MASTER PLANNED COMMUNITY A FAVORITE OF CITY’S INFLUENCERS
Las Vegas is a city built on connections. In the early 1900s, the rail line that connected Los Angeles to Salt Lake City ran through Southern Nevada, attracting farmers and ranchers to the area. Fast forward to the 1940s when connected mob figures like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky built The Flamingo, proving a luxury hotel with gambling as the headliner could be big business in the godforsaken Mojave Desert. From the city’s all-powerful founding families and notorious but oft beloved organized crime figures to powerhouses like Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. who forever changed the city’s landscape by legitimizing gaming properties via corporate ownership, the city’s history is indeed one of connections.
So where do all the beautiful, powerful, smart, successful and connected people of Las Vegas live today? The answer is still inextricably linked to the city’s history: primarily in the award-winning master-planned community of Summerlin®, developed by none other than The Howard Hughes Corporation®, the company named for the man whose imprint on the city is even more evident today than it was decades ago.
Tom Kaplan, Senior Managing Partner, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, is one of the city’s influencers who chose to live in Summerlin. He oversees the global Wolfgang Puck fine dining empire that includes 25 domestic and international restaurants, including five on the Las Vegas Strip and the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at Downtown Summerlin, a dining, fashion, entertainment and sports destination that distinguishes Summerlin from all other communities in Southern Nevada. From the new Spago at the Bellagio to CUT at the Palazzo, Wolfgang Puck Cucina at Crystals, the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand and Lupo at Mandalay Bay, Kaplan makes regular rounds to his restaurants on the Strip when he is not traveling. But he prefers the casual vibe of the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at Downtown Summerlin, where he and his family dine every few weeks with friends and neighbors or for business.
Kaplan moved to Las Vegas in 1992 to open the original Spago at Forum Shops at Caesars. Initially not thrilled with the idea of leaving Southern California for Southern Nevada, Kaplan now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. He and wife, Liz, along with six-year-old son, Austin, live in The Ridges at Summerlin, a luxury hillside enclave overlooking the valley where many of the city’s influencers put down roots.
Kaplan, who purchased his homesite just three months before the economic collapse of 2008, held onto his land, citing faith in The Howard Hughes Corporation to weather the storm and trust that Summerlin would retain its value. And he was not disappointed. He and Liz spent more than four years designing and building the home of their dreams with a backyard that literally abuts to the Conservation Area where no future development will occur. “Our backyard is a place of serenity and peace and a great escape from the city’s hustle and bustle,” he said.
A perfect Summerlin weekend for the Kaplans might include a hike at nearby Red Rock Canyon or Mt. Charleston, watching the Vegas Golden Knights practice at City National Arena, shopping at the toy store at Downtown Summerlin, or participating in Austin’s school activities at Alexander Dawson, one of many private schools in the community. “Like the whole city, we’ve become big hockey fans; we’ve enjoyed a few WNBA Aces games and since Austin is a big music fan and a promising pianist, we regularly take advantage of the city’s robust concert and show scenes – from Indie rock to School of Rock, classic rock and classical music.”
Liz, who is active in philanthropic organizations like Nevada Women’s Philanthropy and Keep Memory Alive, is originally from Austin. Like her husband, she was initially reluctant to move to Las Vegas. But she’s become a fan thanks to Summerlin. “Everything is here,” said Liz. “The community is brimming with both manmade and natural beauty, and it offers access to great medical facilities, schools, neighborhood services, shopping and more. I don’t ever feel like I need to leave.”
“The community is brimming with both manmade and natural beauty, and it offers access to great medical facilities, schools, neighborhood services, shopping and more. I don’t ever feel like I need to leave.”
Entrepreneur Sarah Camarota, a partner in three restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, an independent hospitality consultant and mother of two young boys, is another foodie influencer living and working in Summerlin.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d be raising my family and building my career in Las Vegas,” said Camarota. “When we came here, it was for a ‘two-year adventure,’ but the quality of life we found in Summerlin is just unparalleled. This is home.”
Almost a decade ago, she and husband, Richard, were newlyweds living in downtown Chicago, both with dynamic careers in the restaurant business. Sarah had just landed her dream job working as executive director of experience design for Levy Restaurants, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment hospitality firm. Richard had been working with James Beard Award winner Shawn McClain and was offered the position of Executive Chef at Sage, a fine dining restaurant at Aria Resort & Casino. The couple decided to take a leap of faith and moved to Las Vegas in 2009. Their first baby, James, was born just a few weeks after Aria opened.
Camarota, who was passionate about her career, continued to work remotely for Levy as a new mom in what she describes as “the polar opposite of my former life” as a city girl in Chicago. “It was 2009. The economy had collapsed before our eyes. Las Vegas was ground zero for the recession. I was a new work-from-home mom, and I knew no one. I guess you could call it character-building,” she said.
Fortunately, the couple landed their first home in Summerlin. “I found my places and my people; being in this area really grounded me during that period in our lives.” And just as she considered a new role which could have brought them back to Chicago, the “opportunity of a lifetime” came about.
“Shawn and Richard called late one night from the restaurant to share that Aria was looking for a pizza concept. I said, ‘ok…so what?’ They asked for my help developing and pitching a concept. Given that we were known for fine dining, pizza was a stretch, but we thought…why not, let’s give it our best shot.”
The rest, as they say, is history. What the couple and their long-time partner created and launched in partnership with MGM Resorts is one of the most successful and celebrated pizza spots on the Strip, Five50 Pizza Bar, which opened in July 2013. The couple’s second son, Evan, was born just two weeks later. “Suddenly, we were a family of four, with stakes in two restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip. That pretty much sealed our fate. We were here for good.”
Camarota still marvels at the process of working with MGM, McClain and husband, Richard, on the concept. “For me, there is no greater creative thrill than being part of designing and opening a restaurant in Las Vegas. I like to say, it’s the Olympics of hospitality. There are no limits on what’s possible. It’s just, ‘is it cool enough? Is it compelling enough?’
Meanwhile, Camarota thrived in her role with Levy Restaurants, focusing on the company’s west coast venues. She played an integral role in the experiential development of F&B at T-Mobile Arena, home of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, bringing in world-renowned mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim, to develop an industry-leading “mixology for the masses” program that has resulted in record-breaking sales at the venue. As T-Mobile Arena was taking off, Camarota and her family moved into their second home in Summerlin, this one in a cozy cul-de-sac in the popular Paseos village, just up the street from Downtown Summerlin. Appreciative of the area’s many fitness offerings, Camarota makes TruFusion and Lifetime Athletic part of her daily routine in the community.
Then came Libertine Social, a next-generation gastro pub at Mandalay Bay, which was developed and launched again with husband Richard; the couple’s partner Shawn McClain; and Las Vegas-based cocktail genius, Abou-Ganim, who also lives in Summerlin.
In 2017, The Howard Hughes Corporation acquired full ownership of the city’s Triple-A baseball team, the Las Vegas 51s, and announced plans to develop a state-of-the-art ballpark in the Downtown Summerlin area. Camarota was chomping at the bit to get involved.
“In any capacity, I wanted to contribute to how this would come to life. Las Vegas as a market, and Summerlin in particular, are unique and cannot be compared to other Triple-A cities,” said Camarota. “People travel from around the world to experience the Las Vegas Strip, but for those who live here, it’s the playground in our backyard. The expectation for a fan experience is exponentially higher than just about anywhere else on the planet! Plus, my son, Evan, plays in Summerlin South Little League, so not only was I professionally motivated, I have a personal stake in how this comes to life because our family and friends will be spending a lot of time at the new ballpark!”
Camarota feels strongly that creating vibrant food and drink experiences is mission critical, a vision shared by The Howard Hughes Corporation. So, in early 2018, she was brought on board as Hospitality Experience Curator for the new Las Vegas Ballpark.
“People travel from around the world to experience the Las Vegas Strip, but for those who live here, it’s the playground in our backyard. The expectation for a fan experience is exponentially higher than just about anywhere else on the planet”
Camarota has been working to differentiate Las Vegas Ballpark and its signature “food story” ever since. “We’re determined to make the hospitality experience at Las Vegas Ballpark truly special for fans. This is about more than just a baseball game, or who wins and loses. It’s about bonding with our kids, having fun with our friends, making memories that last a lifetime. And while beer and hot dogs will be “best in class” at the new Las Vegas Ballpark, we’re also going to cover the bases for our fans and make sure we’re on-trend with current taste and culture.”
Chilled rosé at a ballgame? Seems like it’s right out of Camarota’s playbook.
Another Summerlin resident and Las Vegas restaurateur, Frank Bonanno, knows a thing or two about food. His family empire includes the ownership and operation of 50 Las Vegas based restaurants located in eight major Vegas hotel/casinos including five food courts at MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Flamingo and Bally’s. His newest venture is Royal Britannia Gastro Pub at The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, and his company, Fifth Avenue Restaurant Group, employs more than 1,100 people citywide, many who have been with the organization for 20-plus years.
With a strong presence on the Las Vegas Strip, Bonanno has long made a living of serving up delicious food to the city’s millions of tourists. So, when the Bonanno family, which includes his wife, Betty, and oldest son, Robb, opened Trattoria Reggiano at Downtown Summerlin, one would have thought it would just be another day at the office.
“Not so,” said Frank of the authentic Italian eatery that is one of the company’s flagship brands. “It’s an entirely different experience to serve up delicious fare to neighbors and family friends in the very community we call home,” he said. “We take great pride in being part of Downtown Summerlin, and relish greeting friends and neighbors at Trattoria Reggiano, providing them with a great experience and a wonderful meal. Many of the city’s influencers are frequent diners who enjoy a delicious meal close to home.”
Residents of Summerlin since 2003, these New Jersey natives have long made a name for themselves in the restaurant business. After earning a degree from “The Culinary Institute of America” and serving as a Lieutenant in the Army, Frank developed and operated a chain of 75 East Coast based chocolate chip cookie stores that he eventually sold to Mrs. Fields.
He then developed a number of Häagen Dazs and Nathan’s Famous franchises, and in 1992, while vacationing in Las Vegas, Frank and Betty felt the city’s energy and were inspired to meet with MGM executives about the possibility of operating in the food court there. A deal was struck, and the rest, as they say, is history. Other names added to the Bonanno portfolio now include Johnny Rockets, Bonanno’s New York Pizzeria and a dozen other restaurant brands.
The Bonanno family includes Maria, 23, a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who is now following in her father’s footsteps, studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa; Gigi, 19, a sophomore at UNLV; and Joey, 18, a senior at Bishop Gorman High School. Robb and his wife, Allison, along with their daughter, Isabella, complete the Bonanno family circle. “Our passions are our family and our business,” said Betty. “We have busy lives keeping up with our kids and our thriving businesses, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Spanning 22,500 acres along the western edge of the Las Vegas valley and framed by Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, the region’s most stunning natural landmark, Summerlin is credited with making Las Vegas known as a great place to live, not just visit. Now in its 28th year, the community is home to more than 100,000 Southern Nevadans drawn to its superior quality of life. With more than 150 miles of walking trails, 250-plus parks of all sizes, ten golf courses, 25 public, private and charter schools and its own downtown, Summerlin is in a league of its own in Southern Nevada when it comes to amenities.
It’s no wonder the city’s captains of industry, entrepreneurs, celebrities, professionals, influencers and yes, even its foodies – often choose to put down roots in Summerlin, easily considered the best place to live in Las Vegas.
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