Taste

[The Incidental Tourist]

Can Fukuburger help refresh the Hawaiian Marketplace?

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Tamago Burgers and Naga Dogs await, right on the Strip.
Photo: Adam Shane

Fukuburger quietly opened in the Hawaiian Marketplace retail center on Las Vegas Boulevard last week. That might not seem like a significant development. It’s a place for pedestrians to grab a tasty burger and a cold drink as they roam the Strip, and there are a bunch of those—Fatburger, Shake Shack and Bobby’s Burger Palace are all nearby, between Harmon and Tropicana.

But it is significant, because this strip-mall-on-the-Strip site predates the current, sizzling-hot trend of more and more retail and restaurant development crowding as close to the Boulevard as possible. And it’s a second shot—maybe a more precise, better executed attempt—for a super-local, homegrown business to grow into the tourist market.

After years working in local restaurants, Colin Fukunaga launched his Fukuburger food truck in 2010. Behind its all-American, Asian-inspired menu of powerfully flavored burgers, fries, spicy hot dogs and late-night specials, the truck built a fast following, appeared on national TV a few times and expanded to Hollywood with a short-lived restaurant partnership with hospitality scion Harry Morton. But a Vegas restaurant was always the objective, preferably one with a full liquor license and late hours to accommodate the young hospitality industry workers that have always been Fuku’s biggest fans.

Fukuburger's spicy Naga Dog

Fukunaga got something close last year when he teamed with Vegas-based HIG Management for FAME at the Linq Promenade, a food court-style concept that never really took off and recently shuttered. (Fukuburger was the reason most people visited FAME.) But HIG controls the leases for several retail sites at Hawaiian Marketplace, across from Aria, including a small restaurant pad just below a newly opened Chili’s Grill & Bar franchise.

So after a quick buildout, Fukuburger is back in business on the Strip … really on the Strip, this time.

“My clientele are drinkers, so why not have a burger bar here?” Fukunaga says. “If you can’t make it with hundreds of people walking by your spot every minute, maybe you’ve got issues,” he jokes. He does appear to be in a better position for success, selling booze soon and food to tourists and, hopefully, local workers who want to swing by after their shifts at Strip casinos.

As was the case at FAME, Fukuburger is a short-term tenant, for now, hoping to prove itself and stick around. Next door, a 6,000-square-foot German beer hall called Rathaus is coming this summer, and a coffee and doughnut shop is planned for a former Tix 4 Tonight outlet, more interesting additions to a center most people don’t realize has been planted on the Strip since 2004.

When the Hawaiian Marketplace originally opened—developed by Brett Torino, who more recently created the nearby Harmon Corner—the pre-recession Strip was still all about building big casinos. The Marketplace was the first free-standing retail pad on the Strip, but using its space for low-budget business like cheap souvenir kiosks and frozen drink bars didn’t make sense back then.

“We have seen renewed interest from strong local and national tenants seeking to capitalize on the property’s incredible location and unprecedented access to foot traffic from the record number of tourists visiting the Las Vegas Strip,” says Jeffrey Schaffer, president of NBP Luxury, LLC, owner of the Hawaiian Marketplace since 2010. Additional upgrades are planned for the 18-acre property, all in accordance with the belief that more and more Vegas visitors are looking for street-side diversions like the ones at the Linq, Bally’s new Grand Bazaar Shops and next year’s Park project on the south Strip.

Fukunaga is all in, too. “There’s a running joke that we’re going to be the saviors of Hawaiian Marketplace,” he says, but he knows it’ll take more than his delicious burgers to make this place a real destination.

“We have to convince tourists they should be eating here, which is hard because they can go to a generic spot right next to us,” he says. “But if we can get a good mix of locals and tourists and fill up our patio space—and it’s a killer space—we’ll be in good shape.”

Tags: Opinion, Dining
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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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