Restaurants find good fortune at Graton casino

Customers watch chefs at M.Y. China cook for the masses at the Graton Casino and Resort on opening day. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat, 2013)


Almost two years after its fanfare debut in Rohnert Park, the Graton Resort & Casino has plenty on its plate, with concerts and events bringing in new clientele and ground just broken for a luxury hotel and spa.

Customers seem to be eating it up, quite literally. The property’s dozen restaurants appear to be thriving.

Although the casino’s management company, Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, doesn’t track restaurant patrons, representatives say diners are a good balance of people who come specifically for a meal and those who arrive for the gambling and end up eating.

“We get a lot of anecdotal feedback from (people in) Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Petaluma who come out to Graton Resort & Casino for its dining options,” said general manager Joe Hasson, citing the quality of the food as well as the convenient location.

Calculating numbers is a challenge, since Indian casinos are not required to make their earnings public. But Station Casinos’ second quarter 2015 earnings report showed a company-wide 33 percent increase in Native American management fees, year over year, and a 5 percent increase in net revenues.

Ivan Reyes, manager of La Fondita, opened the casino restaurant as an extension of his family’s Santa Rosa flagship restaurant and food truck and is preparing to expand the menu. His mother, Maria Elena Reyes, is the chief talent behind the signature chicken mole, chile-cheese tamales, cochinita pibil and chilaquiles.

“We’re thrilled. It’s been an amazing journey,” Reyes said, his 24-hour Marketplace stand. “It varies month to month, but we’re serving a huge number of people. Evenings especially, now. They come and gamble, see a show, have dinner, then gamble more.”

The expanded menu will offer specialties such as posole alongside the best-selling enchiladas michoacanas sautéed in red sauce with carrots, potatoes and jalapeños.

Reyes said traffic has been boosted significantly by special events such as Kathy Griffin’s comedy show and a performance by the Luis De Alba and Los Caminantes band.

Tony Gemigiani made a double investment at the casino, opening a sit-down Tony’s of North Beach restaurant and a Slice House take-away in the Marketplace, and said he is pleased with his business thus far.

“Our restaurants and the casino are mostly weekend driven, unless there are giveaways, special events, or concerts going on within the week,” he said. “But we’ve been pleased by how many of the casino guests have visited our locations and told us they enjoy our menu and guest experience.”

Like Station Casinos and other restaurants, Gemigiani doesn’t keep track of dedicated diners versus gamblers who also dine, but said he thinks he does well with walk-ins who come just for the North Beach pizza, family-style pasta dinners, meatball subs and salads.

“We have a front entry where diners can enter and not have to go into the casino,” he said. “We do get a lot of patrons coming through those doors each day.”

He also does well with specials like Monday prime rib nights, at $15.99 for rosemary and garlic encrusted meat with pan drippings, horseradish cream and baby greens salad with creamy gorgonzola dressing ($18.99 for the “Flintstone” cut). He also has been experimenting with curbside pick-up service and Groupon deals.

Hasson said 630 Park steak and seafood house, owned by Station Casinos, also has been performing well, even with lofty price tags — $54 for an a la carte 20-oz. bone-in prime rib eye, and $72 for a Western Australian lobster tail.

Part of the draw for this higher-end dining is the Graton Rewards Loyalty Program, with which gamblers can earn credit points that are usable at the restaurants.

“We have seen many of our players take advantage of their Graton Rewards loyalty points by redeeming them at the steakhouse,” Hasson said. “Top sellers include the filet mignon; the prime rib, especially when it’s featured as a special; and on the seafood front, salmon is the winner.

“Our wine program has been very well received, too, and even with us offering wines from around the world, the top sellers continue to be Sonoma and Napa sourced wines.”

Another boost at 630 Peak has come from a new daily happy hour. From 5 to 7 p.m., customers can get prime French dip sliders ($8), sashimi ahi poke and avocado tacos ($8), plus local wines for $5-$6.50 and cocktails for $5.50-$7.50.

Add in a new, $175 million hotel slated to debut next fall, and casino restaurants are poised for increased activity. Totaling 342,000 square feet, the six-story, 200-room hotel will include 20,000 square feet of convention and banquet space, plus a pool and entertainment area set with private cabanas.

Station Casinos isn’t talking yet about how the resort will handle hotel food, whether it will provide room service, cater from casino restaurants or run an on-site commercial kitchen. But Gemigiani is optimistic either way.

“We — and all of the restaurants — are very excited for the hotel to open,” he said. “It will only help us all.”