Jonathan Segal can rattle off a list of what is absolutely sacred in America, and one of those things, he says, is the steak house. As all-American as cattle and apple pie, the steak house enables us to eat what we really like—big, juicy cuts of meat. Considering that Segal is a transplant from the U.K., his insight into the American appetite is stunning. His first foray into steak came in 2005 with the opening of STK in New York. Less than six years later and his company, One Group, is on the cusp of opening its 24th venue in the United States and has signed deals to take his trendy chain of steak houses to his native England. His most recent incarnation of STK is right here, in what Segal calls another sacred American tradition—Las Vegas. The venue, in the Cosmopolitan, has the attributes that Segal brings to all his locations: stylish, upbeat atmosphere and a female-friendly menu.
Why did you wait so long to expand into Las Vegas?
When I opened my first venue in January 2004, I came across another piece of real estate in the meatpacking district and I was trying to work out what to do with the space. I realized very early on that there are three things in America that are absolutely sacrosanct: the steak house, the flag and Las Vegas. I thought, “I won’t dick around with the flag, and our company is way too young to go to Vegas.” You can’t possibly open a venue and then a year later open up in Las Vegas, because Las Vegas is the hospitality capital of the world. Unless you’re good, you’ll get eaten up. The best and the greatest hospitality operators trade in this city, and so there was no way we were going to consider coming to Las Vegas until we were really confident in what we had to offer.
What is the key to opening a successful restaurant?
I think it’s 100 percent down to the staff. One of the things I’m completely blown away about is the stunning quality of people in the hospitality industry in this city. I said that when we go to Vegas, for as much as we know about hospitality, guest services and guest relations, we will learn an outstanding amount by operating in Las Vegas. We have fantastic employees in our company. By June I’ll be at 1,700 employees. You can’t build a company that fast unless you have an amazing staff. It doesn’t matter how big your organization is, but here in Las Vegas the success is down to the commitment and dedication and the stunning professionalism of the people who work here.
Why do you focus on being female-friendly?
Everything my company does is about women. Everyone needs to realize that women control this world. They have worked out the amazing ability of making us think we’re in control, but we’re really not. Seventy-five percent of all household decisions are made by women, so if you can cage the female market we’re just going to follow on our knees.
Your partner is a woman. Does that have anything to do with your success with women?
I’ve built a number of successful companies and they’ve always had mostly women in senior positions, not because of any other reason than I’ll give the best job to the best man, and if the best man happens to be a woman then she gets the job. Everything we do in all of our companies has always been targeted to the female market. My company is run by Celeste Fierro, and I’m completely and utterly terrified of her.
Aside from your own, what is your favorite Las Vegas steak house?
I like different restaurants for different reasons. All of them serve great steak, but it really depends on what I want out of the experience. If I want just grown-up and sexy, it’s going to be Strip House. If I want amazing scenery, it’s got to be SW. If you want just a really cool venue, somewhere like Botero. The quality of the food in some of these steak houses in Las Vegas is excellent. I think my favorite is what I want at the time and what experience I want over and above the meal. I have to bring that back to STK because, at STK, it’s not just about coming for the steak; it’s about coming for the environment, the vibe and the energy.
The U.K. hasn’t been known for its food. Does it get a bad rap?
I think that up until recently we’ve been a little bit conservative in what we do there. There is absolutely no question that England is improving in leaps and bounds. In fact, through this last recession the cool and sexy and trendy restaurants have done outstandingly well in the United Kingdom. I think also we are benefiting from an influx of Americanism in the dining market, which in a certain way is shaking up some of the more traditional values we put on the dining experience.
What would your last meal be?
I couldn’t possibly answer that without being completely rude. Let me tell you it would not be food.