'Downtown Project' Breathes New Life Into Downtown Vegas

By Lila Asnani, Foodable Contributor 

Carson Kitchen's Rooftop Patio  | Courtesy of Peter Harastay

Carson Kitchen's Rooftop Patio | Courtesy of Peter Harastay

Mention downtown Las Vegas and most people will probably think of fading casinos, rundown hotels, bars and the general impression of an area that has seen better days. 

However, those in the know will say “never bet against the house” and the house, or the city of Las Vegas in this case, has joined forces with Tony Hsieh, the young CEO of Zappos, to revitalize and revamp downtown Las Vegas into a hip and livable space which is aiming to transform the landscape and culture of this once gritty space.

When the Old Becomes New Again

Tony Hsieh started the Downtown Project in 2012 and pledged $350 million of his own money towards this ambitious, and some might call visionary, endeavor.  $200 million has been set aside for real estate development in the neighborhood, $50 million is going towards small business investments, another $50 million is allocated to the Techfund and another $50 million will go towards improving education such as the development of a preschool.

The Downtown Project is only in its 3rd year and has amassed some very impressive numbers.  The Project is made up of owners and investors in over 300 businesses which collectively employ over 900 people. 

The Downtown Project’s mission states that “Our goal and purpose is to help make downtown Vegas a place of Inspiration, Entrepreneurial Energy, Creativity, Innovation, Upward Mobility, and Discovery, through the 3 C’s of Collisions, Co-learning, and Connectedness in a long-term, sustainable way.”

The businesses the Downtown Project owns are as unexpected and exciting as their business philosophy.  They run the full gamut from a reinterpreted model of a retail hub or mall to a member’s only dog facility, in addition to several tech companies that they are investors in or co-own.

Carson Kitchen

Carson Kitchen is a restaurant and business that is co-owned by the Downtown Project.  It is the brainchild of celebrity Chef Kerry Simon along with his business partner Cory Harwell. 

Simon was dubbed the “Rock and Roll Chef” by Rolling Stone Magazine and has won numerous awards including Esquire Magazine’s “America’s Best New Restaurant” and been a winner on Iron Chef America. Simon also owns restaurants in the Palms Place in Las Vegas along with other properties in Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Atlantic City.

Simon has been credited with pioneering new American Cooking and his signature trait is to put his fine dining background and touches on classic comfort foods.  

Carson Kitchen's Swear Jar  | Foodable WebTV Network

Carson Kitchen's Swear Jar | Foodable WebTV Network

Carson Kitchen aims to do just this and so much more.  They have long practiced the farm to table philosophy as evident by their small and very thoughtful menu which has won rave reviews from local and national publications. 

Matt Harwell, the General Manager, notes that their goal is to ensure that every person who comes into Carson Kitchen gets something special.  They have set things up in every aspect to ensure the delivery of a very high quality product at an affordable cost. 

They are striving to create passionate food memories.  Experiences so overwhelming that they have led diners to have delighted outbursts of profanities which are forgiven by a simple contribution to the restaurant Swear Jar!

Matt explains that “we try to create something that is new and nostalgic in our foods.”  Memories of old childhood foods have been revamped into new delicious configurations.  Similarly, old buildings have been renovated and repurposed for new uses. 

Carson Kitchen is located in the John E Carson building which used to be a midcentury modern hotel which has been renovated and now houses multiple other businesses such as a yoga studio, Tech Company and a doughnut shop.

Matt said that Downtown Las Vegas’ reputation of being nitty, gritty and tough is very much in line with Kerry’s own personality. 

Step into Carson Kitchen at any evening and you will see that they have been very successful in becoming the neighborhood hangout for locals and visitors primarily because of their commitment to delivering memorable food experiences through outstanding service and products at affordable prices.

Tony Hsieh, with his Downtown Project, wanted to create an urban landscape which was easily livable.  A dynamic and thriving community where young and old could interact or collide organically and successfully to create something new from something old.

The success of businesses like Carson Kitchen within the Downtown Project is showing that investment in tenacious and innovative entrepreneurs like Kerry can only be a sure way to win the gamble.