This family-run operation gives a personal touch to the casinos and country clubs of Las Vegas.
Who quits a stable job with a government pension for the insecurity of self-employment in a field where you have no formal training or experience? To put it another way, who in his right mind would give up a career in electronic engineering in a weapons program at the Nevada Test Site for … concrete work?
That’s what Monte Walker did, and he doesn’t believe a sound mind has anything to do with the decision. “Middle-age menopause and temporary insanity,” he says with a chuckle.
In 1979, Walker went into partnership with a rebar contractor who specialized in swimming pool decks.
That company, now known as Chief Concrete Inc., has gone on to handle showcase project work for such signature Vegas clients as MGM Mirage properties, the Silverton Casino Lodge, Allegiant Travel Co., The Milton I. Schwartz Hebrew Academy and many of the city’s most exclusive residential developments, not to mention some of its ritziest country clubs.
Jack Finnan, the company’s general superintendent, has worked for Monte Walker since 1980, and is one of several employees of the Las Vegas-based company who have devoted many years to the family business. “It’s like working for family,” he says. “To Monte, you’re a name, not a number. He’s old-school that way.”
But, like curing concrete, Chief came together slowly, over time.
Picking up and turning down work
The young company bought its first cookie-cutter stamping tools in 1981. “When we diversified into stamping,” Monte Walker says, “that tripled our business.”
The company’s first stamp jobs were for Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants. Eventually, they signed contracts with such major homebuilders and developments as Del Webb Corp., The Howard Hughes Corp. and Pardee Homes, bringing the company into the Vegas high-end real estate market.
Monte Walker was on his own by then, having bought out his partner in 1986. Multicolor acid staining, overlayments, self-leveling cements, epoxy coatings, surface preparation, enhanced architectural concrete and countertops … it all was added to Chief Concrete’s toolbox of capabilities over time. Walker’s people handled project work for shopping centers, spas, country clubs and public areas, including 25,000 square feet of stamped concrete streetwork for The District at Green Valley Ranch, a mixed-use lifestyle center.
Monte’s son, Matt Walker, joined the company full-time out of college in 2002. “He developed a real rapport with homebuilders and commercial contractors,” says his dad, proudly.
Remember not so long ago when people were actually building — and selling — homes in Las Vegas? Back then, all of three or four years ago, the local real estate market looked like even more of a sure thing than four aces and a wild card.
“We were very involved to the point where we had to turn down work,” says Walker. “We didn’t have enough people to handle it. We had about a three-year period where it was hot like that.”
Things are a little different in Vegas now, of course. “It’s been a little slow over the last year and a half,” Matt Walker admits.
His father has the numbers at his fingertips. “We’ve got 54 people in the field and six in the office. Two years ago, we had 110 people in the field.”
The Walkers have had to scurry to adapt, but that’s pretty much what they’ve been doing over the entire history of the company. “We had to shift gears from residential to more commercial work,” says Monte. “We’ve got an envelope of activities now.”
And the residential business hasn’t completely evaporated. But it’s more in the line of enhancement and beautification work than major new construction.
Commercial projects such as restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and the grand foyer of the Silverton Casino Lodge are paying the bulk of the bills today.
In the case of the Silverton, their beautification of the 3,800-square foot foyer started with pre-leveling the recessed floor. “Then we coated it with a chemically reactive stain and concrete dye to mimic water flowing out of a free-standing fish tank that’s in the foyer,” says Matt Walker.
The wet, glistening appearance is an attention-grabber. “It’s received a lot of foot traffic in the four years since we completed it, and it still looks great,” Matt says.
Another recent project, at the Mirage, is what Monte calls “one of the most challenging jobs we’ve ever done.”
As part of the south entrance renovation, Chief Concrete laid 6,000 square feet of Lithocrete, an exposed aggregate product, on the walkway where the casino faces the very busy Las Vegas Boulevard. “They had to keep the casino entrance open, so it was always a matter of working around people,” says Matt.
In other, less bustling towns, the crew might have simply waited until closing time and worked the graveyard shift. In Vegas, there’s no such thing.
“It was kind of a hopscotch job,” Matt recalls. “We’d start it at 2 a.m. and we were still working around foot traffic.”
“It slows down from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., but then you’re dealing with the drunks,” says project manager Bill Somyak from Westar Architects, the project’s architectural firm.
The challenge, in addition to the city’s insomnia, was matching multiple color mixtures and staying true to a pattern of recycled glass that was broadcast into the mix.
“The design was amorphous, very meandering,” says Somyak. “There were multiple color aggregates and three different backgrounds.”
A lot to keep track of in the middle of the night — with a few passersby who are meandering even more wildly than the pattern. So how’d Chief Concrete do?
“They were phenomenal,” reports Somyak. “Their project management was great and Monte is very knowledgeable.”
According to Somyak, the Walkers worked on the first Lithocrete installation in the city. But that’s no surprise. “We were one of the original architectural contractors, and we were local pioneers in concrete stamping,” states the younger Walker.
One more noteworthy recent project involved installing the distinctive sunburst logo on the floor of Allegiant Air’s Las Vegas headquarters.
“We had to start by pre-leveling the floor with Ardex SD-T self-leveling cement because it was recessed two inches,” says Matt Walker. “We used 1 1/2 inches of fill and then capped it with a coat of smooth Ardex SD-T.”
After hand-sawing the two 20-by-15 sunburst patterns, they applied pigmented epoxy urethane for a base color, then hand-sprayed airplane paint. The final step was to grout and seal their showcase creation with a number of coats of clear epoxy urethane and wax.
“It was painstaking, but we’re very proud of it,” says Matt.
To this day, most of what father and son have learned about the business — from stamping to Lithocrete installation — has been self-taught. Picked up along the way.
“The price of education comes hard,” says Monte Walker. “Sometimes you learn with a jackhammer.”
Sometimes there’s just no better way.