As unlikely as it might sound, In and Out Burger played a major role in shaping one of the best beer bars in Las Vegas.
Without his decade at the renowned burger chain, Van-Alan Nguyen might never have made his way to Las Vegas or opened up 595 Craft and Kitchen. During his time with the company, often lauded for its employee culture, Nguyen went through the In and Out management training program and learned the skills it took to run a location.
“They treat you like it’s your own business,” Nguyen said. “They give people that otherwise wouldn’t have the skill to do something like this, the skills to do something like this.”
A beer lover since he turned 21, Nguyen is a San Diego native, growing up around one of the best beer communities in the U.S., his love of the industry makes a lot of sense and many of his friends worked as brewers or at beer bars.
Following his decade with In and Out, Nguyen split from the fast food business and into his own financial consulting role, helping craft cocktail businesses get their footing, while he learned the bar side of the industry.
“After a few years of that, I got to thinking, I could do this,” he said. “If I were to take the risk, now would be the time.”
In early research, Nguyen found San Diego beer consumption was near 18 or 19 percent craft, compared to 10 percent nationwide. A quick scan of underserved markets showed Las Vegas was near 8 percent.
“There’s so much movement coming here, 42 million tourists each year, why is it not a higher consumption of the pie,” he said. “There’s not a shortage of beer coming in, but people aren’t drinking it as much.”
Nguyen and his business partner, Chris, came to Vegas for their research, meeting with brewers and scoping out the beer scene. Their initial plan was to open a brewery with a taproom. They loved the scene, but their original business plan quickly changed.
“It became clear really early that everyone is really close here, open book and tight-knit,” Nguyen said. “They want the community to grow and from talking with that community, we felt a bigger impact could be made to push the community forward on the retail said.
“They felt there weren’t enough tap handles to be representative, so instead of competing with the same amount of tap handles, we thought why not increase the tap handle amounts and offer it to them.”
Despite their new plan to offer taps, they also made a conscious decision to limit the amounts of taps they have to better curate and serve the beers on tap — a sign of a beer bar that truly cares about the product they serve.
In the first year of operation, Nguyen said 595 went through more than 600 types of beer, only bringing back beers he personally loved or the customers ran through so quickly it merited another run. Initially, he offered up more IPAs and stouts, before realizing the hot weather of southern Nevada demanded lighter styles. Now the tap list leans heavily toward lighter styles, while still offering up trendy IPAs and big barrel-aged stouts.
“We have 24 taps and the longest a beer stayed on tap was eight weeks and the average is 10 days,” Nguyen said. “We tailor the menu to our regulars.”
In his three years in Las Vegas, and now more than a year operating his business, Nguyen has already seen quite the growth in the sophistication of the Las Vegas beer scene. One beer he was particularly excited about in the summer of 2018 was Big Dog’s Brewing’s Fauxlander, which is the brewery’s award-winning Red Hydrant Ale, aged in pinot noir barrels.
“It was so incredibly well-balanced,” he said. “There was some tartness, some wine grape, pruney characteristics, but balanced with a nice clean, crisp dry finish.”
For the beer industry in Las Vegas to continue to grow, to welcome more consumers and breweries alike, Nguyen said there needs to be a bigger focus on the offerings from the city’s independent operators like himself.
So much of the city is built on corporations and the money being spent on the Strip, operators generally try to cater to the same clientele or what they believe will sell, or take a haphazard approach to the trendiness of beer and spirits, with the caveat Las Vegas is largely a spirits town in a good way.
“There’s just so much money in that 3 square miles, everything else is overshadowed,” Nguyen said. “I even made the mistake when I moved here thinking Las Vegas is synonymous with the Strip, but now there are a lot of independent operators stepping up and if we can help shift the focus more to craft, that would be a good step. You need the retail support for a tangible change in the city’s industry, that’s what happened in San Diego.”
All of Nguyen’s mission is helped along by a simple, yet outstanding menu with updated takes on his grandmother’s Vietnamese recipes and Southeast Asian influence on bar food classics — all made fresh in a freezer-less kitchen.
“Beer is the focal point, but everything needs to be done right,” he said.