Saracen Casino Chef Todd Gold on Running 8 Restaurants, Accepting A New Challenge

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The Saracen Casino Resort, scheduled to open next month in Pine Bluff, recently revealed its slate of restaurants, which will include Red Oak Steakhouse, Legends Sports Bar and on-site brewery Downstream Crafted Brewing Co.

The casino will also have a food court called The Post, which will offer coffee, sweets, Mexican cuisine, fried foods, other American fare, power bowls, flatbreads, salads and sandwiches.

Other restaurants include Quapaw Kitchens, with everything from Cajun to Asian cuisine, and Crossroads Bar.

Chef Todd Gold, formerly associate dean of the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College, will serve as director of the casino’s food and beverage department, and Lucus Setterfield has been named creative director. The department plans to hire 300-400 people by the end of the month.

Gold said in a news release that employees will receive rigorous training, strict COVID-19 protocols will be followed, and locally sourced products will be used in menu development. 

Gold answered additional questions from Arkansas Business by email this week.

What do you hope to accomplish as head of the Saracen’s Food and Beverage Department? 

We are creating a culinary and hospitality destination like no other in the state or region. It is important that our food and beverage department is a teaching environment where our staff can learn and grow. I would love to start a Southeast Arkansas American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program here in Pine Bluff, because that is how the culinary school was started. 

What challenges are unique to running this type of thing, as opposed to running restaurants or a culinary school’s programs? How will you overcome those challenges? 

The incredible size and scope of the operation is the most unique challenge. There are eight concepts/restaurants with a food and beverage staff of 300 plus. Future plans will see Saracen’s hospitality functions expanded. It is important that I surround myself with great team members that I can count on to follow through and make the right decision every time. I believe we have done just that.

Describe your ideal job candidate.

The ideal hire is someone with a passion for food and service and someone who seeks to learn, grow and better themselves. It has always made me so happy to know my customers had a great experience. Even if they don’t say anything, you can always tell if they are satisfied. Someone who has that same desire, to make sure all of our customers have an outstanding experience, that’s the ideal job candidate.

Describe the training these new hires will need.

Our chefs and management teams are doing a great job taking the time to work with our staff — training not only in the areas where they will be working, but also giving new hires the full picture of the operation and sharing the top-shelf attitude that is our brand as well. It is a great time right now to join our team as we have a lot of recipe development happening, too. We are also teaching them ServSafe from the National Restaurant Association. They will earn the certification upon completion.

How will you go about sourcing local products? What are the challenges there? Are you worried about COVID-19 supply chain issues, or do you hope sourcing local products will help Saracen avoid those? 

We began exploring these partnerships almost from the beginning, and that process won’t stop. Just this week we were talking with a local honey farmer. There is more work to be done in setting up local farmers as vendors, as well as identifying ways to highlight them by name, but it is so critical to what we’re doing that it is a job that we will always have at the top of our list. 

The supply chain has been troublesome since COVID-19, especially on the construction side of things. Hospitality professionals are trained to pivot at a moment’s notice and make sure the customer never knows. We will continue to do so as we move forward on challenges that may appear.

How did you decide to offer the cuisines the casino will offer? Is there some marketing research to credit for that? 

My counterpart, Lucus Setterfield from Downstream Casino in Oklahoma, dreamed this up with his team there. They worked with the HBG design team to move this from paper to reality. When I got here six months ago, we were working to hire a culinary team that includes our executive chef, Cynthia East. Chef East and her culinary team have worked hard to make sure the menus and recipes have an Arkansas Delta feel. They have really put together something special here. I am looking forward to everyone coming in to try all of our concepts. There is such a thing as Arkansas food, and it exists in a number of high quality formats at Saracen.

Why take this job? What attracted you to this new post? 

Well, I love the culinary school and everyone there is my family. After working with the school for 25 years, I could have easily finished out my career there. It was a really hard decision to make. I am the type of guy who loves a project and a challenge too. If I was going to make a big change like this, I wanted to make it happen before I turned 50. The stars aligned, and I followed the path before me. We are completing the largest construction project in Arkansas and hiring at an unprecedented scale here, never mind in a pandemic. This incredible challenge is a lot of fun, too.

How do you like working with Quapaw Nation? How is it different from what you’ve done before?

Working for the Quapaw Nation has been a great experience. They are caring and understanding. Joseph Byrd, chairman of the Quapaw Nation, is a great leader and has all my respect. Additionally, working every day with [Saracen Project Manager] Carlton Saffa is a true pleasure; we have become fast friends.

How does your past experience inform you in this new role? 

I have been in the hospitality industry for over 33 years, and, through education and experience, I have acquired an invaluable skill set that includes leadership and business capitalization expertise, organizational management, facility design, layout and construction management of multi-million-dollar projects. Of course, I started my career as a dishwasher and worked my way up. I am ready and on ‘go!’