- Celebrity chef Hubert Keller is parting ways with MGM Resorts after a 16 year run at the Mandalay Bay.
- Keller’s Burger Bar at The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay was the catalyst for the subsequent Las Vegas boom in chef driven, high quality burger restaurants.
- The plan is to transition both of Keller’s restaurants at the Mandalay Bay to either in-house operation or a new hospitality partner.
For the past two decades, the dining scene in Las Vegas has been one of the most interesting and dynamic in the world. The Asian food variety and quality in Las Vegas is unrivaled by any city in North America. Although the big casino restaurants and celebrity chefs get most of the media run there’s a lot more to Las Vegas dining at all price points.
That being said, it’s difficult to deny that the casino hired celebrity chefs ‘lit the fuse’. Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the Forum Shops is largely credited with setting off the trend toward gourmet chefs coming to Las Vegas and objectively speaking it’s tough to downplay the significance of its role. Other chefs and restaurants have played their part as well with many pioneering another facet of the food scene in Southern Nevada.
There are few cities in the world with the sheer volume of quality hamburger places that you’ll find in Las Vegas. Over the past decade or so, gourmet hamburger restaurants have become ubiquitous in town–often with the name of a well known celebrity chef attached. The linage of this genre can be traced back to Hubert Keller who in 2004 opened the Burger Bar at the Shoppes at Mandalay Place–the shopping promenade that connects the Mandalay Bay to the Luxor. Ironically, he was brought in to the Mandalay Bay to open an outpost of San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys (which later adopted a more casual concept and was renamed as simply Fleur by Hubert Keller) and while he always maintained his fluency with quality French cuisine he’ll forever be known as the chef that kicked off the Las Vegas ‘burger wars’.
Keller is apparently done with both restaurants and is leaving Mandalay Bay. Although the backstory is unclear the verbiage of the MGM Resorts announcement plus reports in the Las Vegas media strongly suggest it was Keller’s decision to part ways with MGM Resorts. Both Fleur and Burger Bar have remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Burger Bar website was still up as of Friday afternoon but it is no longer mentioned among the dining options on the Mandalay Bay website. Fleur is still on the Mandalay Bay site. As of now, it’s unclear what prompted the move though you have to assume the COVID-19 pandemic played some part.
Also unclear is what Keller plans to do next. He’s called Las Vegas home for quite some time–Al Mancini, the dean of Las Vegas food critics–had this blurb in an article about Keller’s departure:
The chef has long called Las Vegas home. The most recent season of his PBS series, “Hubert Keller: Secrets of a Chef,” was subtitled #LovinLasVegas, and featured Keller with various local chefs (as well as this author), visiting local restaurants on and off the Strip.
If Mancini doesn’t know Keller’s future plans then nobody knows them. He did indicate that he’d requested comment from Keller but as of yet has not received one. Mancini’s article did offer Keller’s quote from the MGM announcement:
“It has been a fun and rewarding journey working with the Mandalay Bay team and my restaurant staff throughout the years — I have many happy memories that I will treasure. Wishing everyone success as we all move on to our next chapter.”
Mancini also recounted Keller’s pre-Las Vegas experience:
Keller, who was raised in Alsace, France, trained in the kitchens of legendary chefs Paul Haeberlin, Gaston Lenotre, Paul Bocuse and Roger Vergé in France and South America. In 1982, Keller moved to San Francisco to open Sutter 500 for Vergé. Four years later, he became a partner in San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys.
At this point, it looks like the Burger Bar and Fleur will both reopen in similar incarnations. MGM is going to own and operate Fleur while they’re hoping to reopen Burger Bar ‘with a new hospitality partner’. Here’s the money shot from the MGM statement:
“After a 16-year-run as one of Las Vegas’ most popular burger destinations, Burger Bar at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place will not re-open under the direction of Hubert Keller. MGM Resorts hopes to reopen Burger Bar in the future with a new hospitality partner. Fleur by Hubert Keller, a restaurant known for its regional and seasonally driven French cuisine, will transition to be owned and operated by MGM Resorts. Details around its reopening schedule will be shared in the months ahead and MGM Resorts looks forward to continuing to create special dining experiences for its visitors from around the world.”
The statement also offers a comment from Emmanuel Cornet, Mandalay Bay’s vice president of food and beverage:
“Hubert has consistently delivered exceptional hospitality at his restaurants and we are so grateful for his passion and dedication in bringing first-class dining experiences to our guests.”
Hopefully, Keller will remain in Las Vegas and open a new restaurant(s) here. Given the current struggles of the Southern Nevada economy and particularly the gaming/tourism components it’s unlikely that he’ll do anything substantial until after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.