At just 33 years old, David Duran is standing on one of the highest rungs of Las Vegas’ food and beverage ladder. As director of restaurants for the Cosmopolitan, he oversees all of the resort-managed restaurants, in-room dining and pool service, and interacts with its stellar team of celebrity chefs. Duran is a third-generation restaurateur who, at the age of 10 began working weekends in his father’s restaurant, El Burrito West on Decatur Boulevard and Washington Avenue. At the age of 17, he jumped into the fine dining world, convincing his sister’s boyfriend to offer him a job as a busboy at the award-winning Renoir in The Mirage. Four years later, when he turned 21, Duran was promoted to the lofty post of captain.
Going from a family-run Mexican joint to a five-star restaurant was an eye-opener for the young man, exposing him to elements of the dining experience he’d never before encountered. “The first thing was the canapés we dropped for every guest,” he recalls. “It was panisse with salmon rillettes, and I think it took a week before I was even comfortable saying those words. And sweetbreads, I’d never heard of in my life.”
Yet Duran became fascinated with the fine dining scene. When Renoir closed in 2004, he followed executive chef Alex Stratta to open the chef’s namesake restaurant Alex in Wynn. “That experience was completely different. You had this grandiose room with the staircase. I remember the first time I walked in there, just being in awe in comparison [to Renoir]. But it was a great team. It was a much bigger team with twice the staff and twice the number of seats.”
Duran’s was a meteoric rise, but after four years at Wynn, he was already anxious to take the next step. He approached Stratta about an open management position at Alex. Instead, he was offered an assistant manager job at the chef’s more casual Italian restaurant, Stratta, where he was later promoted to general manager. After accumulating two years of management experience, he re-entered fine dining as general manager of Michael Mina’s American Fish. But just three months later, he again felt the itch to expand his horizons. “I was to the point that I didn’t feel that I was still challenging myself as much as I could.” So when the Cosmopolitan posted an opening for the director of restaurants position in 2012, Duran reached out to some old friends in the company and landed the gig.
Duran’s responsibilities have evolved, as has the resort and its restaurant program. There are plans to open a Las Vegas incarnation of the modern Japanese restaurant chain Zuma, and Tao Group’s impending Beauty & Essex will replace Comme Ça in the P3 Commons restaurant row. All of this comes at a time when many are wondering if the Cosmopolitan can retain its reputation as Las Vegas’ “cool” casino. Duran feels confident it can.
“That draw is still there, and that excitement is still there. What we’re doing is realizing we have an opportunity to refresh and stay relevant.”
If he pulls that off, Las Vegas will just have to wait and see what’s next.