UPDATE 2/23/15: Natalie Young Opening New Restaurant in Las Vegas: Chow
By Stacey Gualandi (@StaceyGualandi)/September 3, 2013
After two decades in the cooking business, it was only a matter of time before Natalie Young would start her own restaurant…only Natalie never would have guessed that. She had overcome addiction to rise among the ranks of Sin City chefs, but the fine-dining world wasn’t feeding her soul.
“Even if I didn’t make a cent from this experience, it’s been priceless. I had the opportunity to open a restaurant from the ground up with my own vision.” Natalie Young
Natalie rebounded in 2012 when the Las Vegas Downtown Project, backed by Zappos CEO Tony Hseih, offered her a no-interest loan to start her own place. Thus eat. was born.
Now that I’m living in Las Vegas myself, I wanted to try out eat. after hearing all the tasty buzz. It’s plopped right in the middle of a once-blighted area in downtown Las Vegas…and in just a few short months, it’s a gamble that’s paid off. I sat down recently for a bowl of shrimp and grits with Natalie to “dish” on community, cooking and her wonderful cuisine….
EYE: Was this always your dream?
NATALIE: No. I had no idea that this is what I was going to be doing. I worked in the casinos for years. I thought at one time I might teach or go into being a private chef, but I never thought I’d own my own restaurant.
EYE: Were you always a good cook?
NATALIE: I’m an artist by trade so I think what happened is my Dad told me you better find something that’s going to take care of you, that you can support yourself with. He didn’t think art was going to do that so I found cooking. I could be creative and take care of myself.
EYE: What was the catalyst for you to start a restaurant?
NATALIE: I was getting ready to leave Las Vegas and head back to Santa Fe, NM. I was done with Vegas and the corporate world. My friend, Michael Cornthwaithe, asked me if I’d consider staying if I had my own restaurant. I said, “What? No way.”
“I didn’t have any money, and he said what if you don’t need any money? Five minutes later, Tony Hsieh walked in and I was introduced. He said, “I know who you are. What size restaurant do you want?”
I found a space and Michael spent two hours a day for a month helping me write a business plan. He and his wife helped me with personal finances to stay afloat because I had no income coming in. Eight months later I had my own restaurant. We are now at 280 days, and I only have four payments left on my loan!!
EYE: Were you ever intimidated or did you have any self-doubt?
NATALIE: I’m kind of a spiritual person. If anything is brought to me it’s my responsibility to address it and go for it and leave the results up to somebody bigger than me. So I live my life like that and push forward.
Even if I didn’t make a cent from this experience, it’s been priceless. I had the opportunity to open a restaurant from the ground up with my own vision.
EYE: What was your vision?
NATALIE: This restaurant is really a reflection of my inside out. Everything you see, the music you hear, the people who work here, are things that I love. Somebody gave me a pile of money and said go do your thing. I’ve been in this industry for 25 years, mostly fine dining, and I’ve seen what I like and what I don’t like in many restaurants. I bring to the table my own vibe.
EYE: To what do you owe your early success?
NATALIE: The community. It’s not just me doing this; the whole community has been behind me and supported me in this. The Downtown Project gives me tons of nurturing support.
EYE: How does the partnership work with the Downtown Project?
NATALIE: They not only give you the fish, they teach you how to fish. They teach you how to feed yourself.
EYE: How do you compete in a city with a who’s who of chefs?
NATALIE: I don’t. I say there’s apples and oranges…eat. is a kiwi. I just do my own thing; I don’t worry what anyone else is doing. I’m not recreating the culinary wheel here. I’m doing simple food really well.
EYE: Do you think you are becoming a mentor for other women?
NATALIE: I would hope so. Not just women, but anybody. Look, I came up the ranks with middle-aged, Caucasian men who were hard on me… very, very hard on me. I’m grateful for that experience because that gave me the knowledge and the backbone to be able to run my own business.
So don’t always look at unfairness and hard work as a bad thing. I look at it as maybe it’s preparing you for something in your future. There are a lot of guys I’ve worked with who would love to be in my position right now who are not. What matters is how I choose to continue to live my life today and how I treat other people. Some days I fail.
EYE: Did you ever feel like giving up?
NATALIE: I remember when I first opened up and I was at my house and I was crying. A neighbor walked by, saw me and said, “What’s wrong?” I said I can’t do it. He said you already are and he hugged me. That gave me the strength for one more day. We all help each other.
EYE: Where is all this leading for you?
NATALIE: I have no idea what the future is going to hold for me, and I just try to do what I do. If other opportunities present themselves, I weigh very heavily on if it’s something I should do. I also weigh whether it helps the community.
“I have no desire to be rich or famous; I just want to be happy.”
EYE: What is the eat. experience?
NATALIE: I think community and conversation. We don’t have gambling, alcohol, wi-fi or smoking. It’s just eat and enjoy in an urban setting with none of the bells and whistles. I think human beings have lost the simple pleasure of having a good meal and conversation with loved ones. Eat. is simply simple food made with love.
EYE: I’ve got to tell you that this shrimp dish is out of sight. Can’t wait to come back for more! Please keep us posted on your next adventure. Thanks, Natalie.
I had the shrimp and grits on my way thru Vegas … Your right it was unbelievably good. Best dish I’ve ever had.
I’m in San Diego… Do U know if the recipe is available ?