As the two presidential candidates barrage us with ads debating whose policies would be more devastating to America’s small business owners, it’s worth repeating that several great chefs have left the safety of their casino jobs over the past few years to set up successful small restaurants.
While many have resourcefully forged partnerships with established bars (and in one case, a hair salon), Chris Herrin took a different route by opening a stand-alone bakery/sandwich shop called Bread and Butter in Henderson. The critically acclaimed spot recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Herrin isn’t taking any time off to celebrate, however. Last month, he opened a unique little restaurant in the same strip mall called Meat & Three. There, the accomplished baker is stepping out of his comfort zone by offering dinner in a cafeteria-style setting.
The concept of Meat & Three is Southern. Guests order from a counter, where they’re presented with lists of meats, hot sides, cold sides and desserts. Dinner options are Meat & 1 ($10.95), Meat & 2 ($12.95) or Meat & 3 ($14.95), with the number referring to the number of sides you want. Your choices are brought to your table by a server. It may seem like a simple concept, but it’s a major step for Herrin. He’s never worked as a savory chef, and Bread & Butter has never served dinner.
“Some say it’s an expansion,” he says when asked about the new project. “I just think it’s an evolution of what we do at Bread & Butter. It’s a lot of the same decoration, a lot of the same theme. It’s the same employees. We’re just kind of expanding what we do at the bakery. We needed space for cooking, so we just basically took over another kitchen to help us. And a by-product of that is we’re gonna do dinner 3 to 9 every night.” (The hours will soon expand, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Before striking out on his own, Herrin worked for more than a decade as a baker and pastry chef on The Strip, putting in time at the prestigious kitchens of Le Cirque, Osteria del Circo, Andre’s and Buchon. He left that corporate environment in September 2010, after logging seven years at Bouchon’s famed bakery.
“I left [and struck out] on my own, just to create my own opportunity,” he explains. “When you work for a big chef, I hate to say you’re kind of riding on their coattails, but it’s hard to get out from behind the shadow of that chef.”
Herrin’s first post-Strip project was a short-lived food truck called Lu-Lu’s On the Move. He still looks back fondly on that experience. “The customers that come to a food truck are probably the coolest people I’ve ever met — just simple, fun, they love good food,” he says. “And they’re like lifetime friends.” In fact, the names of several of those early supporters adorn the walls at Meat & Three, as Herrin’s way of thanking them for their support of all his projects.
Herrin wasn’t content to remain mobile, however. His goal when he left Bouchon was to “create something that was unique to Henderson — a local place.” So when a Big Apple Bagels closed on Eastern Avenue, he signed the lease, and renovated it himself with family and friends. The startup wasn’t easy. The chef tells stories of not being able to pay his utility bills, and other brushes with financial ruin.
“Any small business is hit-and-miss,”’ he says now. “You struggle from day to day. You’re never gonna be more than two or three days from being closed, probably, at any time. It’s the way small businesses run, especially restaurants.”
After a year, however, Bread & Butter has developed a steady clientele, and the owner knows most of his regulars by name. “They’re not really customers anymore,” he says. “They’re like friends. It’s like coming into Cheers, you know everybody.”
Clearly, Herrin is hoping those friends will join him a few doors down to sample his porchetta, brisket, chicken, Salisbury steak, a wide assortment of sides and eight flavors of pudding cups. I’ve tried eight or nine dishes. Some recipes still need some tweaking, but most are pretty solid. My favorites include the juicy fried chicken, well-spiced faro salad, a butterscotch pudding dripping in cinnamon, and mashed potatoes loaded with butter. Service can be a bit slow. But meat portions are huge, and only the heartiest eater should try to go with the full Meat & 3.
MEAT & THREE 10940 Eastern Ave., 473-5577. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene at www.almancini.net.