A mere eight days before the kickoff of Life Is Beautiful, executive chef Brian Massie and five other Clique Hospitality executives are gathered at Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar in Red Rock Resort. The restaurant has been charged with providing food to the festival’s VIP section and for the private cabanas, as well as at a booth in the general admission section. That’s a bit more labor intensive and time sensitive than the concessions at a typical festival or Hearthstone’s simple booth last year. And to make things even more hectic, Clique had just soft-opened a sister restaurant, Salute by Luciano Sautto (which will be collaborating with Hearthstone at the festival) at Red Rock the previous evening.
Massie is no stranger to pressure. The former corporate executive chef with Light Group, he operated six restaurants in Las Vegas, as well as provided food to the group’s three dayclubs during pool season. But setting up on the streets of Las Vegas for 90,000 music fans over three days is different. As they gather around the table this afternoon, they’re all cool and collected, despite the fact that a few critical decisions—such as how they’re preparing Hearthstone’s pizza dough and serving Salute’s gelato (the only two items on the menu this year)—still needed to be made. On top of that, they won’t get to tour the site until two days before the gates open.
As the meeting begins, marketing manager Amber Poders circulates a “punch list.” It contains 42 items that need to be addressed, divided into five categories: equipment, tasks, supplies, marketing collateral and staffing. First up for discussion is freezer space for the gelato, which is not being provided by the festival organizers. Massie will borrow two freezers from Red Rock and a gelato case from Novocento restaurant. Nonetheless, there are still worries.
“My concern,” sous chef Ren Caceres says, “is that we take the gelato over there and, like last year, the circuits trip overnight. I just don’t want to take all those containers of gelato and have something go wrong overnight or in the middle of the festival, and all of a sudden we lose everything we have.”
It turns out that one of their team incorrectly started an electrical generator last year, causing a freezer to go out. To guard against a repeat of that experience, they debate bringing their gelato supply in two shipments. The idea seems to go unresolved.
Other issues that arise are where the pizza dough will be stretched. Rolling out the dough by hand on-site takes two to three minutes per pizza, which is a problem during busy hours. “What happened last year,” Hearthstone general manager Andrew Pittard says, “is that the customers came in such waves, and when they did come we were trying to maximize the number of guests and be extremely efficient.” To break even, he says, the restaurant needs to be able to crank out a pizza every 60 seconds.
The optimal solution seems to be to use a machine at Salute that can press the dough before it’s sent to the site. But that will require making Roman-style pizza as opposed to classic Neapolitan. And nobody’s quite sure that dough pressed on Thursday will hold up through Sunday.
A similar question arises about gelato. While Salute serves it in amaretti cones that are rolled to order, using cups will save time at the festival. After a bit of debate, the preference seems to be for cups.
And so the meeting goes. Is it worth it to put Hearthstone’s logo on their pizza boxes? If so, should it be stamped on, or slapped on as a sticker? Who offers the most affordable T-shirts, tank tops and hats for the staff? What will they use to provide shade for the employees at the general admission kitchen? (VIP, fortunately, has a shaded booth.) And will that shade hold up in high winds? Who are they getting to staff each station? And, of course, who’s delivering what, when and in what vehicle?
Luckily, everybody at the table seems to have experience or a connection to address each of these logistical questions. So over the course of the meeting, they volunteer to handle these last-minute tasks, or trade for something they’re more confident with handling.
Dozens of items on their list were taken care of weeks ago—things such as tables, wood for the ovens, ticket boxes and even fire extinguishers. As the meeting comes to a close, nobody seems to doubt whether the Hearthstone pop-ups will be fully up and running when the festival gates open. And when they do, I won’t be taking the gourmet pizza and house-made gelato for granted.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez