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Casino manager strives to highlight local flavor
Dale Jager, the executive director of food and beverage at the Quechan Casino Resort and Paradise Casino, is a very popular guy.
Sitting in a small, windowless office in the maze of the resort's recesses, his BlackBerry chirps, his phone rings, the walkie-talkie squawks and people periodically stick their heads in the room.
“Are we on?” asks one visitor who flings open the door. “Yep,” says Jager smiling. The guy leaves and Jager explains.
“We are biking to Dome Valley tomorrow,” he says, grinning. “It's my stress release.”
Jager doesn't look like he's all that stressed, despite being a bit of a fish out of water in a small town like Yuma. Having grown up in Butte, Mont., where “it's already winter,” and then spending several years in glitzy Las Vegas, Jager admits moving to Yuma “was a little bit of a shock.”
Today, Jager oversees five restaurants at the “Q” and a throng of busy chefs, cooks and other employees in the sprawling, bustling kitchen.
Brought in at the eleventh hour for the opening of the resort in February 2008, Jager along with four fellow managers tapped into decades of casino experience to launch a 166-room, 297,000-square-foot resort.
The wildly successful opening drew a steady stream of cars, trucks and RVs that filled the parking lots – a buzz that lasted well into the summer and stunned Jager, an industry veteran. Since then, the casino has held on to a loyal base of customers, most of whom are locals.
This winter Jager is hoping to duplicate that initial grand-opening excitement regardless of a rather dull economic outlook. And he is working closely with the marketing department to try and lure the thousands of tourists that drive by the casino daily as well as convince more Yumans that making the eight-mile drive out to one of the resort's five restaurants is well worth the effort.
“We try to infuse the local flavor into the menu,” said Jager, who hosts frequent tasting events to try and gauge the taste buds of Yuma's regional restaurant goers. Because, as Jager learned during a recent stint in Oklahoma where he oversaw a slew of casino openings, re-creating Vegas-style menus and meals doesn't always translate well to other communities.
“We really had to learn how to fit into the local community,” he said of his tenure in Oklahoma.
Jager also plans to introduce Yumans to unique menu items like foie gras and showcase dry-aged beef in the Ironwood Steakhouse, the casino's feted restaurant. These daring moves are what makes Jager such a commodity, said William McFerson, executive director of marketing.
“His products are only surpassed by his creativity,” McFerson said of Jager.
Jager also is working with the Yuma Visitors Bureau to support Lettuce Days – part of the bureau's long-term plan to raise the caliber of the annual event and capitalize on the chef's experience with culinary events.
He hopes to bring in ice carvers, sugar artists, vegetable sculptors, host cooking contests and, most importantly, showcase the local chefs and hometown restaurants that he sees as the bedrock of a small community like Yuma.
In addition, Jager is collaborating with a Yuma-area grower to develop a hot house for produce like heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.
“We need to cut out some of the steps between the farm and the table,” said Jager.
Married with two children, Jager lives near downtown Yuma and spends weekends rebuilding vintage cars and riding through the “stunning” farms in Dome Valley on his bicycle.
“Having all these fields to explore is like candy land,” he said.