On April 12, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas witnessed a deluge. That evening, a cold water main broke and flooded the casino’s just-opened sports book, its ostensibly clandestine pizzeria and Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.
Ironically, the eatery dedicated to serving fish bore the brunt of the downpour. By the time the waters of April had subsided, the damage included the restaurant’s entire hickory-plank floor, big stretches of its walls, its front sushi bar and all of its lighting.
Blue Ribbon Sushi, which opened in mid-December, was brought to Las Vegas by Bruce and Eric Bromberg, who created Manhattan’s original Blue Ribbon almost 20 years ago. There isn’t much they haven’t seen in the restaurant business, but seeing a brand-new restaurant thrashed by flood waters—in a desert, no less—took them aback.
Bruce had just taken the red-eye back to New York on Monday night; after a day of meetings, he noticed that he had an unusually large number of missed calls. Within minutes of getting the news that something significant had happened in Las Vegas, he was on a plane back. By 9:30 Wednesday morning, he walked into Blue Ribbon Las Vegas and saw that the reconstruction had already begun.
“There were drying machines throughout the space and about two dozen guys ripping out the floor, while others were vetting just what was damaged, and to what extent.”
The question was, how long would it take the restaurant, which only opened in December, to open again?
Initially, Bromberg thought it was a two-month job. The biggest task facing the rebuilders was removing and reinstalling the entire wood floor. This wasn’t a simple cut-and- snap job, like swapping out laminate flooring: The original installation took four weeks. But eight installation crews, working around the clock, were able to replace the floor in a mere five days.
That wasn’t all, however: In addition to the front sushi bar and all of the restaurant’s lighting, all of the Japanese plasterwork on the walls had to be replaced. Plus, about half of the wall and ceiling finishes were removed, refurbished and returned to their original state.
Seventeen days after the first trickle interrupted dinner service, the restaurant was open again, looking much as it did the day it opened.
Homeowners who have had to endure weeks of disruption for a simple cabinet replacement or paint job might wonder exactly what was needed to effect such a quick turnaround.
First, it helps to have a crew of up to 40 people at a time working on the job, something that is within the budget of a major casino eatery. But it’s not just a matter of throwing money and manpower at the problem, since the diners paying a premium for a gourmet experience in the surrounding restaurants wouldn’t take kindly to a symphony of hammers and saws accompanying their seared sea scallops or jamón ibérico de bellota.
“We worked two 10-hour shifts each day, from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” says Cosmopolitan vice president of construction Chris Johnson. “We were sensitive to create as little disturbance as possible during the main dinner hours of 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.”
Hard work (and the finances to pay for it) was just one part of the equation, though.
“The quick turnaround was a result of our resourcefulness in obtaining building materials,” Johnson says. “We had contractors get on planes, drive delivery trucks around the clock and call in favors in order to procure the needed materials in the time we needed them.” The hickory floor (“very durable wood with a beautiful grain,” Bromberg says) wasn’t something they picked up at the Home Depot; finishes like that are often ordered months in advance. Fortunately, the same supplier still had some stock remaining from the batch the originally outfitted the restaurant. By Friday, it was acclimating to the room and getting ready for installation.
With this hustle in sourcing replacements, the reconstruction of Blue Ribbon Sushi became an exercise in teamwork. Bromberg credits Johnson with bringing everyone together, and Johnson cites the presence of the Brombergs and chief contractor Perini’s clockwork organization of the reconstruction shifts as key to the quick turnaround.
If Las Vegas casino operators could show the same kind of drive and focus in responding to a real calamity—the ongoing slump—we might start moving forward again.