Sonia El-Nawal has worked for some of the most accomplished chefs at some of the most distinguished restaurants in the world. In Las Vegas, she launched Rooster Boy Cafe, branded after her Rooster Boy Granola, which was built on El-Nawal’s philosophy of “taste something happy.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for the culinary industry, and especially for small establishments like Rooster Boy, El-Nawal continues to adapt her business to survive difficult times and serve the community.
What brought you Las Vegas and prompted you to launch a small business?
I am originally from Libya but was raised in Lebanon and moved to the United States as a child. After working in the culinary industry all over the globe, a few of my chef friends who lived in Vegas convinced me to move here.
Do you have any news or updates that you’d like to share?
I am incredibly excited to be part of Vegas Test Kitchen, which just recently opened. It’s a pop-up space in downtown Las Vegas that hosts a rotation of local chefs and concepts in the works. I am bringing my concept, Bodega Bagel, which offers New York-style bagels, spreads, schmears, and more.
What part of the culinary industry is complicated or misunderstood?
The kitchen is very misunderstood. People don’t realize how much work goes into curating a well-oiled machine of a team. You could have the best of the best working together, but if their energies and work styles don’t align, you’re not going to have a successful operation. It is crucial to have people work together and value each role, from the chefs to the dish washers.
What’s trending at the cafe and what’s to come?
With the pandemic limiting seating, to-go orders and takeaway dishes are incredibly popular. People want to ensure they’re being safe but still crave delicious food. We are providing that with our easy online and over-the-phone ordering system, along with already-made dishes, which are displayed at the front of the cafe.
Right now, our primary focus is feeding the community safely. We will continue doing that this year.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
It’s been difficult to seat people at 25% capacity in a space of 230 square feet. While these restrictions are very important and something we take seriously, dining establishments are being treated as if they’re all the same. Small cafes and massive Strip restaurants must follow the same guidelines, which can be frustrating. We are thankful for our patio, which has provided us additional space, or else we would barely be able to seat anybody.
What additional safety measures has the company implemented for employees and customers?
We have gone completely disposable, so nothing is being reused, which has provided a lot of ease for customers. We’re also offering safety equipment for employees so they feel comfortable coming to work.
The culinary industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. What is your overall view on the sector now?
Your restaurant must remain adaptable and be willing to change with the ongoing situation. Offer curbside pick-up, delivery, family meals, etc. You also need to serve an amazing product to survive. People can make their own food at home, so you have to offer something to them that they can’t do themselves.
Describe your management style.
I’m very direct. Starting in this industry on the East Coast taught me to work quickly, efficiently, and with no nonsense.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Calm down and keep your eye on the prize. I get very excited quickly and sometimes lose focus on what’s important. It’s nice to have people that remind you of what should be a priority.
Tell us your biggest strengths and weaknesses.
My strength is that I am durable and don’t get knocked down easily, and my weakness is that I love to eat, which is hard when you’re constantly surrounded by good food.
What would you want as your last meal?
Either Champagne and caviar or french fries and a hamburger. It would depend on my mood.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
Definitely the Mediterranean. I grew up on it and miss it every day.