On the morning of February 27, a ribbon-cutting and lease-signing ceremony will be held in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Palazzo to announce the opening of a Chinese restaurant called Meizhou Dongpo in late 2015 or early 2016. That’s not really big news in a town where restaurants seemingly open and close every day. If you’ve spent a lot of time in China, however, it’s a different story.
Since opening the first Meizhou Dongpo restaurant in Beijing 19 years ago, the company’s president, Wang Gang, has expanded it to a national chain with more than 100 locations specializing in Sichuan cuisine. The brand’s popularity was enough to score Wang a catering gig at the Beijing Olympic Village in 2008. And now he has his sights set on America. Meizhou Dongpo opened a location in L.A.’s Century City last year, and another is under construction in Arcadia, California. But the Las Vegas space will be the company’s flagship.
In advance of the ceremony, I sat down with Gang’s wife, Di Liang Dee, who is also the company’s CEO, to discuss the restaurant and her company’s plans for Las Vegas. Speaking through a translator, she told me the restaurant would offer many dishes Americans should find familiar, such as kung pao and Peking duck. But don’t expect them to be exactly what you’re used to. “We’re aware that you have lots of Chinese food in the U.S.,” Liang says, “But that doesn’t mean it’s the authentic representation of what they are back in China. So some of the things we provide will be quite different [than what you’re used to].”
The large restaurant will front the Strip near the Palazzo’s Sands Avenue entrance. While its design is expected to resemble the posh, modern décor of the Century City location, Liang insists “we treat every new location as an opportunity to come up with something new.” And though the ambience will be geared toward special occasions, she promises the restaurant will also be family-friendly. “There will be a huge range in our menu items,” she says of the cuisine.
Although it might be risky elsewhere, bringing in a chain that’s well known in China, but relatively unheard of in the U.S. actually makes sense in Las Vegas. According to the LVCVA, foreign visitors accounted for 20 percent of tourism in 2013, up from 14 percent in 2009. And Chinese tourists reportedly account for a significant percentage of casino high-rollers. Liang admits they chose the Grand Canal Shoppes because “the Venetian and the Grand Canal Shoppes … have a huge Chinese customer base.” But she believes the restaurant will also appeal to Americans, including locals: “We believe that good food is universal, and can be appreciated wherever you go.”