The amount of fantastic food you can find in Las Vegas can be overwhelming. No matter what you're looking for, there's a local spot that serves up exactly what you're craving. As the Las Vegas food scene continues to grow, the number of female-led kitchens and restaurants grows steadily. I chatted with several of the culinary wizards in our city and got their honest thoughts on lockdown, ownership struggles and the future of Las Vegas restaurants.
Chef Krista Seal, Corporate Pastry Chef at Clique Hospitality
As the corporate pastry chef for all Clique Hospitality locations, Krista Seal has a lot on her plate. The creator of some of the most stunning (and highly Instagrammable) desserts in the city at restaurants like Bottiglia, Borracha, and Hearthstone, Chef Krista has pushed through her struggles and used them to fuel her creativity. "The biggest challenges I've faced on my journey so far as a female chef are containing my emotions so they aren't seen as a sign of weakness and knowing when I don't need to contain them because it's ok to be a human with weaknesses. I have been in situations where I felt discouraged and disrespected because I wasn't part of the "boys club," but that just fueled my passion to prove anyone that made me feel less than wrong, and I'm grateful for it. My hope for future female chefs is that their existence has been so normalized its business as usual, and this question is irrelevant. We create life; we run households, we learn how to homeschool our kids during a pandemic, we can do anything."
Kari Garcia, Owner of TSP Baking Company
Kari Garcia churns out stunning custom cakes and delicious treats at TSP Baking Co. in North Las Vegas, but when asked about her struggles, she doesn't sugarcoat. "My biggest struggle when initially opening TSP was that even though I had ten years of experience owning another bakery, that still did not qualify me for a small business loan for my new shop. That isn't necessarily a female issue, but I felt it could have been because I was opening it SOLO without a partner on paper." Garcia also shared her balance as a working mom, "My second biggest struggle is mom guilt. Even though my children are older and can understand that MOMMY WORKS...it still is painful that your life is the bakery...and not really HOMELIFE most of the time. It is a 24/7 job as an owner."
Chef Gina Marinelli, Executive Chef and Partner at La Strega
Chef Gina Marinelli opened La Strega in 2019. Following lockdown in 2020, the delightful and highly Instagrammable Italian eatery reopened with imaginative seasonal menus, unique lunch offerings, and safely executed limited engagements. Marinelli’s thoughts on the reopening of Las Vegas are cautiously optimistic and refreshingly honest, “It’s going to change our culinary scene, and I don’t think people will take things for granted anymore. People will cherish coming to work and getting to do what they love every day. Diners are going to be excited to get out, and the bar is going to be set high. People have had time to think during the lockdown, and a lot of those ideas that have been brewing are going to now come into fruition.”
Jolene Mannina, President of SecretBurger.com
With a constantly growing and ever-changing food scene, Las Vegas continues to find creative offerings, and Jolene Mannina is one of the leading visionaries in the industry. Mannina is the president of SecretBurger.com, an innovative concept that allows restaurant kitchens to create special off-menu items available to diners who purchase tickets in advance for these limited engagements. SecretBurger.com has worked with various restaurants in town and on the Strip, such as La Strega, Tao, and Nomad. Mannina also recently opened Vegas Test Kitchen- a restaurant concept that allows multiple restaurants to test new ideas. Following the lockdown, concepts she’d like to continue seeing are safety-conscious, “I loved seeing restaurants extend their footprint into the sidewalk and in some cases the street by offering outdoor dining. I hope that the city allows restaurants to keep their extended space as well as continue to allow liquor to-go.”
As Las Vegas continues to open up, optimism for the future of the industry and the hardworking women of the food scene is shared by all. Garcia reflected, “I think women are finally looked at as leaders in the eyes of everyone...instead of just other women. Restaurants seem to be the great equalizer. It is just as much hard work regardless of gender.”
Elizabeth Blau, Founder and CEO of Blau & Associates
Renowned restaurateur Elizabeth Blau of Blau & Associates shared a candid and positive view of the future as we move past pandemic, “The pandemic has been devastating for many of us in the restaurant industry! With a second round of PPP and a proposed $25billion dollar stimulus package for restaurants, things are starting to look up economically. With vaccines widely available, hospitalizations dropping dramatically, and herd immunity being discussed, it seems we may be moving in a positive direction.” Blau & Associates operate local favorites such as Honey Salt and Buddy V’s Ristorante.
The Future of Las Vegas Restaurants
Chef Jamie Tran of The Black Sheep expressed her confidence for the future, “I’m hopeful and excited for Las Vegas to get back to normal, and for continued expansion of culture and great food off the Strip! I’m also so excited to see fellow female chefs climb the culinary ladder and open their own restaurants this year.” Blau gave an equally optimistic message for the future, “The Strip is showing incredible signs of life, so the horizon looks good for our industry. I think restaurants are moving forward with cautious optimism for a great year ahead!”
Mannina gave her thoughts on future innovations, “I personally think that more operators are going to work smarter. Utilize their space more efficiently, identify more ways to bring in revenue like gift cards, renting kitchen space, taking deposits for a reservation, selling pantry items, and creating dry goods like spice blends that can be sold online. Based on the operations at the Vegas Test Kitchen, we’ll never get rid of contactless and cashless ordering, and more restaurateurs will add this feature as a quick service option in high volume spaces.”
Marinelli has hopes for the local scene, and her wishes include, “More talented chefs getting away from the Strip and that corporate culture. I would like to see chefs get their own shot with the recognition and support that they deserve. There is so much awesome talent in this city, and they deserve a chance. I would also like to see more diversification in restaurants.” Chef Sonia El-Nawal, the owner of Rooster Boy Cafe, expressed a similar sentiment, “I hope for prosperity for all chefs and restaurants in this city. We all need to succeed after such a difficult year!”
While the city continues to work its way back to its former glory, these talented women continue to shape the food scene in Las Vegas with their love of the industry. That warm fuzzy feeling you get watching someone you loves face as they eat something you put a little piece of your soul into at a gathering is the best feeling in the world for me, and I know I’m not alone,” Chef Krista explains when asked what she loves about her career, “Taking that warm fuzzy feeling to a professional level is what being a chef truly means, in my opinion. We’re driven by passion, and this is our outlet; this is why we can work long hours without breaks, forgetting to eat or drink for way too long with a smile on our face as we walk to our cars at the end of the night.”