Well done

Members of the serving staff at Harrah’s Steak House include Tommy Loonkaw, Tony Belancio, Bong Genio, Ali Khabaz, Maricela Ramirez, Jesus Castillo, and Ozzie Cabrera.

Members of the serving staff at Harrah’s Steak House include Tommy Loonkaw, Tony Belancio, Bong Genio, Ali Khabaz, Maricela Ramirez, Jesus Castillo, and Ozzie Cabrera.

Photo By allison young

Harrah’s Steakhouse is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Like the grande dame it is, tucked downstairs in Harrah’s, away from the casino action, this icon of Northern Nevada dining has endured. This is partly because of its aged steaks but truly because of its people, the legendary server staff, with an average employment of 28 years of asking rare, medium-rare or well-done? Now in its 45th year, this bastion of beef is still a vibrant, old style supper club to be experienced. The dark cherry woodwork, tapestry booths and large red leather chairs mark the elegant atmosphere. Everything is done with class. Every captain wears a tuxedo. That’s how it started; that’s how it is still today.

“I came to America from the Philippines in October 1973,” says server Bong Genio. “My mom and dad were already working at Harrah’s, and I started work in the steakhouse in November, 1973.” And 39 years later, he’s still there. He remembers when Bill Harrah came in with Bobbie Gentry. Bill ordered a simple house salad, a New York strip medium, and a plain dish of ice cream.

The list of celebrities who have passed through the portals are numerous, and there to greet them for more than a quarter century, is the dapper and distinguished Maître d’, Michael Kerivan, a bit of an icon in Reno dining himself.

“If we can, we will go out of our way to accommodate our customers,” he says, with absolute certainty. And he means it. He tells tales of people asking him to order McDonald’s for their kids and rolling in a baby grand piano to conduct a wake for a dearly departed loved one. Then, there are those who order their steaks raw, and three times in one week, Kerivan had to perform the Heimlich maneuver to keep someone from choking. He does it with a gracious desire to please, and his obsessive pursuit of excellence leaving nothing to chance.

It’s about a subtle relationship between food, wine, ambiance and service, and that can only be accomplished by hiring passionate people with the ability to surpass the highest standards in the industry. Tableside service was once a trademark of fine dining restaurants. As restaurants have grown in popularity, and casual dining is now the norm, tableside service has faded away but in the steakhouse, it has endured. From the Caesar salad to the steak Diane to the bananas Foster to the Café Diablo, this food show biz hasn’t missed a beat in 45 years.

Once, Genio, only 5-feet-1, had to stand on a chair to make a Café Diablo so everyone could see him. When these showmen of tableside food symphonies complete their masterpieces, it’s not unusual for patrons to break out in applause.

Absolut Vodka ran a contest for using its new Currant flavor and Ozzie Cabrera (24 years experience) stepped up and created his now famous Absolut Prawns—it’s not on the menu, but just ask Dr. Oz, and he will operate.

Arland Pabico (37 years), Tony Belancio (32 years), Marjorie Farley (24 years), Ali Khabaz (24 years), Brian Kebis (34 years) all have tales to tell, and to a person, they love what they do. And the Countess of Cocktails for 37 years, barkeep Jackie Smith, shakes, stirs and pops corks with a master’s touch.

Endurance is the ability to sustain over time, to call from one’s self renewed commitment and effort when confronted with challenges. Endurance means that remaining steadfast even through criticism, monotony and discouraging odds. Harrah’s has changed into an international, corporate behemoth, but the Steakhouse, because of its people, will always be, in the hearts, minds and tummies of its guests, an enduring and beloved legacy of special memories in a special place.