Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Map of Buffalo Bill's
31700 South Las Vegas Blvd., Primm
Ramon Ayala, the “King of the Accordion,” first rose to fame in the early 1960s as a member of Los Relampagos del Norte, or "Lightning from the North."
Since producing his first hit single, 1963’s “Ya No Llores,” Ayala has gone on to revolutionize the Mexican musical genre known as norteño and risen to stardom, producing 105 albums, appearing in 13 motion pictures and winning two Grammys and two Latin Grammys.
Buffalo Bill’s in Primm, as part of a calculated campaign to attract Hispanic customers that began a few years ago, is trying to capture some of Ayala’s lightning. Two years ago Ayala performed what would be the first of several sold-out shows at the resort.
The legendary accordion player’s concerts were such a success that in December, right around the time of Ayala’s 66th birthday, the casino started renovations for Ramon Ayala’s Cocina and Cantina, the first restaurant ever to carry the musician’s name.
On Thursday, Buffalo Bill’s had a grand-opening fiesta for the restaurant, and Ayala, in town for a Sunday concert at Bill’s, used a set of large novelty scissors to cut the red ribbon adorned with red paper chile peppers.
“It was a proposal that they brought to me,” Ayala said in Spanish, referring to the management team at Affinity Gaming. “I’ve never had a restaurant before, but I thought it would be a good idea. We’ve had success in our performances here, and we believe the restaurant will be a success.”
At Buffalo Bill’s approximately 90 percent of the customers are from Southern California, said Stuart Richey, assistant general manager, and the strongest demographic for the casino is Hispanics. For years Buffalo Bill’s has reached out to communities just across the California border and into the Inland Empire, providing buses to get customers out to Primm. In the past two years, as Ayala has filled the 6,000-seat arena at least twice a year, the casino added Spanish-language dealers and playing felts.
“This really is like the cherry on top of everything we’ve built up over the last few years,” Richey said. “It’s an exciting day for us. A few years ago we started rolling out various projects geared toward the Hispanic community, and this is a culmination. We thought of people like B.B. King, Toby Keith and Jimmy Buffett with Margaritaville, all musicians with restaurants. So, we thought, why not go with the guy who started it all for us, Ramon Ayala?”
The restaurant was carved out of the shell of an old Tony Roma’s steakhouse that once occupied the space. The area has been completely redone with decor to reflect both Ayala’s love of music and the accordion and Mexican cuisine. The restaurant seats about 250 people including the bar area, where liquor bottles are displayed on shelves equipped with LEDs that change colors. The drink menu includes 10 different brands of tequila, specialty margaritas and a selection of domestic and foreign beers, including less-common Mexican brews like Victoria.
Menus feature an image of an accordion on the front; inside diners will find traditional and more modern Mexican dishes, from burritos and fajitas to smoked-brisket enchiladas and a whole page of seafood specialties.
The restaurant includes a small stage, where a three-piece mariachi band performed Thursday to celebrate the opening.
“We’ve been open for two weeks already, and we’ve been doing exceptionally good business,” said Loren Gill, general manager at Buffalo Bill’s. “We expect this weekend to be gangbusters with Ramon’s concert on Sunday.”
Ayala said he enjoyed all the dishes he sampled upon his arrival and likes the emphasis on cuisine from Mexico’s north, where he was born. He said he hoped the menu would evolve over time and continue to introduce new dishes.
“One day I want roasted baby goat on the menu,” Ayala said. “It’s a specialty of Monterrey, where I’m from.”