Chef instructor, Mark Sandoval with the Hospitality College at UNLV is the guest lecturer for the first “Cook Like a Rebel” series. Here Gael and Randy Hees have prepared puttanesca under his direction. It was delicious! 

Photo Credit: Gael Hees

During this time of craziness, we’re lucky to be in Vegas. It is one of the most creative, resilient, change-driven cities in the world. I moved here 19 years ago from Ponca City, a small town in Oklahoma. This was a place where new and creative ideas were not celebrated, but in fact were shot down as quickly as possible. Come up with a new idea in Vegas? Everyone around you immediately sits down and works to figure out how to make it happen.

In this culture, one can invent, reinvent, change, evolve and thrive, and all the while, find incredible resources along the way.

Staying Connected

The College of Hospitality at UNLV has initiated, “Cook Like a Rebel” and “Salud! Prost! Cheers!,” two online series that feature chef instructors, alumni chefs, and beverage specialists. Registrants for Cook Like a Rebel (probably soon to have a name change) receive a recipe for the week’s dish in plenty of time to purchase the ingredients. Many actually cook along with the chef-on-screen and are able to ask questions ranging from the sourcing of herbs or spices to the best substitutions for creating the dish for vegetarian or gluten-free diets. Participants in Salud! Prost! Cheers! receive a list of the featured beverages—whether it be sake, beer, or whiskey—and are encouraged to taste-along during the presentation. These well-attended activities take place on Zoom, allowing for alumni to stay connected to the college in spite of the lockdown.

Another service of the Hospitality Alumni Chapter is a list of alumni-owned or -managed restaurants that were providing delivery or curbside services during the last two months. This list and the restaurants themselves were promoted through all of the college’s social media outlets. Hopefully, it will soon be updated with hours of operation. Here is the URL for the list or to recommend a restaurant for the list—

Las Vegas Hospitality Services Providers (LVHSP) is currently hosting a series of free webinars on topics of importance to restaurants and other hospitality-related businesses. The live presentations are aired on Facebook, Thursday afternoons at 2 p.m. and are linked on the organization’s website: Previous topics include Online Ordering presented by Kristen Compton with Toast, Chat Marketing by Mike Donaker with Adunja Chat Experts and Operator Perspective by Sonny Ahuja with 18bin. 

Jimmy V Live is co-hosted by Jimmy Vigilante, owner of JVC Food Safety, and Mark Steele, owner of Restaurant Hospitality Institute. This 30-minute podcast is aired every Tuesday at 2 p.m. on Facebook. To find the current or past episodes, visit Jimmy Vigilante’s Facebook page (; click on “More” under the main photo and go to “Videos.” Jimmy and Mark interview a broad spectrum of hospitality professionals from a bartender who has worked in the valley for more than 40 years to Tony Abou-Ganim, mixologist. It’s good stories from people you’ve known or perhaps want to know!

There are many hospitality associations, and most if not all, have ramped up their communications and are creating and sharing valuable industry-specific information. Even though you may feel like you can’t possibly squeeze another task in your day, reading the newsletters and attending the Zoom presentations will be helpful. If nothing else, it will remind you that there are millions of hospitality professionals all over the world facing the same challenges, asking the same questions, and struggling to reimagine their businesses.


Vigilante and Steele have businesses that take them into restaurants all over the valley. Shortly after the shutdown, they teamed up to offer special corona-related sanitary for all restaurant staff members. Here is what they have observed as restaurants are reopening.

According to Jimmy Vigilante:

One of the biggest challenges faced by all restaurants is ensuring that all guests leave feeling safe and cared for. This will require an additional show of sanitizing of tables and chairs, disposable menus, individual condiment packets and possibly even disposable flatware.

Many of the restaurants are not just meeting, but exceeding the guidelines set out by the governor. As leaders of the hospitality industry, in Las Vegas, we must set the standards for the rest of the country. There is a reason that we have one of the most stringent health departments in the country.

According to Mark Steele:

Just in general, knowing so many people who are in the business. The general feel is that everyone is opening their restaurants all over again. The restaurant business is where everyone wants to look like a swan—very graceful, while they’re paddling as fast as they can. All of the businesses and people that I know are going crazy with all of the changes in food costs and supply chains, the challenges of employees not coming back because they’re making more on unemployment and the new expectations of employees and customers. The general feel is that they’re in scramble mode, even some of the big hotels and casinos.

I think this is an enriching time, to be honest with you. I know it is tough, but it is a good time to stand out above other people. This is a competitive industry and as you are making changes within your operations, look at ways you can separate yourself from the others. Right now, it is attention to detail, complete focus on the minute operations. Steller service is even more important than ever before.

According to Gael:

If your life is oriented toward serving people and being with people, this may have been harder on you than for others. Give yourself kudos for hanging in there and starting over.

Everyone is looking forward to settling down into the new normal. The challenge is determining when the new normal arrives. It’s not curbside service only—that was yesterday. Is it today’s masked waitstaff and distanced tables? Or will it be something entirely different tomorrow? Perhaps we need to remove the “settling down into” out of the equation and think of the new normal as “taking action.” We need to envision ourselves as skilled surfers, hanging ten as we ride today’s tsunami of change.