Beauty & Essex is by design a diamond in the rough. Behind a gritty pawn shop exterior lies a high-end restaurant and nightlife spot with check averages of about $115 per person. The concept attracts a wide range of free-spending customers, from antique collectors hunting vintage jewelry to A-listers partying in the restaurant’s jewel-theme private rooms.
Its heritage makes the two-in-one a concept to watch for reasons beyond its retailing-fine dining mashup. One of the owners is the founder of the Tao Group, an operator with three of the top eight finishers on Restaurant Business’ Top 100 ranking of independents by sales. With similar check average as Beauty & Essex, the Tao in Las Vegas generated 2015 sales of $47 million.
With outposts in New York City and Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan resort and casino, Beauty & Essex is now gearing up to open a Los Angeles location and is also considering international sites.
Here’s a look at how Beauty & Essex makes the uncommon combination of pawn shop and restaurant come together.
New York City beginnings
Everything about Beauty & Essex screams Las Vegas, but the concept actually began in New York City before expanding to the Strip. Chris Santos, a resident judge on the Food Network series “Chopped,” partnered with Tao Group co-founder Rich Wolf to launch Beauty & Essex in NYC’s Lower East Side in 2010. The concept fronted as a pawn shop as a nod to the neighborhood’s working-class roots, but it eventually began to attract customers of its own. During the holiday season, the New York City store racks up thousands of dollars of sales in a week, and sometimes in a day.
In Las Vegas, Beauty & Essex is the only retail store of its type in the casinos on the Strip, and managing partner Jared Boles said he wouldn’t be surprised if people go there just to shop. “The items are that excellent,” he said, adding that it’s easy to imagine someone coming to the restaurant for dinner after a big win at the casino and treating themselves with a luxury purchase at the pawn shop.
Unapologetically decadent decor...
So what do a pawn shop and a restaurant have in common? “Decadence is the thread holding it all together,” said Boles. Although pawn shops aren’t exactly known for their upscale clientele, Beauty & Essex’s version attracts affluent patrons seeking one-of-a-kind goods, with items ranging from rare watches and jewelry to vintage guitars.
The luxury theme is amplified upon walking into the restaurant. Decor includes tufted leather chairs and banquettes, gold-plated DJ booths and custom chandeliers made of pearls. Units are broken up into several jewel-theme rooms. In the New York location, The Broche Bar is modeled after a brooch Wolf’s mother owned, and the Locket Room (pictured) features walls draped in lockets housed in vintage frames.
...with a menu to match
Customers can indulge on rich dishes like octopus cassoulet and lobster mac and cheese, and sippable “dumplings” featuring tomato soup, smoked bacon and grilled cheese on a spoon (pictured above). Sides, dubbed “Accessories,” include Broccolini and Vidalia onion rings with sambal ketchup, and the appetizer list features fancy breads called Jewels on Toast.
The restaurants house several bar and lounge areas serving jewelry-theme cocktails like the Sapphire Seventy-Five (Botanist gin, prosecco and sour mix) and the Emerald Gimlet (Belvedere vodka, basil, lemon nectar and fresh lime), along with dozens of bottles of wine and Champagne, some priced at hundreds of dollars.
Women wanting to save money on drinks can just head to the ladies’ restrooms, where they’ll find bars offering free Champagne. (Sorry, gentlemen, no bathroom bars for you.)
The restaurants are large venues—each is 10,000 square feet. On an average Saturday night, the New York dining rooms serve 1,000 customers, plus more in the lounge. Boles estimates that 6,500 customers are served every week at the New York City location, and he said the company aims to meet or exceed that number at the Las Vegas restaurant.
Boles said part of the reason the company can sustain that volume is that the expansive menu coupled with the large venue allows people to have a different experience each time they visit. “Each time you come, you can order a completely unique menu item and sit in a unique room,” he said.
Group sales represent about 10% of Beauty & Essex’s business, as the multiple rooms allow the restaurants to host large parties and often high-profile private events. Both the New York City and Las Vegas locations are often named on lifestyle blogs and websites as being frequented by celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Kate Upton, Anthony Anderson and Derek Hough (the latter two pictured here). One company rented the entire New York City restaurant and hosted a concert featuring Mary J. Blige.