The State of A.C.: Can Casino Restaurants Survive the Recession?

restaurants_chelseaLast week the Press of Atlantic City reported that Stephen Starr was pulling out of the Chelsea, where he opened two restaurants, steakhouse Chelsea Prime and all-day eatery Teplitzky’s, a year ago. (Reportedly, the Chelsea will retain the restaurants and the naming rights, running them in-house.) This announcement, combined with the ongoing lawsuit between Starr and The Pier at Caesars (which currently sports a Buddakan and Continental), made us wonder: If Stephen Starr can’t make it in A.C., can anyone?

It’s the question that I asked Michael Mina, who made a relatively rare excursion from Las Vegas to Sea Blue, his Borgata restaurant, last weekend. His surprised look made it clear to me that he was unaware of the Starr news. After Mina debriefed me on the situation, he said that Starr’s exit wasn’t ominous as far as he was concerned. “I think it’s primarily a question of location,” theorized Mina. “I mean, they’re where they are, and I’m in the Borgata.” The optimistic chef went on to explain that of his 16 properties from San Francisco to Vegas to D.C., Sea Blue ranks 4th in revenue production and is actually ahead of two of his four Sin City spots.

The chef was in town to do his part, namely to help acclimate his days-old executive chef Anthony Amoroso to Sea Blue and to introduce the new daily “social hour” where specialty cocktails are $8, oysters are $2, and apps like tuna tartar, hamachi poppers and mini fishwiches are between $5-$7. Hours 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Still, things aren’t exactly looking up for AC, and now that bikini season is officially over, Mina will need more than luck to hold onto those numbers. Of course, that OMG-worthy lobster pot pie gives him a slight advantage over the house.