Mr. High Société

With P.U.B. and other new projects, hospitality guru Kelley Jones is on a roll

Photo by Anthony MairK.J.’s concert-ticket collection at home.

Squeezing through the crowd during a busy Thursday lunch shift at Todd English P.U.B., I am eager to meet one of the men behind this apparently recession-proof business: Kelley Jones, managing partner of the P.U.B. and CEO and founder of Société Hospitality, a Las Vegas-based hospitality and lodging group.

He greets me with a friendly smile, a handshake and an invitation to sit down at his “office,” the last table in the back of the CityCenter eatery, surrounded by diners. “When I’m here, this is where I sit,” Jones says. “From this array I can see everything that goes on in the restaurant.”

The vantage point is crucial to a management philosophy built around connecting with guests, sensing their needs and adjusting quickly.

Seven Things Kelley Jones Can’t Live Without

  • Live music. Jones went to more than 300 concerts during his first five years living in Las Vegas. His favorite bands include Phish, U2 and the Grateful Dead. 
  • Drums. Jones has two sets in his music room. “I always sit someone down and get them to start playing. I can turn anyone into a drummer.”
  • Dogs. Jones has two female labs, Joey and Casey. “I wanted to give them the same issues I had growing up—I gave them names where people didn’t know if they were a girl or a boy.”
  • Food and wine. “There is nothing better than to sit at a table with great friends, a great meal and a great bottle of wine. In most cultures, the sharing of food is a communal event.” 
  • Treadmill. “I don’t particularly enjoy running, but it’s a necessity because I love to eat and drink.” 
  • Travel. “I’ve crushed grapes in Tuscany and Bordeaux, and I love the wine regions of the Old World. I love Europe; you can see so many different cultures.” 
  • New York City. “There are so many different neighborhoods where you can have so many different experiences.”

“People are more forgiving of a friend than they are a stranger, so we become friends with the table,” he says. “When I was a chef, I never would have admitted this, but I can overlook an overcooked steak, but I can’t forgive rude or inattentive service.”

The biggest reason for Jones’ success, though, may be his young heart and hippie soul. Although he turns 46 this year, he feels like he’s 25. The New Jersey native plays in a flag football league every Sunday, has earned black belts in two different martial arts, and has two drum sets in his home so that he can jam with visitors.

“At the end of the day, I want to have fun,” Jones says.

Fun is one reason the P.U.B. stands out at CityCenter, where many establishments are on the serious side. Some of Jones’ ideas include nickel beer night, beer pong tables with a gumball machine that dispenses pingpong balls, and the seven-second beer chugging contest. “I’ve opened over 70 properties, and every time you learn something you didn’t know before, including this one,” says Jones, who, before Société, was president of Light Group, vice president of restaurant operations for Starr Restaurant Organization and vice president of restaurant operations for the Kimpton Hotels.

When Todd English brought Jones in just three months before P.U.B.’s opening, he knew he was getting a manager who understood how to create a unique experience. “He is one of the best operators I know, and believe me, I have seen my share in all my years,” English says. “His enthusiasm and energy are contagious. He is great with his peeps and with the customers. All in all, I don’t know many better at this biz better than K.J. I love working with him.”

The team hopes to continue its winning ways, as Jones and English are developing Todd English Burger, a gourmet burger bar in Manhattan. This is but one item on a crowded agenda for Jones: He’s working on eight other projects, too, including a seasonal fine-dining restaurant called Eden with a self-contained garden in Miami. He also has fresh plans for Las Vegas: A create-your-own sushi bar is in the works at Tivoli Village in Summerlin, and Jones was hired to consult on New York-New York creator Mark Advent’s plan to expand the Orange County Choppers Roadhouse on the Strip.

In each of his projects, Jones is looking for new approaches to the old art of dining. “I’ve worked at some great restaurants and with the industry’s leading individuals,” he says. “But now it’s about, How do we have fun? If it ain’t broke, break it.”