Q&A: Michael Doocey, executive director Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte Casinos, Chandler, Ariz.

Part of the Gila River Gaming conglomerate, Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte, casino hotels in Chandler, Ariz., are as much about gaming as they are about food.

Star-Ginger-CounterIn addition to its 46 gaming tables and wide range of slot machines, Wild Horse Pass has a variety of dining options, including Shula's, an upscale steakhouse chain; Ling and Louie's Asian Bar and Grill; and Café 24/7, which offers sandwiches and light snacks. A food court in the casino includes Fatburger, Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, Reuben's Deli, Common Grounds and Star Ginger.

Lone Butte's offerings are as extensive, with Verona Chophouse, American Bandstand for burgers and sandwiches, and Café 24/7, in addition to casual restaurant options such as Cascades Lounge, Quiznos and Tuscan Olive.

Michael Doocey, executive director of both casinos, expects to expand on these concepts to include a Dunkin' Donuts in the near future.

He recently spoke with FE&S about both casinos' foodservice operations, equipment and recent changes.

FE&S: Describe your operations.

MD: We have a 12,000-square-foot kitchen. This includes a production area for banquets, a main production area for prep, and on-line kitchens. Our pastry shop serves all of our casinos. We offer in-room dining for our 250-room hotel. Most of the restaurants seat about 140, while the food court at Wild Horse Pass has 200 seats. Lone Butte's food court seats just slightly less than 100, but we're looking to expand this, since it has grown tremendously. Both casinos have a variety of bars as well.

FE&S: What changes have you made to your operation recently?

MD: We took an existing deli and rebranded it with our own signature model, Café 24/7. The menu was changed to match the marketing logic for the area. Because we have many Midwest transplants in Chandler, with the majority from around Chicago, we based the menu on that region. It includes items Chicagoans have grown up on, such as Italian beef, Vienna Beef hot dogs and Polish pierogies. We also incorporated LCD screens that display photos of the city. To complete the picture, the restaurant's façade is reminiscent of a Chicago brownstone.

We also recently remodeled the food court in Wild Horse Pass to include Star Ginger, a new brand originating in Sacramento. The menu drove the equipment selection and layout, which incorporates woks and fryers. This is an Asian concept that primarily incorporates Vietnamese dishes with a Thai influence, such as pad thai, pad si ew and Thai curry dishes.

FE&S: How does the equipment support the new concept's menu?

MD: Star Ginger's menu centers around fresh food as opposed to frozen. In addition to a double-wok station and fryer, it will include a grill, six-burner range, rice steamers, hot and cold holding cabinets and display units.

At Café 24/7, it was a challenge from an equipment perspective due to the lack of hoods. We ended up incorporating ventless systems, which were fantastic in terms of increasing our menu flexibility.

FE&S: What are the biggest challenges in the casino foodservice segment?

MD: We are a casino that is almost three years old, so it can be a challenge to grow, adapt and change what we offer. We believe in constantly changing and keeping things fresh and marketable.

FE&S: What changes are planned for your operation?

MD: We're looking at changing one of our bars that has DJ-based entertainment into a live entertainment venue with a foodservice component. In Lone Butte, we may change some food court offerings. We constantly update our café and dinner menus, then look to add equipment to support these changes. It's important to be able to grow and challenge ourselves to create concepts that will fit within our current operations.


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