From L.A. to Vegas: Life for the Dolce Group is Sweet IndeedJuly 9, 2009 By: Bryan Bass
No one can dismiss the monumental success of Los Angeles’ Dolce Group. Created and operated by Lonnie Moore and Mike Malin, two young, hip entrepreneurs, Dolce Group set the City of Angels on its side by introducing concepts engineered for the Generation X audience while being marketed and backed by the re-emergence of the celebrity investor concept. With Ashton, Wilmer and the gang on board, the pair launched successful venue after successful venue, straddling the line between restaurants and nightlife at Geisha House, Dolce, Bella and the decadently exclusive nightclub Les Deux. Taking success on the road can be a tricky feat, but that’s just what the Dolce Group has done by launching Rare 120, a new steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
“It’s the anti-steakhouse steakhouse,” says Moore with a proud smile. “It’s the ultimate dream for me: the combination of the atmosphere, the food, the crowd, the music, the vibe. This is where I would be hanging out anyway.” For the pair, Vegas simply was the most obvious place for expansion of their brand. The city depends heavily on Southern California as a feeder market for millions of visitors a year, and that likely includes tens of thousands of fans of Dolce Group’s offerings. It wasn’t the first expansion offer — the pair has been courted by Sin City for nearly five years now — they just were waiting for the right deal to come across the table. For Moore, the Hard Rock was that right deal. “At least 90 percent of our audience and our friends are hitting the Hard Rock at some point when they are in Vegas; it was a total no-brainer.”
The pair knew the property well, maybe too well, having enjoyed themselves there since “The Rock” opened 15 years ago. “First Baby’s then Body English, The Joint, Rehab, Nobu, AJ’s — we had spent countless hours here before we ever had a reason to be here,” Moore continues with a mischievous grin. “Funny how life comes full circle!”
While Rare 120 has a large lounge with plush booths and the requisite stunning cocktail servers, Moore quickly points out it is a restaurant first, and the lounge serves as an extension of the concept. “People can eat in the lounge or share some appetizers and have some cocktails. We want it to be fun and informal more than anything else.” And almost that simply, Moore reveals the Dolce Group’s fundamental mission: Be creative, make it fun, make it informal and … think like a 25-year-old woman?
“We looked at the success of sushi restaurants like Nobu and others and we realized a big factor in their success in how light the food is,” Moore continues while fielding a never-ending barrage of text messages, e-mails and phone calls. “Women don’t want to eat a big, heavy meal and then go to the club; they just won’t do it. So we said let’s focus on a menu that women will enjoy: smaller steak portions, lots of fish dishes and fun and shareable appetizers that fill you up.” Of course, Rare 120 still offers the requisite meat and potato steakhouse offerings men live for, but Moore is going with the flow rather than swimming it against it. “We know our audience is going to the club. We don’t want to fight it, we want to give them what they want and need.”
Executive chef Jonathan Snyder was brought on to execute Moore and Malin’s vision, and while his traditional steakhouse background took a bit to mesh with the Dolce formula, after several menu tastings, Moore knew they had it nailed. “He is an amazing chef,” Moore says, lavishing praise on the chef who opened PRIME Steakhouse at the Bellagio, the only Vegas outpost for the chef-turned-global-restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. “This menu was a new experience for him; lighter, more casual, almost the opposite of PRIME. But once he saw the success the menu and food was having, he was more confident with what we were doing and now the kitchen is firing on all cylinders.”
With success from day one at Rare 120, the Vegas experiment has seemingly paid off for the Dolce Group. But as always, Moore and Malin are hardly resting on their laurels, patting each other on the back; instead, they have already inked a deal to do another restaurant in Las Vegas and at the Hard Rock Hotel. The property is nearing the opening of two new expansion projects, the largest of which is scheduled to open toward the end of the year and will feature a new nightclub alongside several new eateries, including the Dolce Group’s next venture, a 24-hour coffee shop called Café Pronto. Moore also adds that they will be involved in the new nightclub project, although he wouldn’t share many details as to what that involvement might look like.
For now though, all eyes are focused on Rare 120, the tremendous fare being served and the blossoming bar scene. So far, as predicted, the 25-year-old female is enjoying the product and taking full advantage of being in the restaurant’s spotlight. While it might not be Hollywood or a pumping nightclub full of A-listers and socialites, it is a steakhouse that caters to the nightclub crowd — and does it well. As Moore says, “It certainly makes it easy to get out of bed in the morning and go to work.”