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Second Act

Encore opens to great expectations in tough market

Second Act

Anyone who thinks that Encore is just an extension or an addition to Wynn Las Vegas doesn’t really understand the genius of Steve Wynn. With his passion for development, there is no project that Wynn approaches in such a pedestrian way, and Encore is truly the next step up for Wynn Resorts.
“Steve feels that it’s his best work,” says Encore and Wynn Las Vegas President and COO Andrew Pascal. “And I can’t disagree with him. The place is spectacular and it makes these two properties something very special.”
Light. What a concept!
The most striking element of Encore has to be the natural light that the design has enabled to reach almost all corners of the property. Few other properties have harnessed the most abundant natural resource in Las Vegas-sunlight-but Encore has done just that.
The promenade between Wynn and Encore is bathed in natural light, let in by nearly translucent German glass that virtually eliminates glare day and night.
With a resort built around a pool area, nature is seemingly at your fingertips in almost every setting, from the restaurants to the spa to the nightclub. Encore will entice visitors with an experience borne of the finest island or coastal resorts in the world.
The seamless transition from Wynn Las Vegas makes the appearance of Encore almost a natural extension of one of the finest hotels in the world. But it’s not. It’s even better. The trademark butterfly announces that you’ve crossed the threshold between the two properties, with the fulcrum being the two theaters, fittingly so for an organization that prides itself on the full entertainment experience.
Rooms and More
Pascal says the “campus” of Wynn and Encore will create a very synergistic experience, starting with the more than 2,000 suites in Encore alone.
“Encore is designed to be a perfect complement to Wynn,” he says. “The room product almost interweaves with the various kinds of room products at Wynn. With 635 square feet and all the amenities in the standard room, I believe our rooms at Wynn are the nicest in the city.
“The standard suite at Encore further emphasizes the residential feel of it. It gives us more flexibility and gives us more levels of accommodation to offer our guests. It strengthens our overall property and allows us to continue to exceed our guests’ expectations.”
An additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space makes the combined MICE space at Wynn/Encore one of the most upscale in the city. While Pascal says the economy is pressuring the entire meetings-and-convention sector in Las Vegas, Encore makes the facilities offered at his properties more desirable.
“The companies looking at meetings are looking at how and where they can save money,” he explains. “There’s no question that’s impacting us and everyone else. But the business is still there. And for the companies and organizations that want to make a statement about how they value their employees and clients, we’re the logical choice.”
Great Gastronomy
Like all Steve Wynn-designed projects, Encore is a culinary tour de force. Five new restaurants, any one of which could be described as “signature” at a more traditional property, join the exemplary choices at Wynn Las Vegas.
Pascal deflects the challenge of describing the new restaurants, instead pointing to the people responsible for making the culinary decisions.
He’s very excited about Switch, where the atmosphere will completely change three times every hour.
“Switch is a very transformative experience,” he says, without revealing any of its secrets.
Conceived by Marc Poidevin, formerly executive chef of Le Cirque at the Bellagio and most recently Wynn’s executive chef of catering and special events, Switch is a a French-inspired steakhouse and seafood restaurant with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients.
“Marc’s passion, his ideas and the things he does with menus are always extraordinary,” says Pascal.
The property’s Italian offering is Sinatra, with the name used courtesy of the famous singer’s family. On display will be Sinatra’s lone Oscar, for his role in the epic From Here to Eternity. Singer Paul Anka has also loaned his Grammy award for the Sinatra classic song “My Way.”
Another “name” at Sinatra is the executive chef, Theo Schoenegger. Schoenegger, renowned for his creations at Patina in Los Angeles, wants to bring an aura of Tuscany to Encore. The fine-dining establishment features a chef’s table that seats up to 10 people and serves a market-driven menu.
Pascal says the intimate location is part of its aura.
“Sinatra is tucked away next to our Tower Suites hotel, and looks out onto beautiful patios with outdoor fireplaces,” he says. “It’s a stunning place.”
Mark LoRusso, known and recognized for the groundbreaking Tableau-his refined modern American restaurant located by the Tower Suites at Wynn Las Vegas-introduces Botero Steak at Encore. Named after Colombian artist Fernando Botero, LoRusso’s signature restaurant features a modern steakhouse menu in a sexy and sophisticated setting, with views of Encore’s pool. LoRusso’s partner at Botero is Las Vegas impresario Victor Drai, who also operates XS, the fantastic nightclub at Encore.
Pascal says Botero occupies a crucial position at Encore.
“Botero straddles the two pools,” he explains. “It’s all glass, with a beautiful terrace, where, when the doors are wide open when the weather is right, you lose that distinction of being inside or outside. It’s right at the border of the two properties.”
A newcomer to the Wynn family is famed Los Angeles restaurateur Jet Tila, who will operate Wazuzu, a pan-Asian bistro at Encore.
Pascal says Tila spent several days with the Wynn executives, demonstrating his culinary art, and everyone was immediately taken by him.
“He’s such a charismatic guy who is incredibly passionate about his food,” says Pascal.
Tila says he hopes to take the experience to the next level.
“America’s already very accustomed to Chinese and Japanese food, so it’s time to bring in bolder flavors,” Tila says. “Indian flavors, Singaporean flavors, and of course, Thai-I think Thai has been misrepresented. I’m trying to bring it back to what it’s supposed to be.”
And for the property’s 24-hour, three-meal restaurant, Wynn will introduce Society Café Encore.
The executive chef of Society Cafe Encore, Kim Canteenwalla, will offer guests a classic American menu of old-school favorites that have been reinterpreted with a modern sensibility. Society Café Encore features satisfying food in a casual, fun and dynamic atmosphere.
The partners behind Society Café Encore are themselves stellar. In addition to Canteenwalla, his wife Elizabeth Blau, a legend in culinary marketing, is joined by nightclub executives Sean Christie, a principal in Wynn Las Vegas’ Blush, and Oliver Wharton, formerly of the Light Group.
Pascal says the unique mix of food and personalities will create a unique experience.
“These people bring a level of energy and creativity that will create great food offerings,” he says.
Blau is responsible for getting the word out on the restaurants at both properties. With a title of executive vice president of restaurant marketing and development, Blau will also be responsible for recruiting the talent for the 19 food-and-beverage outlets at Wynn and Encore.
The different styles and expertise of his new partners pleases Steve Wynn as well.
“I am thrilled to welcome these fine chefs to Encore,” says Wynn. “They join our impressive family of culinary talents to offer our guests an unparalleled dining experience in Las Vegas. Theo, Jet, Mark, Marc and Kim each bring an exciting and fresh approach to their restaurants, and I look forward to our guests discovering their signature styles.”
Entertaining Choices
The opening of Wynn Las Vegas saw Wynn experimenting with the future of entertainment in Las Vegas. As the man who brought Siegfried and Roy and the Cirque du Soliel shows to the Strip, Wynn encountered some interesting experiments during his first few years.
Le Reve, a Cirque-style show created by Franco Dragone, was initially panned by critics. Wynn’s choice of Avenue Q, a Broadway show peopled by puppets, was replaced after a year by an equally flawed version of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
For Encore, Wynn has replaced Spamalot with a show by old reliable Danny Gans, who Wynn brought to the Mirage when he owned the place.
While Pascal welcomes the arrival of Gans, he warns not to overlook Le Reve, which no longer has Dragone’s oversight. He remarks on the “ups and downs” of the show.
“It really was more downs than ups with Le Reve,” he laughs. “We didn’t get off quite to the start we had hoped for. But Le Reve is becoming one of the strongest and most popular shows in Las Vegas. It is as entertaining, interesting and captivating a show as you’ll find on the Strip. It’s really found its place now. We’re very pleased with the traction Le Reve has found and expect that it will continue to draw audiences now that we have 2,000 more rooms.”
Gans, who is reworking his former Mirage show, will give guests a great choice, adds Pascal.
“Mr. Wynn obviously has a longstanding relationship with Danny,” he says. “We’ve all been huge fans of his and he’s established himself as an entertainer with great staying power. It’s the right kind of complement to Le Reve.”
Pascal hints at other entertainment surprises, as well.
“We’ll also be looking to complement Danny and do some other fun things with our entertainment program here at Encore,” he says.
During the groundbreaking ceremonies for Encore, Wynn riffed on what he expected of the poolside experience at the new property. Pascal says the original concept has changed remarkably, and not surprisingly.
“The ideas evolve a lot, as they typically do,” he notes wryly.
Two pools will serve Encore guests: the resort pool, open to everyone, and the European pool, open to only those 21 or over.
Pascal says the surrounding ambiance of the pools, bordered by several restaurants, the XS nightclub and beautiful gardens, create a truly unique atmosphere.
“We’ve integrated all these different components,” he says. “There’s a beautiful island bar, with a lounge and a small casino. Lapping around the pool area, there are two stories of cabanas. The way all these elements are focused will allow them to create a kind of energy in an environment that we think people will never want to leave.”
The XS nightclub wraps almost around the pool area, and its 40,000 square feet make it one of the largest-and undoubtedly soon-to-be most exclusive-in Las Vegas.
Economic Challenges
While some of the mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip ground to a halt when the economy started to tank, Wynn Resorts had long completed the financing for Encore, so it escaped the pressure to find additional financing in order to finish the project. Nevertheless, Encore will open during a time when Las Vegas, and particularly the Strip, is experiencing its most difficult economic times since the period immediately following 9/11.
For Pascal, it’s more than just a challenge.
“We see it as an opportunity to level our resources,” he explains. “After the economy began to slump, we reworked our forecast for a baseline level of activity just for the purpose of our planning. We wanted to be very conservative, forecasting business volumes that are substantially below where they have been for the past 18 or 24 months. We wanted to know what our staffing levels would be-by outlet, by job classification. We wanted to craft new schedules so we knew what the optimal staffing would be in order to function and deliver our experience. And then compare it with our current staffing.”
What they discovered, Pascal says, is that although Wynn Las Vegas could operate with fewer staff members, they had the opportunity to move existing employees to Encore.
“Now this is the same exercise that everyone goes through when they’re contemplating layoffs,” he says. “For us, we had the opportunity to take all of those people who were over and above that minimum threshold and transfer them into a like position at Encore. We had the opportunity to level the resources between Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, allowing us to achieve a level of efficiency that we would not have been able to achieve unless we reduced hours.”
The move allowed Wynn Resorts to stay true to its principle of valuing employees above all.
“As a company, we will not lay people off,” insists Pascal. “That is not who we are. The thing that guides our decision-making is to maintain the stability and the health of our employee base. If we make decisions that make them uncomfortable or uncertain about their ability to earn, then that’s an unbelievably distracting situation for them to be in, and we can’t fulfill our promise to our customer because our employees will be distracted.”
Pascal says the economy only started to be a serious concern as business fell off more dramatically in the fall. But he says it makes no sense for the Wynn properties to deeply discount their offerings.
“While there may be fewer people who are coming to Las Vegas,” he says, “there are enough to support our campus, our two properties. We’re not the cheapest, and we never will be. That’s not who we are; that’s not how we position ourselves. For us, it’s about quality. For the more discriminating consumer, this is their place.”
Creativity is the key to bringing in customers, says Pascal, and to do that you have to know your customers and their expectations.
“What we’d rather do is talk to them about what we are and what makes us unique,” he explains. “We’d rather create a special program where, for example, they would come to meet with our director of wines, which is an excuse for us to talk about all the different restaurants. We’ll package our rooms with dining and entertainment options. But it’s not that the package price itself is discounted or any cheaper than if they were bought separately. Packages like that allow us to talk about the components of the experience that make us different.
“We feel that we’re able to react to what’s going on in the market, to make decisions and execute on those decisions in a more cohesive and effective way.”
Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.