Vegas – Insights, Casinos, Fine Dining, Nightlife, Zappos & Adventure

Vegas collage ypo jan 2015

There is something about Vegas that brings everything good and bad in America front and center. Though I’ve been many times, my adventure in Vegas last week was extraordinary. It combined the expected – great restaurants, nightlife and gambling with the unexpected – awe inspiring nature, mind blowing business culture, and valuable take home business insights.

First, renting a house off the strip was a first for me. We used AirBnB and had a 7 bedroom mansion that was a little dated (furniture/fixtures) but was perfect for a group that wants to spend quality time together and have options away from the Casinos. The back and forth was a 10 minute ride and really no issue for anything we wanted to do. I would rent the place again in a second and if you want the link to the house, just contact me.

I’ll bet most of you who have gone to Vegas never leave the strip. That was my feeling until a few years ago I visited (and got married in) the Valley of Fire State Park and well, wow. So now it is a must to get out of town and enjoy the incredible nature surrounding Las Vegas itself. Hiking in the Red Rock Canyon Park is a must do and only about 25 minutes away. Further out is the Valley of Fire (60 min) but well worth the ride. We opted for an ATV ride through the park, which was exciting and enjoyable. We had some nice stops along the way to take in the beauty in between our daredevil ride. Kudos to Adrenaline ATV Tours! –They have a totally professional and cool staff and great equipment made it enjoyable all around. I highly recommend them.

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The week of my visit there were many conventions in the city, but the two most notable were the Shot Show with 67,000 attendees and the Adult Entertainment Expo with 25,000 attendees. The SHOT Show® is the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show and Conference for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories industry. The AEE is well, if you don’t know I won’t discuss it here. Naked people shooting guns you might ask? You can be the judge of what is good or bad, but it is indisputably interesting.

Vegas has arguably the highest concentration of fine dining anywhere in the world. I visited several of note:

  • Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan– I agree with their own description: “Touted aestiatorio-miloss one of North America’s finest Greek restaurants, Estiatorio Milos by restaurateur Costas Spiliadis features fine Mediterranean cuisine at its best and has a longstanding reputation for serving the freshest, most pristine seafood imported daily in New York City and Montreal.” My group did family style and enjoyed everything served. Appitizers of particular note – The grilled Octopus and Greek Meze Plate with Tarama, Tzatziki, Htipiti, manouri cheese, olives & cherry tomatoes blew us away.images-3
  • Katsuya at the SLS Las Vegas– Their description “KATSUYA MARRIES MASTER SUSHI CHEF KATSUYA UECHI’S FRESH TAKES ON JAPANESE CLASSICS WITH DESIGN ICON PHILIPPE STARCK’S SLEEK AND SULTRY INTERIORS.” Among the top sushi restaurants in the country, I put it right up with Nobu, Sushi Ran and our regular favorite Sushi Den.
  • Rao’s at Caesar’s Palace– As they describe it “Step in to a legendary institution—or at least the Vegas offshoot—when visiting Rao’s. The original Rao’s in New York City opened in 1896 and is one of the oldest family owned restaurants in the city, and at 12 tables, is one of the hardest places to get into.” Great family style Italian. Particular favorites include the Sausage & Peppers, Meatballs, the Roasted Red Peppers and the Penne Ala Vodka. Everything is solid and traditional.
  • Buddy V’s Restorante at the Venetian- As they describe it “Buddy Valastro, of TLC’s Cake Boss, has brought his first restaurant to Las Vegas at The Venetian. Buddy V’s Ristorante, a partnership with veteran restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla, is inspired by Valastro’s family gatherings and features recipes passed down from his mother, grandmother and aunts.” Well worth the trip!

Our nightlife included visits to The Sayers Club for live music (awesome) and LIFE for craziness (also awesome in a different way) both at The SLS Casino Vegas as well as a great comedy show at the Flamingo by Vinnie Favorito. Don’t go if you are easily offended, he literally offends everyone, every race, religion, size, shape, origin or whatever. By the end, it would be hard to be mad as he left no stone unturned in his attacks. Its quite an enjoyable show and highly recommended.

zappos logo

One of the coolest things I’ve done in Vegas to date was to visit the offices of Zappos, the online shoe company bought by Amazon in 2009 (I know the date well as I won a prize for remembering the date from the video presentation). Zappos made the reputation and built their business around uncompromising customer service. As they put it – “Customer Service Isn’t Just A Department!

We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple… We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Internally, we call this our WOW philosophy.”

We took the ZapposInsights Cultural Tour and added in the Q&A session. I’d like to give a special shout out to Erika Newman aka @ZCulture_Equine who guided our tour with ease and grace and to Jon Wolske aka the Evangelist @bassred who led our Q&A session warmly. The people really do believe in their motto and live their culture. Their core principles guide their every action and EVERYONE is empowered to make decisions as long as they are consistent with them.

zappos offices

Tony Hsieh the CEO is well known but here is a little background on his story: In 1999, at the age of 24, Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined us as an advisor and investor, and eventually became CEO, where he helped us grow from almost no sales to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually, while simultaneously making Fortune magazines annual Best Companies to Work For list. In November 2009,, Inc. was acquired by in a deal valued at $1.2 billion on the day of closing.

I really found it interesting that the #1 hire was Fred Mossler from Nordstrom. Fred brought knowledge of the shoe business. But I can remember back at Cornell doing case studies on Nordstrom (formerly Nordstrom & Wallin but that is for another day) and their famous customer service. It was one of the most used examples in the 1980s of who to do retail right. In particular their shoe department was famous for service like no other. That Zappos is all about service and started in shoes has Fred’s Nordstrom finger prints all over it. Pretty cool how old school excellence inspired a next generation disruptor.

Here are the 10 core values:

Zappos Core Values


While it was infectious to be around such a motivated team, I don’t think this exact culture would work for many businesses. That said, their commitment to core principles, from top to bottom is a difference maker. Any organization that can distill its core values and get its entire work force believing in them (whatever they are) would out perform any normal organization. I think that is the critical insight that Zappos gives – if you can build a core team who all believe in the core values and remain true to them, you can do extraordinary things. Asked several times does the culture make the company or do the people make the it… we got the same answer from different people – they hire people that are consistent with their values. They DO NOT try to hire people and then change them to work within the Zappos culture. It really is all about fit at the front end or they don’t hire you. Simple yet powerful.

Going from next generation internet retailer with a cult like culture to one of the top luxury hospitality operators gave me further insight into what makes for excellence, in any industry. We had the good fortune to experience a VIP corporate tour of the Venetian and The Palazzo. What an incredible operation. These properties and the Sands Expo & Convention Center are the Las Vegas properties of Las Vegas Sands Corp (NYSE:LVS). The Venetian® Resort~Hotel~Casino and The Palazzo® Resort~Hotel~Casino are in addition to being the world’s largest Five Diamond rated resort, the properties offer not only luxury and entertainment but when combined with Sands® Expo and Convention Center, The Venetian | The Palazzo also make up the largest LEED certified building on the planet, a testament to our commitment to sustainability. As they describe it, their values are:

“Our integrated resorts have become premier destinations for travel enthusiasts around the world. Why do they insist on us? Because they know they can count on unmatched service, a luxurious atmosphere, and superb hospitality every time. They also know that at the heart of our company are unshakable values. We’re committed to listening to our guests and employees, to considering the environmental impact of our decisions, and to contributing to the well-being of the communities in which we do business.”

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The tour took us behind the scenes of an operation that not only has all the visible food and beverage offerings to customers but also serves over 3,500 employees as much as 3 meals a day. It is quite an operation and Executive Chef Olivier Dubreuil took his time explaining how they feed so many team members and serve such a large-scale operation. The large scale sous-vide (French for Under Vacuum) that enables them to slow cook meats slowly for banquets of 1000s of people was mind blowing. Thank you Chef for your commitment to excellence and the care you took explaining and showing us your operation.

John Caparella President and Chief Executive Officer, The Venetian| The Palazzo which along with the convention center and shopping mall form a $1.25 billion revenue business within Sands Corp, shared some of his personal insights into being successful in a luxury gaming operation. Its pretty basic, he said “I look at business as a 3 legged stool. They consist of customers, employees and profits. It only works if all three legs are solid and working together.” In other words, the customer is everything but that only works if your employees, the team that is responsible for serving them, are happy and bought into the mission of excellence. What follows when executed properly are profits. Here is an interview of John by his friend Chuck Wolfe on leadership and emotional intelligence. It was great spending time with John and his team! Thank you.

Well that’s all I may write about from Vegas… I hope you enjoyed and do let me know what you think.







  1. An interested Reader

    really well written! thanks for sharing. Loved the bit about Zappos and culture!

  2. Hey Smoke… Great article. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Culture, Business, and FUN…..Looks like a GREAT time had by all! Thank you for sharing

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