the annual convention and trade show in Las Vegas, Taffer has made a huge impact on the nightclub, bar and entertainment industry in Las Vegas and beyond.

Grand Tasting: David Hoenemeyer

After his initial career experience working for Hilton Hotels and Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, David Hoenemeyer relocated to Las Vegas in 1996, working as Director of Operations for The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

In 1998, he started with Harrah’s Las Vegas as VP of F&B/Retail, working his way up to Assistant GM, and later General Manager of Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas. In 2010, Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino was added to Hoenemeyer’s responsibilities, and in 2011, Hoenemeyer was promoted to Regional President for the three properties. What better venue to honor him than at his very own Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino?

Special Interview with Martin Koleff, Restaurant Stylist and Marketing Mastermind Behind Chef Mitsuo Endo’s Aburiya Raku and Sweets Raku

This month, I had the opportunity to speak with Martin Koleff, consultant for Raku restaurants, as well as many other Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them: Monta Ramen, Kyara Japanese Tapas, Goyemon Sushi House, Itsy Bitsy: Ramen & Whiskey, etc.

As Chef Endo’s right hand man and media representative, I chatted with him about the Raku concept and what UNLVino means to the both of them.

What makes Raku so unique? Koleff says they “have fun,” while delivering quality food and service. High-end Izakaya used to be rare in Las Vegas. Now, their reputation speaks for itself. Raku is often frequented by culinary/hospitality industry professionals in addition to regular customers. Every employee goes through extensive training. Koleff said it best in that “there’s a lot of sommeliers, servers, managers, etc. who go through [rigorous] training, and they expect the same level of service quality as well [when going out to eat].”

Advice from Chef Endo? “Being copied is the best thing that you can get from people.” Since the opening of Raku, there are now several comparable competitors in Las Vegas. Rather than thinking of them as competitors, Endo has made friends and built up a close-knit family with others in the Japanese restaurant industry community.

What does UNLVino mean to you? For Koleff and Endo, “We’re in the culinary world. If students can get a scholarship, it’s very worthwhile and helping. There’s a lot of kids out there who can’t afford it; this is our way of supporting the kids at UNLV. We donate [and do our part] by participating, which also drives the consumer participation in the UNLVino event.”

Fun Fact! Other than Koleff’s restaurant consulting for over 30 years, he is also a Japanese premium sake sales representative distributed by Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. His latest restaurant concept is Yuzu Kaiseki in Henderson. Check it out at: www.yuzukaizeki.com.

Until next month, Cheers~!