Former Caesars chef takes winding road to business success

Chef Michael Ty poses by one of his Jamba Juice locations at McCarran International Airport Friday, May 17, 2019. Ty moved to Las Vegas in 1975 and worked as executive chef at Caesars Palace, the Desert Inn and Lawry’s The Prime Rib.

More than four decades ago, Michael Ty came to Las Vegas from upstate New York with the goal of becoming a chef on the Strip.

Working his way up from the bottom, Ty was eventually named executive chef at Caesars Palace in 1982 and later became food director. “My dream was to make that my lifelong job,” Ty said.

But, as Ty put it, corporate America had other ideas. Management wanted to move in another direction, Ty said, so he had to put his dream on hold.

After leaving Caesars, he worked as a chef at a handful of other Las Vegas properties — including the Desert Inn and Lawry’s the Prime Rib — and worked as an event planner.

At the same time, however, he went into business for himself, securing a TCBY yogurt shop franchise at McCarran International Airport in 1994.

Successful, he later opened two Jamba Juice shops at the airport in 2012 and 2016 and is converting the old TCBY into a third Jamba location scheduled to open later this year. Jamba sells blended fruit and vegetable smoothies and other items.

With his days of working for other people behind him, Ty, 65, has nearly 50 employees as a Jamba Juice franchisee and is preparing one of his sons to take over the business.

“It’s worked out well,” Ty said. “We have a captive audience at the airport, and it’s up to each businessperson to take advantage of that. I pride myself on giving good customer service. My employees reflect that, and that’s what has made me successful.”

Ty might have reinvented himself as a businessman, but he’s also still a chef at heart. He remains a member of the American Academy of Chefs and is a three-time past president of the American Culinary Federation, serving as recently as 2013.

“In my former world as a chef, becoming a franchisee is unheard of,” Ty said. “You have so many years of culinary arts experience and you’re successful in the kitchen. When I took on that first franchise, people were kind of looking at me strange. I just decided that I wasn’t going to wait around for something to happen and then be stuck with nothing.”

Born to Chinese parents in the Philippines, Ty’s family came to America in 1966, eventually settling in Waverly, New York. Not making it was never really an option for Ty.

“You have to be ambitious,” he said. “You have to be a go-getter and not just sit around and be complacent. When I was younger, I was always looking to advance. When the opportunity came at the airport, I took it and I worked hard to grow my business.”

Things have worked out so well that Ty’s shops are regarded among the most successful Jamba Juice locations.

“Jamba Juice sales in the airports were up over 8% last year versus 2017,” said Matt Von Klemperer, director of nontraditional development at Focus Brands, Jamba’s parent company. “Michael’s stores are two of the top performing/grossing locations in the country.”

Being in a busy airport helps, Ty said, but there’s more to it than being in the right place. “We have good employees and we do good marketing,” he said.

In line to eventually take over the family business is Michael David Ty, 38, Michael Ty’s oldest child. He said he admires the way his father was able to change and adapt over the course of his career but never doubted him as a chef.

If he would have stuck with it, his son said, “I have no doubt that he’d be as well-known as the celebrity chefs that we know today.”