photo courtesy The Ferraro Group

As John Simmons once again begins to spread Firefly’s tapas menu across the Las Vegas Valley, we decided to sit down with the owner of the restaurant. 

The restaurant, located at 7355. S. Buffalo Drive is an extension of the 16-year-old restaurant on Paradise Road, but with plenty of new enticing pieces to keep guests intrigued.

How’d you decide on being a chef?

Initially, I worked at a local restaurant not expecting it to become a lifelong endeavor. I started cooking at 15 at a local deli doing dishwashing, prep and basic cooking after school. I made $2.30 an hour. It was an after school job, and eventually I got a degree in economics, and got out in the real world and missed restaurants and cooking. So I went to culinary school.

So after culinary school, what was next?

I started off on the line, at a local bistro, making $7 an hour in Chicago. Started as fry cook and oven cook, kind of the lowest guy on the line, but ended up running the restaurant after about a year and half, then opened another place for them.

How’d you end up in Las Vegas?

I was working in French food at the time and got a call from a former boss who offered a job and I jumped on it. I had been in Chicago for 10 or 12 years and was just looking for something new. When he called, I recognized a good opportunity. I figured I’d be in Las Vegas for a year, have a good experience and I’m still here; it’s been 20 years. 

Did you always want to open your own place?

I think that was always my goal; I wanted to do my own thing, be a partner or start my own thing. I had a manager I worked with and we both decided to branch off and do our own thing. We opened Firefly on a shoestring budget, and I ended up buying him out. It was rough in the beginning: zero operating capital, working seven days a week. Slowly but surely the place caught on and next thing we knew we had an hour wait.

Where’d the concept come from?

It’s strange. At the time there were no other tapas restaurants, but they were popular in Chicago. My favorite was Cobras and Matadors; it opened in Los Angeles, a tapas place that was wildly popular. The tapas thing was where it was at. I wanted to open a place for the industry people; that’s why I wanted to open a place near the Strip. So when they got off work, they could go have fun and tapas seemed the right way to do it. Fun, social and interesting. Most people getting off work at a restaurant or casino, really don’t want to go to another restaurant in a casino, but something different not off the beaten path. The tapas idea for some reason, no one knew what it was. When I was opening most people thought I was saying topless.

What’s been the lasting impact?

We do it well. I definitely credit my staff, a lot of whom were there when we started, and my brother, wife and sister-in-law. We have most of the same people working with me. One of the guys who came from Chicago is our executive chef. It’s definitely a family affair and I think that shows we really care. 

How’d you come to this second location?

It seemed like the natural progression at the time. We were in 3,300 square feet to start and were packed to the gills with a tiny little kitchen. The place next door came available and gave us 5,000 and we’re still packed to the gills, taking over the present location, which is 11,000 square feet. In the meantime we’d opened a few other suburban locations and those didn’t work out, so I think we grew a little too quickly. Now we’re in a place where we are comfortable where we’re at and do what we can do.

What’s on the horizon?

Just looking at opening the new Firefly, but I have some other things in mind. Another Tacos and Beer is planned at the Bend, but right now I’m just focusing on the Firefly. The menu won’t be as expansive, but will have some new surprises. It’s Firefly 2.0: not just another Firefly, but a new iteration of Firefly. New logo, new design, new menu, and new feel. Just a prototype for the new Firefly.