Here's this week's Strip Sense column from the Las Vegas Weekly. Don't skip the jump to the full column if you really want to know what all Ruffin's plans are for the TI. But here's one big hint: Mechanical bulls are BACK! Yee-haw! -sf
Phil Ruffin reveals big plans for that neglected niche: the mid-market
By STEVE FRIESS
I was a bit confused when I showed up at the Treasure Island on Monday for lunch with its new owner, Phil Ruffin, and his assistant told me on the house phone to meet the Kansas billionaire at Francesco’s Pizzeria. I asked her to repeat that a few times, certain I had misheard her.
You see, until a few minutes before, Francesco’s was not a pizza joint. It was a serious, high-end Italian restaurant that was named by Steve Wynn himself as a tribute to Frank Sinatra. Had they created a spinoff? “Oh, we closed that up a little while ago and opened up this place,” said Ruffin, 72, squeezing into a booth after apologizing for no apparent reason for wearing a suit today. “This place does triple the business.”
The new Francesco’s has been moved from “Upscale Dining” to “Casual Dining” on the Treasure Island website. It offers serviceable paninis and pizzas, nothing too fancy or expensive. Out went the heavy china and stuffy service, in came a lunch shift.
“People don’t want high-end these days, certainly not from this place,” Ruffin said. “We’re getting all kinds of business from the Venetian, the Wynn, the Mirage, from people who don’t want to pay $15 for orange juice.”And therein, Phil Ruffin has found his niche in the Las Vegas universe. Let MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Harrah’s and even Boyd Gaming scramble after the ever-diminishing top end with their fancy suites, expensive restaurants and condo sales. Ruffin flirted with all that for years as he pondered what to do with the New Frontier site, bought in the late 1990s and always slated for some form of redevelopment. By the middle of this decade, Ruffin was facing a decision on whether or not to move forward with a plan to build a Swiss-themed luxury resort, the multibillion-dollar Montreux. Images were even circulated to the press.
Just before he had to pull the trigger, he realized the thing made no financial sense for one important reason: “I’m not Steve Wynn.”
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