Chow down, but not out

An exterior view of Chow, Chef Natalie Young’s Chinese and Chicken restaurant, 1020 E. Fremont St., in downtown Las Vegas Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Photo: Steve Marcus

If you want a table at Chef Natalie Young’s downtown “breakfast and lunch joint” Eat, you’ll have to wait a few minutes; that’s the way it’s been since the Downtown restaurant opened its doors five years ago. But at Young’s “Chinese and chicken joint” Chow—practically around the corner, near the corner of Fremont and 10th Streets—the story has been considerably different.

“The plan was to be a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and I don’t feel like the foot traffic is strong enough to support that,” Young says. “We’ve done okay for two years, but we’re sitting down there by ourselves.”

Chow’s immediate neighbors—Writer’s Block Book Shop and 11th Street Records—are destination businesses whose customers probably ate lunch or dinner somewhere else (perhaps at the nearby Kitchen at Atomic, which has a built-in clientele from its adjoining bar). And the Fremont 9 apartments, just up the street, won’t receive their first tenants for a while yet. Young saw too many occasions where employees were forced to stand idle while Chow did “only 70 [covers] a day,” she says. “In two years, I haven’t made any money there.”

Then, just as Young was thinking of “throwing in the towel,” an unlikely source of revenue presented itself.

“Catering wasn’t initially my forte,” Young says. “But parties keep coming. And they’re big—two, three hundred people. And we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

Young has decided to close Chow to daily customers, while increasing its capacity as a catering kitchen. “I have the labor I need to produce these events,” she says, “and that’s it. I turn off the electricity and just order the food that I need.” The reduced overhead allows Young to hold onto the location until foot traffic increases, and may present an opportunity for other Valley chefs: She’d like to see the Chow space used for pop-ups.

“We’ll rent it out for special events, and once a month we’ll do our fried chicken pop-up that always sells out,” she says. "And if someone in town wants to do a restaurant for two or three days, they can walk in, pay me for the space and have at it.”

Young is considering several other restaurant concepts (“I have a little interest in pizza, a little interest in Mexican food”), but for now, she’s concentrating her efforts on her catering and on her Eat locations in Downtown and in Summerlin. (“We’re like a young giraffe, trying to find our feet up there,” she says of the latter.) But pop-ups notwithstanding, she suggests we haven’t seen the last of Chow. When foot traffic increases, it could very well come back.

“I love the neighborhood,” she says, “and I love the brand.”

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