Las Vegas restaurateur Penny Chutima on Lotus of Siam’s legacy and incoming Greek concepts at Red Rock Resort
We have entered a new era of the legendary local restaurant Lotus of Siam. Its latest location, at Red Rock Resort, opened in November, designed by second-generation restaurateur Penny Chutima, daughter of James Beard Award-winning chef Saipin Chutima, and local hospitality veteran Lou Abin. It’s the first project for the duo’s new Bua Food group, which is also gearing up to open seafood-focused Greek concepts Naxos Taverna and Kallisto Oyster Bar at the Summerlin resort in the coming months.
The genesis of these developments began in 2017, when Penny Chutima had left the family business and was working to finish law school in California when the roof at the original Lotus of Siam collapsed, forcing the restaurant to close. She returned to Las Vegas to help sort out her future and ended up “falling more in love with the business,” returning to hospitality with a new focus.
After growing with Lotus of Siam, how has it been developing new, different restaurant concepts? Definitely exciting. When I was much younger, the restaurant business was not my forte. I wanted nothing to do with it. But growing up and seeing my parents working so hard at this restaurant and trying to get their product out into the world, it made me think about it in a different light. And I love to eat, so it was definitely a great opportunity when it came to opening [a restaurant] with a different style of food.
What makes you focus on Greek cuisine for new concepts? When Lou [Abin] and I started working [other concepts], we realized that it is very rare to find Greek food in another sphere. We’ve always seen a type of this cuisine that leans more towards the Mediterranean than the strong Greek. We have a very good one already in Las Vegas with [Estiatorio] Milos, and there is another [Elia Taverna] in the Sahara. It’s one of those things that I feel like Vegas needs. When I went to Chicago, there was a Greek place on every corner and none of them are the same.
Maybe the city needs a little education on Greek food in the same way it once did on Thai food? I would agree with that. When we first came [to town with Lotus of Siam], many of the guests who came only knew about pad Thai and som tam, maybe coconut soup. It is always a fascinating experience to see different guests and other cultures adapt and expand their horizons.
Do your parents give you advice about the restaurant business? Oh yes, 100%. Both my parents are first-generation immigrants and tend to be on the cautious side, and I always look to that side, to be careful with what I do in business and not be careless. I talk to them quite often. My father was a finance major, so it’s been an education not only in opening a restaurant, but also in finance.
Lotus has always been something of a restaurant in its own category. How important is it to you to maintain that legacy? It’s one of my top priorities, especially with my mom’s brand. I looked at where my mom came from and what she had to endure to get to this point, and [continuing] this is definitely something i want to pursue. At first it was like a hobby, and now it has become my goal. My mother is literally the American dream. She came here on a plane and never knew how to speak English, and she’s made it this far. Her English is improving, but she doesn’t really need it.
What is the status of other Lotus of Siam locations? The Flamingo Road restaurant is set to close when the original Sahara location reopens. We are aiming for … the first quarter of 2023. It will be good to open the Sahara again, especially since that square [Commercial Center] has changed a lot in recent years.
The new Red Rock restaurant has a very different feel from the previous locations. Red Rock has a different vibe – it caters a bit more to a late night crowd, and hopefully we’ll see that grow on the weekends. When industry people get off work at 11 or 12, there aren’t many [in the area] to go out to eat anymore, especially after COVID, so we’re trying to make that happen. We are also planning to do a party brunch, and hope to launch that in the winter.
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