In a career that’s taken him across the globe, Chef Marc Marrone has set up his own shop in a strip mall in southwest Las Vegas.
Marrone opened up Graffiti Bao, at 7355 S. Buffalo Dr., in September, and while the fast-casual Asian street food-inspired restaurant might not seem like much, it’s the beginning of some likely extraordinary things from the chef after a long stint with Tao Group.
Graffiti Bao’s origins start in April at T-Mobile Arena—where two carts can still be found during Golden Knights games—and it kicks off a slate of projects by Marrone, including Italian Graffiti, Graffiti Pizza and a downtown Las Vegas rooftop restaurant.
Tell me a little bit about your background, growing up…
I grew up in a pretty standard Italian American household in New York, and basically I was one of those kids that free time wasn't really my best friend. One day my dad was like, listen, in between sports and school, I got your job. So he got me a job at a steak house in New York: washing dishes, peeling potatoes. It was supposed to be more of like a punishment, but honestly, it was like one of the coolest jobs. I loved it: the energy, the kitchen and just working with everybody and hanging out. And then as a kid growing up, my mom and grandmother cooked a lot, so I was always around food and food was always a thing where every Saturday at my grandmother's house, they would do a big Italian dinner. So always in my head it was associated that food meant hanging out with your friends and your family. It was one of those things like an open door policy. Every Saturday all my friends would come over. So I'm friends with my dad's friends. Everyone would just be going to a giant dinner, all hanging.
It sounds like you had a pretty great job with Tao, why leave?
It was probably the hardest decision I ever, ever had to make. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but it really was because I had a really great job and honestly it was a job that people work their entire career in life to get. I got it when I had just turned 26. I'm 34 now, but I was 33 and I kinda hit a ceiling in regards to moving up. It was a great gig and I loved it. But you know, I didn't want to get down the road of having this great career, but having this thing in the back of my head, like I never did my own thing or at least tried. Things started to line up pretty well for me personally. I got a lot of experiences out of the way. I hit a lot of things off my bucket list that I really didn't realize I wanted to accomplish but was fortunate enough to be able to get the opportunity to do it. And you know, it just happened to be the right timing coupled with this big push of chefs making a migration off the Strip.
How would you describe Graffiti Bao?
Growing up as a kid, it was around New York City Chinese food. I grew up with orange chicken. But I was able to take some of the experiences and travels and learning how it was prepared in different parts of Asia and incorporate some of those influences and styles into dishes that are recognizable here. So it is kind of a fun little hybrid of really authentic stuff and then some classics that we're all used to, but it's got a little more of a bright zip to it.
What are your other concepts you’ve got coming?
The other one I'm really excited about is called Italian Graffiti. It's an Italian restaurant we're going to do at The Bend. And it's going to be kind of a two-fold restaurant where the main restaurant is beautiful, clean. Then the cool part of the restaurant is it's on the endcap of the mall and the movie theater is going to be here. So you walk right past the restaurant to go to the movie theater side of the restaurant. We're branding it as a separate New York City by-the-slice, real old school pizza place on the outside and fresh-made pastas inside. So you kind of control your experience; if you're in the mood, you go shopping, grab a slice of pizza. But you want a nice sit-down dinner, you go inside and eat. Then we have rooftop downtown coming up, a bit like a New American-inspired restaurant, but really bringing some of the classic dishes that really were only found in like super high-end, French restaurants back in the day. I want to take those same experiences and techniques and be able to kind of take the fancy price tag off of them.