Oct. 6, 2018 — We needed a change,” Three Rivers Casino Resort Director of Marketing Rich Colton said. “The buffet’s been open since 2007. We needed something new, fresh and different. We feel like this can service our guests, and much more of them, much quicker.”
Colton was walking through Three Rivers World Market Buffet in Florence, which will serve its last meal on Sunday, Oct. 7. After the traditional Sunday brunch is held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the buffet area will be blocked off as work will begin on a new food court that will serve rapidly prepared, freshly made pizzas, roasted chicken, made-to-order burgers and other fare.
The food court, which is scheduled to be open to the public on Monday, Oct. 22, will house two main eateries, The 101 Burger Bar and Mamma Mia!: A Taste of Italy in Florence.
Three Rivers will be the first casino in Oregon to host a food court.
“We’re modifying it, coming up with this courtyard feel,” Colton said about the food court’s design, which will include wrought iron signs, brick columns and photos of icons from across the Siuslaw Region. “That’s what we want to get across, this courtyard, food court kind of feel.”
“Basically, we’re doing a food court to give our guests more options,” said Food and Beverage Operations Director Gary Gortz. “Our aim here is to get people to come and get fast, high quality food at really good value. Everything is fresh and fast.”
And inexpensive, Colton noted. Nothing in the food court will cost over $10, different from the $17.99 price-point of the buffet.
The demise of the buffet stemmed from a number of issues, most notably the cost.
“Buffets are very expensive to operate,” Gortz said. “You have over 300 items in a buffet, and you want to make sure the first guest and the last guest get exactly the same thing. When the last guest comes in, and you have a full buffet, what do you do with all the food that gets left over? It gets wasted. Economically, it was impossible to run the buffet.”
Because of the made-to-order nature of the food court, Gortz hopes that food cost and waste will be cut drastically.
Operational hours also limited the efficacy of the buffet. Larger casinos can afford to keep their buffets open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, which allows buffet managers the ability to keep a constant stock of ready-to-eat meals, thus cutting down on food waste. However, the World Market Buffet did not have the customer base to sustain a 24-hour operation, open only from Wednesday through Sunday, with often limited hours.
Because the food options are not relying solely on constantly ready-to-eat choices, the casino is able to expand the hours available for the food court. During the fall and winter months, the hours will be Sunday to Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and open until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
“But our plan is, as we go into the spring and the summer, to have it open 24/7,” Gortz said.
Three Rivers hopes that people will be drawn to the food options at the 101 Burger Bar and Mamma Mia, which will focus on traditional Italian-American foods, such as calzones, lasagna, spaghetti and raviolis.
Of particular pride for Gortz was the $52,000 pizza oven that has been installed in the kitchen.
“This stone oven runs about 1450 degrees on the top and 650 on the bottom,” he said. “We timed it out right now with the fresh made pizza dough at two-minute pizza times.”
The flame-fueled oven, which Gortz stated is the first of its kind on the West Coast, requires only three rotations for a pizza to be fully cooked. Staff hope that the oven will create shorter wait times for customer orders.
For the 101 Burger Bar, fresh hamburgers and crispy chicken sandwiches will be on the menu.
“We have a state-of-the-art, $12,000 chicken roaster coming, that actually has recommendations from the American Health Association,” Gortz said. “There’s no grease on the chicken, at all. So, we’re going to have fantastic, fresh chicken that is cooked to order, with our own special breading that we developed.”
The restaurant will also have quarter-pound burgers, using only local ingredients, along with chicken strips and homemade chili.
The buffet’s salad bar will remain, serving a host of different greens and breads.
“It will be completely full of options,” Gortz said. “You build your own salad, then you pay for it by the pound. We have honey grain whole wheat, real healthy mini loaves of bread. We’ll have a soup kitchen over here, serving two kinds of soup. Tomato basil and vegetable beef barley soup. We’ve got some good options.”
Already existing in the buffet area is the Coastal Roasters cafe, which serves grab-and-go sandwiches, the casino’s own coffee blend, pastries, cookies and breakfast items.
“All of our coffee now is roasted especially for us. It’s going to be our own private label coffee,” Gortz said. “And that’s included in our rooms as well. So, we have gourmet sandwiches, croissants and our coffee. Other snacks and grab and go items, they can come on the bus, they can grab a snack. They go out to the gaming floor. All of this food here will be available on a slot site menu.”
In addition to the food court, there is a planned renovation to Blue Bills Sports Bar, the casino’s bar. This may change in the next year as the casino also plans to move the Ocean Dunes Golf Links clubhouse to the casino.
“We feel it is very important to have the golf course more connect to the casino and hotel,” Colton said. “The clubhouse could possibly even be inside the [casino], leading out to the course itself. This way our guests staying here can walk right out from their rooms to the clubhouse and then on to the course. Parking would be enhanced so there is plenty space for current Ocean Dunes members and players that are just playing the course and may not staying in the hotel. We also have the room to put in a driving range, just need to move some sand around. In addition, put in a bigger practice area. The current clubhouse area does not have the space to allow for that.”
While it’s possible the course could open in spring, Colton said it could take anywhere from one to two years for the project to come to fruition.
“The way things are going, we’re moving really quickly,” Colton said about the changes to the casino. “Things are happening that’s never really happened before.”
In the past year, the casino has gone through multiple renovations and reorganizations, including a new non-smoking area and the opening of a new fine dining restaurant, Bonfire.
“Our golfers love to come to Bonfire,” Gortz said. “They compare it Portland. They’re starting to enjoy the golfing with the fine dining.”
But the food services are considered an amenity to the casino: 95 percent of the casino’s revenue comes from the casino floor, mainly slots.
Changes have also been made to the gaming floor, including extra blackjack tables, the addition of an Ultimate Texas Hold Em’ table and new popular slot machines, including popular brand properties like Ghostbusters and The Goonies.
“Each month we’re getting 10 to 15 new games, which our guests are really loving,” Colton said.
Since the Supreme Court struck down a law curtailing sports gambling in the U.S., gamblers have asked if Three Rivers is looking to get into the sports betting game.
“I don’t think anybody has tackled that yet in Oregon,” Colton said. “It’s something we’ve talked about but haven’t jumped on yet. We do have options with our gaming system that would allow for that. But we’ve got these bigger projects first.”
On the entertainment end, the casino is looking to book bigger shows, with the upcoming concert by 1980s rock band Great White already selling out, and tickets for comedian/actor Paul Reiser of the ‘90s TV series “Mad About You” are going fast.
Whether or not the casino will ever host big names like Paula Abdul and The Oak Ridge Boys, which are playing at Chinook Winds in the coming months, Colton stated that those types of acts are not really geared toward the Three Rivers market.
“We’re not Chinook Winds,” he said. “I understand their market. Chinook Winds has to pull people past Spirit Mountain Casino in order to get them to come out to Lincoln City. They do that with big name acts. That is a part of their strategy. It’s something we don’t have to do, but we want to offer something that people enjoy.”
As for the market that Three Rivers is tailoring too, it generally skews older, with the majority of their players in the 55- to 65-year-old cohort.
As for where their customers come from, Colton said it’s a mix.
“Eugene and Springfield are our biggest customers on the weekend,” he said. “On the weekend, we get 75 percent from the valley, and then 25 percent local. During the week, it flip-flops. It’s all locals and a few tourists.”
To get out-of-towners to the resort, Three Rivers has made an aggressive campaign to attract those in Eugene, including new video commercials, a direct mail campaign and stronger billboard use.
“We’re working on rotating our boards, making them more promotional,” Colton said. “We’ve also set up a board for tourism in Florence. So, you’ll see a board with horseback riding the dunes. Part of our campaign is getting people to come here to Florence. If we can get two hours of them on the floor, that’s great. Then they spend the rest of the day out on the dunes. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
By helping promote activities outside the resort, Three Rivers hopes that it will bolster general tourism in the area, creating a stronger economy.
As for what Three Rivers offers the Siuslaw Region, Gortz said it came down to the 350 workers the casino resort employs.
“People want jobs,” he said. “We want to help the community through hiring the community.”
Gortz also mentioned working with Coos Bay College in starting a culinary apprenticeship program at the casino next year and is actively looking to work with local schools to get students working during the summer.
Overall, Colton stated that the changes Three Rivers have been making has been paying off.
“This summer was probably the busiest summer we have had,” he said.
Gortz agreed, saying, “We’re busy. Everything that we’ve done has been the right thing to do. Because we’ve been successful, we’ve been spending our money doing things like (the food court). We’re putting it back in the property, making it a better value and hope it draws more people.”
“I’d say this last year has been a turnaround year for us,” Colton said.
Three Rivers Casino Resort is open in Florence at 5647 Highway 126 and in Coos Bay at 1297 Ocean Blvd. For more information about the casino, Ocean Dunes Golf Course and the upcoming renovation, visit www.threeriverscasino.com.