It started back in March 2019, when Zippy’s Restaurants closed on a vacant parcel of desert in southwest Las Vegas. Then came the waiting. And more waiting.
On Tuesday, after 4½ years and pandemic delays and supply chain kinks, Zippy’s is finally launching its first location outside Hawaii, at the corner of Badura Avenue and Montessouri Street.
When CEO Jason Higa, whose family founded Zippy’s in 1966, traveled between Hawaii and Vegas, folks approached him to express excitement when they noticed the Zippy’s logo on his clothing. Customers have been calling Zippy’s to say they’ll be driving in from surrounding states for the debut. And media coverage has been extensive, fueled by reader interest.
“It’s very gratifying to have that type of response,” Higa said Thursday in a discussion with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, sharing details on the opening that have not been shared publicly before.
Some things at the Vegas shop will be familiar, some things will be different initially, and some old friends of the house will return as Zippy’s brings its brand of aloha to the Ninth Island.
How Zippy’s chose Vegas
California and Vegas were primarily considered when the restaurant began exploring expansion on the mainland. The significant population of Pacific Islanders in Vegas — more than 40,000, according to census data, hence the Ninth Island nickname — and others with Hawaiian roots sealed the deal for the city.
“We realized the large number of expats really gave us an opportunity to have a built-in customer base who could be our ambassadors, who would recommend our brand to other potential customers,” Higa said.
Potentially the busiest Zippy’s
These connections also contribute to the anticipation in advance of the opening. And to the large crowds anticipated for opening day, leading Zippy’s to set ground rules for the launch. The crowds are also anticipated to persist beyond the debut, Higa said.
“Given our experience with other openings, we’re looking at a volume that could be two times our busiest Hawaii locations. Literally lines out the door is what we expect based on our prior openings. Our last opening was in Hilo, and prior to that on Maui, and in both cases, there were lines going out the door literally for months.”
A limited menu, at first
The Zippy’s menu is famously expansive, ranging from breakfast, plate lunches and signature chili dishes; to soups and noodles, burgers and sandwiches, and family meals and platters; to sides, baked goods and beverages. The menu once encompassed about 200 items, but today, it runs to about 120, pandemic shortages prompting a slimmer version.
A limited menu will initially be offered in Vegas “for our operational ease, with our best-sellers, then moving through a second and third phase,” Higa said. Chili dishes and Korean fried chicken are among the items making the launch menu. So are Zip Pacs uniting fried chicken, a flaky filet of hoki fish, teriyaki beef and Spam, on a bed of rice, with furikake seasoning and with jabs of takuan (pickled daikon radish).
Steaming bowls of saimin built from dashi, a snarl of wheat-and-egg noodles, pink whorls of fish cake, sliced char siu and a gust of green onion will not be served at first, alas!
“We know customers are going to say, ‘Hey, what’s up with the saimin?’ ” Higa said. “It’s one of those items that has to be made to order. That’s going to be a phase two.”
Coming back to the family
About 200 people have been hired for the new Zippy’s. Some already had ties to the restaurant, Higa said, which wasn’t anticipated.
“What we were surprised at was there were a lot of team members from Hawaii, former employees of Zippy’s, who had heard we were opening in Vegas and applied. We have quite a bit of former employees we were able to rehire. Some had worked decades ago, some had been employed a few years ago.
“Given that they have familiarity with our operation and the foods of Hawaii was a big plus to us.”
Changing plans for the Henderson store
In May, the Review-Journal reported Zippy’s had filed plans for a second valley location, to be take-out only, in a converted Mattress Firm at 410 Marks St. in Henderson. That spot is no longer being considered.
“Now, we’re looking at alternative locations,” Higa said. “We are very interested in opening, understanding that there’s a great population base there. We’re looking at a number of potential locations, but we have not yet chosen.”
When Zippy’s does choose, cue the anticipation.