(April 30, 3:59 p.m.) Every morning, Get Fresh Sales Inc. backs its trucks up to the docks of the company’s best customers — Las Vegas hotel-casinos.

There’s no sharing — each hotel gets its own truck. And by “truck,” we’re not talking your garden-variety box truck.

Think 40-foot, 48-foot and 52-foot configurations. Not really much of a surprise, when you consider the average Vegas casino uses upwards of 1,400 pounds of fruit every day.

“The industry’s been growing like crazy,” said Dominic Caldara, Las Vegas-based Get Fresh’s president. “We’ve been fortunate. The town’s been growing ever since I arrived 29 years ago.”

Not even the recent economic slowdown has put the skids on sales of fresh fruits and vegetables at Get Fresh. This March was the company’s best March ever, Caldara said.

The typical visitor to Las Vegas in 2007 — there were 39 million of them — brought $556 to play the tables and slots. While most visitors didn’t go home any richer, plenty at least got a good meal or three. Nevada casino industry food revenues totaled $3.4 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.


There are a host of things that distinguish Vegas from other produce foodservice markets, the city’s distributors and chefs say.

Efficiency, for example, is a must in Vegas. For many casino-hotels, that means receiving the fruits and vegetables for their buffets in as ready-to-go a format as possible — namely, fresh-cut.

But fresh-cut is still relatively new to Sin City. When Paul Lagudi arrived in town and set up shop in 2001, no one was doing fresh-cut. Seven years later, his company, Lagudi Enterprises LLC, cuts and ships 20 million pounds of fruit to Vegas buffets and restaurants every year.

“It has grown tremendously,” he said. “Vegas has been very good to me. Everybody wants fresh today.”


“Fresh” is the buzz word of choice for many of the chefs in the restaurants on and off the Vegas Strip. When Stripburger opened for business last June, it set out to differentiate itself from the many other burger joints around by focusing on freshness, said Erik Palmer, the restaurant’s executive chef.

Stripburger beef, for instance, is ground on-site every day, Palmer said. And the same is true when it comes to the fresh potatoes the restaurant cuts daily for fries and the lettuce, tomatoes and red onions it puts on its burgers.

Because Stripburger keeps its food simple, Palmer said, the few ingredients the restaurant does use have to be as close to perfect as possible — and that means fresh.

“Because we use so few, it’s really important that they really shine,” he said. “Tomatoes, for instance, need to be ripe and in season. There are a lot of tomatoes out there that don’t taste like tomatoes.”

Depending on the season, Palmer may buy field-grown or hothouse tomatoes. He has no qualms about hopping from one vendor to another if it means getting the freshest, tastiest product.

Another Vegas chef, Jean Joho, takes his quest for fresh produce one step further, sourcing many of the fruits and vegetables he serves at the Eiffel Tower, a contemporary twist on French cuisine, directly from growers.

“Over the years, you establish connections,” he said. “A grower in Michigan ships in white jumbo asparagus for me. I get a certain kind of fingerling potatoes from a grower in Washington state.”

Joho judges not just his own but all restaurants by the freshness of their produce.

“I can walk into a restaurant, see what kind of fruits and vegetables they use, and I can judge the restaurant,” he said. “I judge chefs by what kind of produce they use. You can’t tell me it’s fresh on the plate if it wasn’t fresh to begin with.”

Fruit salads and medleys and clean and peeled fruit are among the big sellers at Lagudi Enterprises, with honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple and watermelon among the top commodities. The company also sells fresh-cut vegetables, including its own salad mixes, which it makes on site.


Something else that separates Vegas from other markets is the paramount importance of service, Lagudi said. His workers always cut produce the same day it’s put on casino buffets, he said. Last-minute orders are just business as usual.

“We may get an order at 10 for 2,000 pounds of cut fruit, and we’ll have it out by 11:30,” he said. “Everything’s under pressure, and everyone wants it now.”

In a city with no clocks or windows — a city that has made time irrelevant — good service, Lagudi said, also means service that never sleeps, either.

“We’re ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “We’re basically a kitchen to the casinos. You show us what you want, we’ll do it.”

Caldara said it’s not just sheer volume that separates the Vegas of today from the Vegas of old. The cheap buffets of yesteryear have become the celebrity chef showcases of today, raising Vegas to the culinary heights of a New York or San Francisco, he said.

“The quality has increased 10-fold,” he said. “Chefs are absolutely requesting the best of the best you can find anywhere. These guys are all trying to outdo one another.”