Zachary Conine, vice president of development for The LEV Restaurant Group, feels Las Vegas is sadly “under-crustaceaned,” and is doing something about it.
Next week, the Las Vegas-based multi-concept operator is planning to open Lobster ME, a quick-service brand featuring a virtually all-lobster menu.
It is the second original concept by the group, which earlier this year launched I Love Burgers (a heart symbol represents “Love” in the name), a gourmet burger restaurant with a second location scheduled to open later this year.
The group also is a franchise operator of 32 Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Jamba Juice locations in the Las Vegas area. And the group is to soon debut a third original concept called Daily Kitchen & Wellness Bar with a healthful fast-casual menu.
Lobster ME — the ME refers to the state abbreviation for Maine — is capturing a growing passion in the West for the East Coast crustacean, with the classic lobster roll sandwich appearing on menus up and down the California coast, and even on a Los Angeles food truck.
In Las Vegas, the goal of Lobster ME is to recreate an “approachable” Atlantic coast lobster shack within the noticeably ocean-free confines of the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Conine said.
Lobster ME will feature only Maine lobster sourced from Atlantic coast waters and flash frozen for shipping to the Nevada desert.
“It’s an homage to all things good and Maine and the Atlantic seacoast,” he said.
On the menu will be the restaurant’s self-proclaimed World’s Best Lobster Roll, made with mayonnaise, butter, lemon and herbs, and served — as it should be — with Cape Cod brand potato chips.
Lobster stars in most other dishes as well, from the lobster & waffles at breakfast, to the lobster grilled cheese; “The Lobsicle,” a fried lobster tail on a stick; and lobster mac and cheese.
For the adventurous, there’s even lobster ice cream for dessert, made by Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor.
Conine said the average check will be about $15, with a lobster roll with 4 ounces of meat starting at about $15.50.
The venue, which is in Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops, will have counter service and no seating, so guests can wander through the shops as they eat.
LEV Restaurant Group was founded by Jeffrey Fine in 2002, when he bought an existing Coffee Bean franchise operation and became an area developer.
Last year, Fine added eight Jamba Juice locations to the group, and he plans to continue growing both franchise concepts.
Rather than simply franchising someone else’s brand, Fine also wanted to develop original concepts to grow, Conine said.
The first I Love Burgers location, in The Shoppes at The Palazzo resort and casino, is a full-service restaurant known not only for gourmet burgers but also for extravagant milkshakes. The average check is about $21.
“We’re riding the crest of better-burger concepts,” Conine said.
The second I Love Burgers location, scheduled to open in October across town, will be fast-casual, but with the addition of a full bar.
Also planned before the end of 2011 is the launch of Daily Kitchen, which Conine described as a fast-casual concept with an affordable menu focused on healthful foods.
Conine said the group developed the concept because “we wanted a place we could eat. There aren’t a lot of healthy options in Las Vegas.”
The first location is scheduled to open in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin this fall, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner in a counter-service setting with about 20 seats inside and another 30 on an outdoor patio.
The average check will be about $12 between all dayparts. “We think it will be a place where people can go daily,” he said.
A second location of Daily Kitchen — slightly bigger and with the addition of a wine bar — also is planned before the end of the year, Conine said.
“LEV Restaurant Group is committed and dedicated to quick expansion,” he said.
Through the recession, Las Vegas has been hit hard, with tourism dropping significantly and foreclosure rates running among the highest in the nation.
However, Conine said things are picking up, and same-store sales have remained positive at both the group’s neighborhood and casino-based locations.
The group is positioned, with its concepts offering a range of affordable price points, to take advantage of trade-down from the pricier restaurants that are struggling on the Strip, he said.
“Our concepts play toward where we feel Vegas is now and probably will be for a while.”
— Lisa Jennings