By Kerry Simon
About a year ago, almost to the day, George Maloof called me up and said he wanted to meet for breakfast in L.A. He started telling me about this new place he was building in Las Vegas called Palms Place Hotel & Spa. He was looking for someone to partner with on the restaurant, which he wanted to have a very open feeling and work with the hotel’s pool, but he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do. He wondered if I’d be interested, and I was thrilled. I’ve known George since ’97 when I was at Prime, and we’ve always entertained the idea of doing a project together-we’re both locals. George is an innovator, a challenging type of person. He’s a hard worker and he’s always looking at the edge, trying to figure out what’s really going to be great for his clientele. So I didn’t hesitate to jump onboard.
Somehow all the pieces fell into place. And then everybody started to show up.
I brought in Elizabeth Blau, my business partner, and started to develop what became Simon at Palms Place. It’s a three-meal restaurant, also offering pool food and room service. I’ll do cooking in the rooms for guests, too. It’s a multipurpose kind of place. We decided David Rockwell was going to be the designer. I gave him lots of ideas I had collected of things that I’d like to see in a future restaurant’s design. I flew out to New York and looked at boards; his team came out West, and during this process, we decided it would be a green restaurant. We looked at everything that could be recycled, such as recycled floors, and I thought that it really fit how I live my life and the beliefs I have.
So the design was humming and the restaurant was really coming together, and all of a sudden, it was taking form. The wood was there. Then the lights showed up. Huge glass windows arrived the next day. Then the bamboo. The fireplaces, the herb wall, the wine room. The sake wall and sushi bar (the sushi bar is one of the things we talked about that would be a good change for me).
David told me that once completed, this restaurant was going to feel like a 1950s home, but brought up to the times. I really think The Rockwell Group captured that-nailed it really. This space makes you feel very important when you walk in.
Little by little, it all came together, and I didn’t realize how close the opening deadline was. The next thing I know, I’m up in the kitchen and the menu is being tested. My focus was to be as organic and healthy as I could. But I still wanted to have fun. I’m in this to make people happy, so I have the comfort foods, I have the meatloaf, the tuna tartare. But I have some new dishes, like salmon salad, and we started fooling around with curries, sustainable fish, char. Like everything with the project, the food came along piece by piece.
And just in time, because we began scrambling. Opening day was looming. All of the construction people were running around. The restaurant didn’t look done. They were trying to finish up the lights that were blowing out. Three special chandeliers had special processors shipped from Italy. None of them worked. The artwork wasn’t right and looked too small on the walls. I had to take them down and put them in different places. The black floor seemed impossible to keep clean-at some points we were so frustrated we weren’t even sure if it was right. The windows weren’t working exactly right. The herb wall, where I’m growing all the herbs the restaurant uses, was getting flooded with too much light. So we were having all these business-related headaches.
In the meantime, 2,000 people RSVP’d for the opening, so we had to get ready to feed all of them. We didn’t know what it was going to look like. We were not sure how we were going to fit all of these people in. I did know we were going to have an ice sculpture outside with shellfish and crabs and shrimp and oysters and hors d’oeuvres. Elizabeth loves to do candy tables, so we put a huge spread in the lobby with everything you can imagine placed in antique lunch boxes, as well as a cotton candy table.
Somehow all the pieces fell into place. And then everybody started to show up. TV. Interviews. Guests began trickling in, and before we knew it we had 1,500, including Robin Leach, Rick Neilsen, Robert Knight, Michael Boychuck, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson with Peter Wentz, and more, and more, and more.
This was not me having a social event. It was me showing everybody the care that has gone into this place, this space we’ve sweated down to the finest details. Food, service, uniforms, the whole feel, the music-everything. All for a great experience for everyone else while I was in this chaotic confusion, trying to keep everyone on my awesome staff focused and keep everything going.
Except for one moment, when I was outside. I stopped and found myself in a slow 360-degree pan. The pool scene was alive and buzzing. I saw hundreds of smiles and heard all of the laughter. That was the sight and sound I had been striving for. But the real work just began after that. That was just the start of everything. Once that was over, the pressure was on. The party went ‘til midnight, but breakfast had to be ready to go at seven in the morning.