Working in family business is ‘a dream come true’

Christina Ellis ranks Ellis Island’s brewery as one of her favorite amenities at the property.

Christina Ellis started working at Ellis Island when she was 12. Now director of marketing at the family business, she oversees social media, graphics, branding, mailers, promotions, advertising and special events for the popular locals casino. “To work alongside my father and sister every day is a dream come true,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine not working with my family. When you grow up in the family business, you get to know the longtime team members and they, in turn, become your extended family.”

Ellis Island is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. Tell us about that.

The Front Yard, our new beer garden concept, is scheduled to open in April. It’s a two-story venue that will be equipped to handle everything from a quick drink after work to large private parties and weddings. This is the first major project I’ve been involved with from blueprint to execution, and it is one of the most ambitious and exciting projects Ellis Island has ever undertaken.

As the Front Yard has been constructed, Ellis Island’s hotel has undergone a complete renovation: new carpets, doors, tiling in the bathrooms and USB ports next to every bed. Our goal was to make the property a modern boutique hotel that is affordable when compared with average Strip prices.

How many people are on your team and what’s your management style?

There are three people on our marketing team: myself, my sister Anamarie, who is the director of player development, and a marketing assistant. We each wear a bunch of different hats.

Because we are such a small team, my management style is to allow people to make projects their own and to encourage creativity. I love collaborating and working on big teams, but at Ellis Island, it is all hands on deck to ensure projects are completed effectively and on time.

If you hire the right people, coach them up and give them a lot of responsibility, more times than not, they’ll pass the test.

What’s your favorite offering or amenity at the property?

I love that everyone I meet in town has an Ellis Island karaoke story. Who doesn’t love listening to karaoke? Every night of the week, people get up there and belt out their favorite songs.

I also enjoy the Ellis Island beer, which has been brewed on site for nearly 20 years. Our brewmaster, Joe Pickett, is a master of his craft.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

My grandfather (Frank Ellis, Jr., who opened the original Village Pub) used to call me all the time. He was always full of advice and I remember being so inspired by something he said that I wrote it down on a Post-it, and I still have it at my desk. It says, “If you’ve got it and nobody knows about it, then you might as well not have it.”

What has been your most exciting professional project?

Without question, the Front Yard. It’s been a long time in the making, and we can see the finish line. We hope it complements the rest of the property, and gives locals and tourists another reason to visit us.

What’s your favorite place to have fun in Las Vegas?

Besides Ellis Island, I enjoy everything about Atomic Liquors. It’s my favorite downtown destination.

If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?

I would like to see the community’s arts scene continue to develop. One of the coolest things about Las Vegas is that it rebrands itself every 10-15 years. The sense of community has become more apparent, and a big reason for that is the growing arts community and downtown’s development.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

I love the Pacific Northwest. My grandparents have a cabin in Woodland, Wash., so I spent many summers there. I love the rain and how green everything is.

Whom do you admire?

I admire my father, Gary Ellis. His ability to see the big picture is second to none. He is so entrepreneurial and is always thinking two steps ahead.

I also admire Jen Gotch, who founded the lifestyle brand Ban.do. Her company has transformed the way products geared toward women are sold. Ban.do sells nostalgia and the idea of having fun, which is how we market Ellis Island.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope I’m still at Ellis Island and that we’ll have expanded upon the entertainment and venue side of things. I would also like to maintain our standing among the local community.

What is something that people might not know about you?

Art and creativity are both important to me, on a personal and community level. I went to school for Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, and continue to paint and do illustrations. I’m involved in a bunch of creative endeavors in town, including CreativeMornings/Las Vegas, a monthly breakfast lecture series for local artists, entrepreneurs and creative types. It’s a chance to network and enhance the arts scene. My fine arts background helps fuel so many of our creative projects at Ellis Island. It has helped with such aspects as picking interiors for the Front Yard and lettering our chalkboards inside the restaurant.