You don’t feel like you’re in Paso Robles.
DJ Pablo Diablo is adding sick beats to ‘80s favorites under flashing LEDs. Bearded bartenders are slinging exotic rum drinks alight with blue flames. And two couples winning hand after hand at the 3-card poker table are cheering and yelling, “Don’s in the house! Woot, woot, woot!”
This Don is Don Ezell, co-owner of the renovated Paso Robles Casino. He gives the young couples a congratulatory thumbs up from his seat at a nearby table where he’s deep in tournament play with card-swarthy locals.
The fun, free-for-all atmosphere is exactly how the brothers Don and Rob Ezzell designed it to be.
The renovated casino and Tiki bar is at 1144 Black Oak Drive near one of the busiest intersections on the Central Coast –where the Highway 101 and 46 meet. The brothers also raised a new sign, signifying the new feel and look of their gaming facility. Visible from the freeway, the Las Vegas-style sign is a declaration of the high-end refurbishment of the business.
“[The sign] is emblematic of the changes we’ve made,” Don said.
The brothers completely revamped the business in hopes to draw a different clientele, as well as to give professional players a break from the typical cardrooms. Card tables are legal in California because card games are considered a game of skill rather than mere chance like roulette or slot machines. However, the casino is not only designed for professional players, the Ezzells have striven to attract patrons who have no interest in cards.
“This is such a dramatically different business and facility,” said Don adding, “We’re very hopeful that a much nicer facility—including the bathrooms—is an attractive offering even for folks that have in the past gone to some pretty sketchy facilities.”
The business leaned on Rob’s experience, a professional poker player for over 30 years, for design ideas that would appeal to the average patron and the experienced gamer.
“We think there is a changing demographic with our own customer base,” said Don.
The new bar, which takes approximately a quarter of the interior, was designed with a Caribbean theme with lanterns hanging from thickly coiled ropes and ambient lighting that reflects rows of glass bottles. It features an enormous selection of rum that goes far beyond the college Bacardi and coke mixture; in fact, the one rum the bar seems to lack is Bacardi. It does, however, feature drinks that can be set aflame and boasts of a rum shot that costs a cool $185. The lighting, designed by Acropolis, has 17 million illumination combinations.
“Rum does transport you, that’s why we choose it,” said Don.
Apart from the complete overhaul of the dining menu and bar, the brothers believe that it is the people that make the business. They searched throughout the county and beyond to find what they deemed are the best people to serve their patrons.
“One of our business prerogatives was to hire really good people,” said Don. “We went to other bars and restaurants and talked to everybody we know and asked them who the best people are and we offered them a job.”
The company also hopes to fill a niche with a late-night dining and entertainment experience in an area where things normally shut down around 9 p.m. Depending on the day of the week, the kitchen can be open as late as midnight.
“If you don’t have a competitive customer experience, you really are in a difficult market even as things bump up,” said Don.
There is, of course, something for the professional player. The casino features weekly tournaments with buy-ins from $5 to $250. The host of games offered includes blackjack, three card poker and Texas hold’em. The lounge also capitalizes on the popularity of movies such as the recent Molly’s Game, which is based on the true story of Molly Bloom who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game.
Commenting on the difficulty of sustaining a food and beverage business on the Central Coast, Don said, “…But here it is much more challenging. That’s why we have spent and invested so much in the facility, the food and beverage. The whole offering has to be better, stronger, more interesting, more inviting or we just can’t get repeat business, local business.”
The business is opened from 4 to 12 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday and closed Monday. For more information, visit http://www.pasoroblescasino.com/
This story originally appeared in SlOCountyBusinessMatters.com.
By Mark A. Diaz