It takes something pretty special to get Grace Keros out of Detroit; after all, you don’t become Queen of Coneys by slacking off.
It takes some amazing to get her American Coney Island outside of Michigan. Yet the impossible happened – and what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
In other words, you can now eat as many coney dogs, fries and chili as you can possibly stuff in your yob all while enjoying the balmy Vegas breezes. That’s because the D Las Vegas, one of the newest casinos in downtown, now features its own American Coney. Gamble away your life savings, but set aside a few bucks to fill your belly before skedaddling it out of town and back home.
So how did our beloved Grace, that fast-talking, ball of energy, end up with a restaurant in Vegas? Meet Derek Stevens, CEO and Owner of the D. Thanks to his family-orientated approach and congenial personality, Keros agreed to take a meeting, so to speak. And, as my favorite movie would say, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“We love everything about the place,” Keros said. “To go out of state, it had to be something pretty spectacular. So what better place than Vegas? … With Derek, we clicked immediately. It truly is one family business working with another family business – if that wasn’t the case we wouldn’t have done it at all. It’s a great feeling.”
Shocking, yes? There is one honest man in Vegas, Keros told me this week. And that is Derek. Truly, the guy seems rock solid, a genuine article and lover of all things Detroit. While the D Las Vegas is named after many things – Derek, downtown, etc. – it also has some of our iconic images and mojo there to make it one of a kind, even in Vegas.
Here’s what happened. Stevens, a Detroit native, took his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and his MBA from Wayne State University to Vegas a few years back. The draw of Sin City was just too much for him, Stevens told me. He did some renovations, found out there was a good business to be had there and he bought the former Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel to fix up.
The result is a sleek, non-stop energy kind of place. (Now do you see why Grace fits in here so well?) Its location is somewhat special – right beneath the largest video screen in the world. It is in the middle of four neon blocks of what some might call “non-stop party action.”
The renovations brought Detroit and Vegas together. The D, which has 624 remodeled rooms and 14 luxury suites, were extensive enough that Stevens said he knew the place would need a new identity.
“There had to be a new name, a revamped brand. One thing led to another and we ended up focusing on the D,” Stevens said. “Just like Detroit, downtown Las Vegas is going through its own resurgence, so we wanted to focus on that as well.”
Besides the classic taste of an American Coney, there are other sights and feelings around the D that evoke Detroit, Stevens said. For example, he promises that the Longbar inside the casino will always have a Tigers, Red Wings or Lions game on. And he seeks out U.S. made products whenever he can, a “Buy American” sentiment he gained while living here lo those many years.
Why Coney? Well, American Coney Island is the oldest family-owned business in Detroit. (FYI: founder Gust Keros is said to have coined the phrase “Coney Dog” and introduced the now legendary treat to the city of Detroit in 1917.)
“American Coney Island is such an iconic food staple in Detroit and there is a reason that Detroiters are so crazy about it,” Stevens said.
Keros said the restaurant will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so casino patrons will be able to experience Detroit Coneys and have another great option for all-day, all-night dining. So far, everyone has been enthusiastic about the new restaurant, to say the least.
“They’re ecstatic. It’s like we were throwing pieces of gold from the sky,” said Keros, who attended the grand opening last week. “I was surprised at how many local people have moved out there in the past 15 years or so. People were coming in and hugging me like they’ve known me their whole lives. Most people said, ‘What took you so long?’”