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As We See It

Preparing for collisions as Zappos moves Downtown

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Chef Natalie Young at Eat.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Nearly three years after announcing plans to relocate from Green Valley to Downtown Las Vegas, Zappos is slated to start the crosstown move on September 9, with the first 200 employees settling into their new home in the former City Hall. The rest of the team—the building is equipped for 2,000 people—will follow over the course of the next month, with everyone in the building by mid-October, according to Zach Ware, who developed the Downtown campus for Zappos.

Ware says the most interesting thing about the campus isn’t high-tech work stations or some futuristic design, but rather how his team approached each decision, focusing form over function and how people actually use the spaces they work in. Walls have been knocked down; a roof deck has been added and parking has been reoriented so everyone will walk through the main plaza every single day, hopefully causing spontaneous interactions between people who might not see each other in a more traditional office environment.

“I think most people expected us to paint a giant logo on the south side of the building or build something huge and colorful in the plaza,” Ware says. “But those types of changes don't help employees collide … they just look pretty.”

Collision is something of a buzzword in the Zappos kingdom. And while staffers will “collide” with each other in the City Library-turned-bistro, the in-house coffee shop and the grassy courtyard on the western side of the building that’s a holdover from City Hall days, they’ll also be colliding with the neighborhood around them and the businesses in it.

“We’re actually very excited,” says La Comida’s Rafael Ramirez of the Zappos move and the business it’s likely to bring to the months-old Mexican restaurant opened in partnership with Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. Ramirez adds that staffing correctly will be key, feeling it out to adjust to the rhythms of busier weekday afternoons and figuring out which dishes can be made quickly, so workers grabbing a quick lunch can be in and out fast. “Our biggest problem is we’re too small. We can’t fit everybody,” says La Comida host and mascot John O’Donnell.

Le Thai has done well Downtown, thanks to the hard work of Dan Coughlin.

It’s a problem echoed at popular neighboring restaurants Eat and Le Thai. “We’re crazy busy already,” says Eat chef and co-owner Natalie Young, adding that she has no intentions of expanding the hours or space to accommodate the new crowd. “Obviously, we’ll have to order more food,” she says, “[But] we do about 200 covers a day, so there’s not a lot more that we can do.”

At Le Thai, chef/owner Dan Coughlin says the restaurant is also close to capacity during lunch and dinner, though he expects a late-afternoon bump, when the fast-paced curry and noodle joint sometimes finds a couple quiet hours. “You can’t take 1,500 people lightly,” Coughlin says. “We’ll be able to handle it because we’re two years deep already.”

That experience means he knows how much food to stock, how many servers to schedule and when to tell regulars to just come back later. “[When Le Thai first opened] I would have to run to Costco midday because we were out [of something],” Coughlin remembers. “It took a while to get a grip on how many cases of chicken we really needed.”

Getting a grip on the Downtown crowd—and how much chicken, mole or grits they eat—might take a little adjusting, but Young is looking forward to seeing Zappos employees find their place in their new urban neighborhood. “We have all walks of life that come to Eat,” she says. “Once you cross that threshold, everyone is the same.”

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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