The restaurant business isn’t for the faint of heart. The hours are long and the Yelp reviews brutal. Chef Nicole Brisson has worked in the industry since she was 14, and in the nearly two decades she has been in Las Vegas, she’s made a name for herself as one of the top chefs in the game, helming such restaurants as Carnevino and Eataly at Park MGM.
The Weekly talked to Brisson right before April’s UNLVino, where she received the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. During that interview, the chef was asked where she saw herself in five years. She said, without hesitation, she would like to own her own restaurant. Fast-forward two months—two months!—and Locale, Brisson’s Italian restaurant in Mountain’s Edge, had debuted.
“When Carnevino closed and I had gone into Eataly, it was probably my last big stepping stone, the biggest bucket list of things I wanted to do. It was 500 employees, 30 health permits. It was a huge operation,” Brisson says. “For me, it was just such an inspiration, seeing what they’ve done with Italian food, and what they’ve done with the industry. And I think that kind of kick-started me.”
Andy Hooper, a partner in the Black Sheep and previously a general manager with the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, approached Brisson. The two had worked together for a dozen years, and it just seemed like a natural fit. “Andy came to me and had interviewed, I think, 10 other chefs, and he just kept coming back to me. He said, ‘They’re great, but they’re not you.’ He was like, ‘Just make the decision and take the plunge.’”
That big decision didn’t come without second-guessing and anxiety. Brisson recalls waking up crying in the middle of the night three days before opening, stressing whether anyone would show up when the doors opened. “It’s the first time that I’m not under the umbrella of these large corporations I’d worked for for so many years,” she says. “They taught me so much and paved the way for my future. But now it’s about me, it’s about my livelihood.”
Locale opened on June 19, and Brisson, of all people, knows that it takes time to establish a flow. This has perhaps been the hardest challenge to overcome—wanting everything to be in place but knowing that it’s a process of starts and stops, of trying again and again to see what works and what doesn’t. “It took me eight years to make Carnevino what it was. It took me every single day, every hour, making it better, making it a well-oiled machine,” Brisson says. “Every day we’re changing the menu [at Locale], because we’re finding what works for a neighborhood restaurant, where I can be creative and give people what they want.”
Given the hyperspeed with which Brisson ticks off her goals, it’s a safe bet Locale is just the beginning of the next chapter in a storied career. “I just secretly know that I’m crazy,” she says with a laugh. “Now I just keep seeing the next thing, and the next thing. Now I want to open a bigger restaurant. And another. Maybe this is the start of something even bigger.”