A Labor of Love—XD Style

nostalgic couple eating at a diner

Falling in love…

I met Aaron online—sort of. I’d been watching him cook up a storm as a sous chef at Esther’s Kitchen in Vegas and finally asked him out for a cup of coffee after I found his account through the restaurant’s Instagram page. Pretty cheeky, I’ll admit. Fortunately, he said “yes,” we really hit it off, and we got engaged shortly before last Christmas.

During those months in between, we often kicked around the idea of opening our own restaurant. What would that look like? What type of food would we offer? More importantly, where would we open it and how would we finance it?

Then, shortly after our engagement, we stumbled across the Las Vegas Coffee Shop Giveaway. Sponsored by Dapper Companies, a local real estate developer, the Giveaway awards a fully turnkey operation to one lucky local chef or restaurateur team: a brand new nearly 3,000-square-foot custom-designed restaurant fully built out with furniture, fixtures and equipment, branding, signage, and marketing plan. The estimate to build out and brand the endeavor is valued at nearly a million dollars in goods and services.

A Made-to-Offer Opportunity

So what started out as a huge “what if” suddenly had a focus and a goal. And the perfect “event” to employ The Feelings-led 4D Framework, I take all of G+A’s clients through —a feelings-led proposal for Winnie and Ethel’s Downtown Diner.

The new restaurant space is located right in our West Huntridge neighborhood, at the corner of Maryland and Charleston in the Huntridge Shopping Center – the very same area where our diner idea was born a few months earlier. 

Aaron and I gathered up all the scraps of paper we jotted down menu ideas on, our Pinterest page full of design ideas, and got to work on our proposal.

Our inspiration? It has been sitting in the same neighborhood for almost 80 years: The Huntridge Theater. First opened in 1944, the theater is on the National Register of Historic Places and in the process of renovations. It’s also the anchor project for the adjacent shopping center, which has turned into a major revitalization project. 

In keeping with the theater’s historic Streamline Moderne style and stealing atmosphere from Edward Hopper’s famous Nighthawks painting, we came up with an interior inspired by materials omnipresent during America’s WWII era. Winnie and Ethel’s interior will feature a palette of muted greens, pinks, creams, and off-whites, knotty pine and plywood, stainless steel, vinyl, and custom linoleum flooring. Honoring the theater’s origins, our space will deliver period-accurate style using period-accurate materials wherever possible. 

The kitchen will feature a combination of behind-the-countertop pass-through service and a traditional service pass for table and booth diners. Because we believe in the beauty of the culinary arts, our aim will be to incorporate the kitchen design as a prominent feature of the diner’s overall design.

Hometown Eats with a Twist

The Las Vegas Coffee Shop Giveaway arose from the Dapper Companies’ desire to recreate Las Vegas’ post-wartime appeal, “when you could walk into a casino in Las Vegas at any time of day or night and count on finding a great coffee shop that served up pretty much anything one desired.” Those coffee shops may have gone the way of The Sands or The Stardust, but our menu brings back homestyle cooking with homemade, locally sourced ingredients as well as seasonal surprises.

Chef Lee and I looked to our pasts for the type of comfort food we grew up on: the warmth of grandma Winnie’s Daly City, CA kitchen and great-grandma Ethel’s Appleton, WI digs (hence the name Winnie and Ethel’s Downtown Diner—nicknamed WE). From the mouth-watering eggs Benedict to our classic meatloaf sandwich, our goal is to serve the best dang diner food around and keep our clientele coming back for more. And the 25 cent bottomless cup of coffee plus the very best milkshakes in town are added bonuses!

A Sense of Community

As residents of the Huntridge neighborhood, we’ve watched it slowly come into its own. And as fans of old-fashioned, homestyle cooking, we have kept our concept simple and classic. Winnie & Ethel’s Downtown Diner will provide a place for people to gather, break bread, and forge bonds that build community—any time of the day or night. 

Beyond delicious food and captivating design, WE will feature a variety of flourishes such as a vintage Coca-Cola bottle machine, a classic rotating cake case, and vintage black and white TVs showing classics, including the same Disney movies, Roy Rogers westerns, and Looney Tunes cartoon classic shorts that one-time Huntridge Theater owner Lloyd Katz played during Saturday morning kids’ matinees back in the early ‘50s.

XD Experience Steps To Success 

There are a LOT of restaurants, chefs and restaurateurs in Las Vegas. So you can imagine how honored and excited we were when we received word that we were one of six Giveaway finalists—and the only ones without a current or past local eatery to our name! While we still face a cook-off, which we’ll be styling as a pop-up diner, we’ve got a solid plan that integrates concept, food and design within a setting that fits with the Huntridge community vision that Dapper Companies and its partners are building.

From a single, simple conversation between Aaron and I as we drove home one night, we have been able to take our dream to this point. By fast-tracking the XD Experience into the design of a local diner with fantastic food integrated around the community it serves, every step of this journey has been a joy!

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