Seven Questions for Matt Erickson

The man in charge of the dining program at SLS Las Vegas on the importance of culture, his chef wish list and what to order him at the bar

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

You’re the senior vice president of restaurants for SBE, the parent company that owns SLS Las Vegas. How’d you get into the hospitality business?

I went to college just outside of Boston, then I moved to Boston and got a job at an investment bank, like every good college guy does. And I realized quickly how much I couldn’t stand sitting behind a desk every day. I had worked at restaurants generic cialis cheap since I was young, and my girlfriend at the time was in the industry and said, ‘Hey, why don’t I get you a job in the industry and get out of this investment bank?’ So long, long story short, I got a job bartending on Newbury Street in Boston at a place called Armani Café. I loved it so much that within a few months I moved up to management. And the rest is history.

SLS is slated to feature 20 restaurants, bars, lounges and nightclubs when it opens Labor Day weekend. But what will set it apart from the competition?

We have several brands that are already proven in other markets that are very successful, whether it’s Katsuya throughout L.A., and the Bazaar with José Andrés in Beverly Hills and in South Beach. And it’s great to take proven brands and pop them all under one roof. The other big differentiator is the fact that every single employee under the roof of SLS Las Vegas is an employee of SBE. So from a culture standpoint, from a hospitality standpoint, from a guest-experience standpoint, the experience will really be seamless.

What’s the one element about SLS that will have first-time guests buzzing?

Philippe Starck’s design will set us apart quite a bit from the rest of the market. In line with his signature style, the design is imaginative and unexpected, with playful twists that complement Las Vegas. Then from a service standpoint, our hospitality and our culture is fun and inviting; it’s not as buttoned-up and as white-tablecloth, maybe, as some of the other stuff in the market. It’s trendy, hip, fun, cool, but still technically really, really well done in terms of the service.

SBE as a company has been growing for 10 years. And it’s almost as if we’ve been growing toward this one moment.

Who is the one chef who isn’t yet in the SLS Las Vegas family that you’d really like to bring aboard?

There are so many great chefs whom I love. We’ve worked with Michael Mina in the past, and he’s such a pro, such a great guy. I’d really like to work with him again. Mario Batali is a really cool guy, someone I admire and respect. And then there are always a lot of up-and-comers. And I would say we have some people in our company now who haven’t quite had the chance to be the No. 1 [chef] and put their footprint on something, and they are really, really talented.

By the time you open it’ll have been more than 3½ years since the last big hotel-casino project debuted on the Strip, the Cosmopolitan. How has the market changed since then?

SBE has had our finger really on the pulse of Los Angeles and South Beach, and for the last couple of years [we’ve been] really engaged here in Las Vegas. Some of the core things that we do—small plates, really social dining, maybe a little lower check averages in some places, giving the guest more of a value proposition—all of those things are kind of the way the market is going.

When was your first trip to Las Vegas, and what were your initial impressions?

My best friend growing up got married to his high school sweetheart, and we stayed at the Rio 15 or 20 years ago. And I loved it. What’s the bar on the roof of Rio? Voodoo. We went up there. And just looking out over the Strip and checking out the other properties—the energy and the vibe and the colorfulness and all of it. Vegas is the one and only!

If someone runs into you at one of the SLS bars and wants to buy you a shot, what should they order?

Chilled Don Julio 1942.