From London To Wynn Las Vegas To Ocean Casino Resort; Warren Richards Brings “Passion To The Process”
With a foundation based in London and business acumen gained at establishments like Wynn Las Vegas, Ocean Casino Resort’s Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage, Warren Richards, brings a monumental amount of experience and high standards to Atlantic City. As Warren’s vision for food and beverage services at Ocean start to take shape, he sat down with us for an extensive chat. We touched on his London based beginnings, his work in Las Vegas, and why mentorship and embracing creativity is crucial to his recipe for success.
MC: How did you land in the casino/hospitality business to start?
Warren Richards: I grew up in London and was very fortunate to have parents that loved to travel in Europe. I think I’m here today because of that. When you visit cities like Seville and Barcelona in Spain, or experience the beauty of Italy and France; you see these things as a kid and you start to recognize that there is a big old world out there. That is what piqued my interest. I was originally supposed to go work in the city of London in finance. My father came from an accounting background, but he also came from a background of seeing the world and enjoying things. I think that was in me from a very young age. Once I was a “grown-up”, I went to college and realized that hospitality was the direction I wanted to take. For most people, hospitality begins a long way from a casino, so the first few years of my career were primarily in the hotel and quick-serve restaurant world. Living in Central California, you find yourself inevitably going to Las Vegas. From ages 21 to 30, I would spend Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas. I would not go for the predictable things you would think people do on their twenty-first birthdays, but to enjoy the scale, the uniqueness, the lavishness of those buildings and environments, including the restaurants and nightclubs. For most people my age, Vegas was a getaway, but when you have chosen hospitality for your career, it is something you might dream about doing for yourself someday. Those were the things at that point in my career that made me choose Vegas over the East Coast, boutique hotels or heading back to Europe.
MC: What brought you to working at Wynn?
WR: I gave up a very good job in California with the self-confidence that I could find an amazing career with a great culture of success by moving to Las Vegas. I found that first with the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. Beginning with Wolfgang himself, and extending through the executive management team, that was a restaurant group that operated with a philosophy that I agreed with. I had a wonderful two plus years in that organization, however when you live in Vegas and you are not working at Wynn, the mythology and desire to work there grows stronger every year that you are in the city. In the 2010 post-recession onward, Wynn had separated itself from the rest of the strip as a location where you went for the ultimate experience. You visited socially and you knew you would feel like a million dollars. Wynn had a timeless interior design with an environment that was upscale, but not flashy. The service was just a cut-above. I really wanted to work at that property, and once I got there, I was blown away.
MC: What do you think the culture at Wynn taught you that you have been able to bring to the Ocean Casino Resort now?
WR: There is a relentlessness to the executive management team at Wynn. I was amazed by the intensity to which everyone applied themselves to the building on a daily basis. We wanted to experience things through the eyes of our guests; from arriving in valet, through the check-in process to dining in one of our restaurants. We were highly critical of ourselves, painstakingly analyzing each step in the guests journey through our building. The moment we thought that the job was done was the time to deconstruct it and see if we could make it better. The job is never done; Ocean will never be “finished” in that sense. We have to take the approach that once we think something is in a good place we have to go back and try and make it better every single day.
MC: With all of the experiences that you have had in your career, what brings you that same kind of passion here at Ocean Casino Resort?
WR: The passion comes from the process; that is the fun part. That is the part that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, when you are continuing to work towards something. I don’t want to be somewhere where everything is perfect and there is nothing more to do. The process of moving a project from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and hopefully making it better, that is exciting. At Ocean, I see a facility that has so much opportunity. There are limitless projects that we can attack here. Each represents an opportunity for me to be creative and bring things that I know have been created somewhere else and adapt them for this market. Ultimately, that experience and process is extremely rewarding.
MC: What is your Favorite Cocktail & Favorite Meal at the Ocean Casino Resort?
WR: My favorite cocktail at Ocean Casino Resort is from American Cut. I think American Cut has the best back bar and there is a smoked Old Fashioned at American Cut called “Smoke on the Water” that I think is worth the trip for sure. I think Amada, when you are sitting over by the window and you are enjoying delicious lobster right off the grill, I think that is a great experience. I am slightly biased because my last trip before lockdown was to Barcelona, so I have an affinity for Spanish cuisine right now. I would say eating tapas and small plates and the purity of that concept is the furthest along to where I would like it to be.
MC: As you now offer your own mentorships as you received earlier in your career, what is the kind of advice you offer to people looking to you for guidance?
WR: I have always enjoyed the mentoring side of things. I currently teach a monthly hospitality and service class as I am trying to introduce a different perspective to a lot of the operators that are here. I think we have great management in the food and beverage division. My advice is that everything is possible. Creativity will be encouraged. I want them to be curious and ask, “can this be done?” My role is to be a facilitator, not to be someone that says “no”. Sometimes there are hard decisions to make, but I don’t want to say no to anyone’s creativity until we have fully vetted that idea. I think my advice to them has been to have a voice, speak up, and say “how can I make it better?”
MC: How have you stayed creative during the past year?
WR: I think my food and beverage philosophy is 5% Thomas Keller, 5% Wolfgang Puck, 5% Grant Achatz, 5% Paul Bartolotta (who I worked for), and a whole lot of other incredible chefs and operators all rolled into one. I used this period to actually go back and re-read and re-listen to some of the words that were part of my own upbringing in hospitality. I opened books on my bookshelf that I had not read in five or ten years. I watched hours of Danny Meyer’s TED Talks and there were little pieces of my philosophy everywhere. I watched every episode of Anthony Bourdain from the first episode of ‘Cook’s Tour’ to the last episode of ‘Part’s Unknown’ because I have always loved his philosophy on the world and perspective to hospitality and travel; these things re-invigorated me again. Before the pandemic, it had probably been too long since I had done that. We get caught up in the day-to-day and don’t always have the time to reconnect with the people that inspire you. I feel like a lot of that playbook is back in my mind and I am raring to go!