The Downtown Success Story: Natalie Young

Chef and restaurateur

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

ACHIEVEMENTS A little more than two years ago, Natalie Young was leaving Las Vegas for Santa Fe, New Mexico, when a chance encounter with Tony Hsieh ended with $225,000 in her pocket to start her own restaurant. Today, Eat, her breakfast and lunch spot on Carson Avenue, is bustling with locals and tourists eager for a bite of her eclectic comfort food. This summer, she’ll expand her Downtown reach by opening Chow, the area’s first Chinese restaurant.

TOUGH LOVE Young is used to standing out in the kitchen, but not just because of her tattooed arms or electric curls. While working at restaurants such as the now-defunct Coyote Café in the MGM or the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris, she says she was the only gay African-American female on staff. “When I’d get to work, people would tell me to shut up and cook,” she says. Because of those tough early years, Young makes it a point to create a friendly and family-like atmosphere for her 28 employees. They get holidays off, have potlucks together and receive gifts, such as a new TV for Christmas. “But don’t get that twisted,” she says. “I’m still a prickly chef.”

IT TAKES A VILLAGE “I never expected this,” Young says of her recent success. “I just wanted to pay my rent and feed my dogs.” Doing that was a struggle at times while Young tried to get Eat off the ground, so several friends stepped in, covering her rent (which was three months overdue) and other bills. When the restaurant finally turned a profit, she made good on her debts—including paying back Hsieh (which she did a year later). When Young thinks of it now, her eyes well up. “That inspired me to help my neighbors and friends when it’s my turn.”

CULINARY ART Long before she was flipping pancakes, Young wanted to be an artist. So when muralists began throwing up paint in her neighborhood for Life Is Beautiful, she offered free meals while they worked. If you walk into Eat, you can see some of the muralists’ doodles inscribed on the wall—a “thank you” to the chef. “If I ever leave this spot,” she says, “I’m tearing those out of the wall and taking them with me.”

NOW EAT THIS Young says Chow’s menu will be a mix of Chinese, fried chicken and some of her personal flare. “I don’t want to alienate my customers with fancy cooking techniques they don’t understand,” she says. “What’s on my menu is what I enjoy fucking eating.”

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