ACHIEVEMENT: Opening its doors amid the recession on December 15, 2009, Herbs & Rye would not have survived its first three years without the perseverance and passion of Mendoza and his staff. Things got so challenging in 2011 that Mendoza had to sell his car to make payroll. Then he and his core employees began intense bar training, and the new steakhouse menu caught on. Just after midnight on January 1, 2012, he recalls saying, “We’re gonna kill it. We’re just fine.”
ROCK SOLID PHILOSOPHY: After flunking his Bellagio busser interview as a teen, Mendoza was given a chance to prove himself as a glass-polisher solely on the strength of his character. This is the core of his hiring philosophy: “It’s all faith,” Mendoza says. “I don’t need rock stars; I need rocks. Solid because they want to be solid, not because they think someone owes them something. The challenge isn’t in firing people, it’s in making them great.”
NO COMPROMISE: “Herbs & Rye is where you have a cocktail and say, ‘That’s how it’s supposed to taste,’” Mendoza says. “It doesn’t matter if I like my Hemingway daiquiri with sugar. We have to make it the right way. We have to go by the book and understand how the American palate was drinking at those times. Our education needs to never end.”
PASSING IT ON: Throughout the year, Mendoza visits Las Vegas elementary schools—including those he attended, where many of the students are undocumented, food insecure or face bleak futures—and creates an Iron Chef-style sundae bar. Not only is it a rare treat for the kids, it’s a chance for Mendoza to demonstrate how math, science and history apply to making it as a successful restaurant owner.