Las Vegas is awash in globe-trotting, superstar chefs, but even among the kitchen celebrities and world-conquering culinary artists that operate on the Strip, Akira Back is a rarity.
Born in Korea and raised in Colorado, Back made his name in Vegas when he opened Yellowtail at Bellagio, consistently one of the most popular and successful Japanese restaurants on the Strip. Unlike others who brought their concepts and cuisine to Las Vegas, Back founded his empire here.
In 2014 he opened Akira Back restaurants in Jakarta and New Delhi, expanding and innovating upon his own upscale, fun fusion of Japanese and Korean flavors. The former professional snowboarder is planning to expand the AB brand to Seoul, Dubai, Singapore, LA, Toronto and Dallas, and he has also developed a Korean barbecue/American steakhouse hybrid concept, opening soon in Seoul and Hawaii.
“I feel like this next year is really going to change things,” Back says. “After that, I’m slowing down. Since [opening AB] I’ve turned down a lot deals. So many people in the industry and customers know these restaurants in Las Vegas. It has really helped me grow.”
Back also opened Dosa, a small fine-dining restaurant, this year in Korea, a very personal project. “It was special, and there was a lot of expectations,” he says. “Even there, everyone thinks of me as the Las Vegas guy. They love it because of Las Vegas.”
But Las Vegas is home today, and it’s common to catch the chef in Yellowtail and Kumi at Mandalay Bay, both unveiling new menu items this month. The growth of his own brand around the world has only strengthened his Vegas endeavors. “It’s pretty amazing how Kumi and Yellowtail keep going up, keep growing when there is so much Japanese restaurant [competition] on the Strip,” Back says. “Every time another one opens, it helps us. For me, it’s perfect timing.” Yellowtail at Bellagio, 702-730-3900; Kumi at Mandalay Bay, 702-632-9100.