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Dining

[Chef Talk]

Echo & Rig chef Sam Marvin on restaurant reinvention

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Echo & Rig chef and owner Sam Marvin offers a steakhouse and butcher shop under one roof at Tivoli Village.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

Sam Marvin is no Vegas rookie. Before debuting Echo & Rig at Tivoli Village last year, the veteran chef and restaurateur spent four years at the iconic Piero’s near the Convention Center. He then returned to LA and spent years researching and creating the successful Bottega Louie. Now he’s back, bringing an innovative steakhouse and butchery concept to the suburbs.

How did you end up at Piero’s for your first Vegas tour of duty? I had a small restaurant in LA, a chef-driven place with 50 seats that I used credit cards to open. I was doing the whole artist-rebel guy thing. Freddie Glusman used to come in once a week. He’d fly in and have dinner Friday nights. One day he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, in true Vegas style, and I came out and worked at Piero’s for four years. It was really booming then. We changed the menu and put a different style of customer service in. At the end of four years, it was very comfortable, but I could have been there forever. I didn’t want to get stuck.

You went back to LA and created Bottega Louie, still a very successful and popular restaurant. Then you started a new company to open Echo & Rig at Tivoli Village. Why try to redefine the steakhouse? Every restaurant you see was built using a formula that was constructed 50 years ago. It’s an industry that does $650 billion a year ,but everyone’s still treating it like horse and buggy days. I spent two and a half years in an office building a new foundation and that became Bottega Louie, and five years later it’s going to do $17 million this year. It opened in 2009, but we started working on the concept in 2006. The more research and development I did, the more the concept changed, but basically it became Find out what they want and build it for them.

So I had proof of concept with Bottega Louie. I’ve got two boys, 9 and 6; I’m 49, but I feel like I’m 29. I don’t stop. After five and a half years with the company, and not even looking to open a second location yet, I’m at the top of my game. I started a new company called the Goat and this is our first venue. Vegas seemed prime for exactly what we wanted to do, and the first concept was a steakhouse.

What makes Echo & Rig different? Outback has a $22 check average. Then you move on to the big boys, starting at Fleming’s, they start at $68. There’s nothing in between that exists in our marketplace. People love steakhouses; they just don’t love the prices. And no matter how sexy Las Vegas steakhouses are, they still live and die with the filet, the ribeye, the New York, the porterhouse. The truth is people don’t like to eat like that. We’re using hangers, flat irons, sirloins, ribeye caps, everything. We know how to cut them and it’s the top two and a half percent of all beef graded by the USDA, and we put it on the plate for $23. There’s value with quality. People don’t want to eat a 44-ounce porterhouse on the bone, but they don’t have a choice. We thought, let’s give them options, show there are different ways to eat a steak.

Having an on-site butcher shop must give you a huge advantage. When beef prices go through the roof, it’s phenomenal for us, because all the other steakhouses can do is raise prices. They’re locked into that formula. They can’t change overnight. Our steakhouse is the best client of our butcher shop, because if we’re long on things we can sell them upstairs.

But we’re also focused on the right cut of the right animal breed. The hanger steak from the grass-fed, grass-finished natural is phenomenal, the best hanger I’ve ever tried. But the strip steak from the same steer, I don’t know, I think the Bartels Farm is better. We get to handpick what we think are better pieces. And we’re definitely having fun with it, with our small plates menu and all the fresh vegetable side dishes. And we’re starting to really turn the butcher shop loose as its own retail stop.

Knowing that you’re butchering everything in-house, are your diners getting a little more adventurous? Oh yeah. We’re having a lot of fun with our butcher bar, doing pastrami sandwiches, brisket sandwiches, ham, hot dogs, steak tartare, little charcuterie platters. I think we’re going to get a little more adventurous with new dishes because we’ve seen the demand for it. They’re loving the fun stuff we’re doing with offal. We’re running specials like kidney pies and sweetbreads. It’s really exciting.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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