Peppermill’s distinct style is Paganetti’s legacy
From the vivid, floor-to-ceiling screens beaming idyllic waterfalls and naturescapes into a Reno high-rise resort, to the gas fireplaces lending warm, retro vibes to a Las Vegas lounge, experts say Peppermill properties are unmistakable and iconic.
They bear the fingerprints of Bill Paganetti, who died Dec. 29 at age 85 after a brief illness. Competitors and friends say his meticulous attention to detail and deep connection to his family have helped shape communities across the state where he did business.
Paganetti was called an icon of Reno on more than one occasion. Not only did he co-own the Peppermill Resort and Casino south of Midtown, which is distinguished by its Tuscan decor and Italian-style statues and fountains, his portfolio included the Western Village in Sparks, the Peppermill Lounge in Las Vegas and Montego Bay in West Wendover.
Ken Adams, a gaming analyst for CDC Gaming, told The Nevada Independent on Jan. 8 that the Peppermill in Reno was successful, in part, because of its branding, slots and ample parking.
“Bill learned to do slot machines, to understand slot machines, better than anybody else,” Adams said. “You have to analyze which ones are doing best and why they're doing best and all of that. And it really takes somebody who's willing to spend and has the skills.”
Adams said Paganetti made a habit of walking the casino floor of the Peppermill with an employee armed with a pen and paper, noting all the things that needed addressing to ensure nothing went unattended.
Gary Carano, executive chairman of the board of Caesars Entertainment, recalled the way Paganetti walked the Peppermill floors — always dressed in a black dress shirt and black pants.
“He was what I would call an expert in slot analytics and slot performance,” Carano said.
He said he remembers Paganetti not only for his passion for the Peppermill, but his passion for his family as well.
Carano said he first met Paganetti when Carano’s son, Anthony — now the president of Eldorado Resorts — and Paganetti’s son, Billy, were in Little League together.
“Bill would come to all the games,” Carano said.
Carano said his favorite memories of Paganetti are of when they spent time with their sons together.
“Those are some special moments I'll cherish forever,” Carano said. “Brings back beautiful memories of the beautiful person that Bill was.”
Gaming experts tend to agree that branding is one of the most important ingredients for success in the casino industry — something the Peppermill had in excess.
“In the Peppermill when you walk in, nobody ever says ‘Geez, I wonder where we are now. What casino is this?’” Adams said.
Deep purple casino floors and bright emerald pools that Adams described as “kind of Miami Vice colors,” glittering lights and video of international landscapes are part of what make the Peppermill its own brand.
Adams said Paganetti’s attention to detail aided Peppermill’s branding.
“You didn't get a light bulb off. You didn't get a hole in the carpet,” he said.
He also noted that during an expansion the casino even built false walls so the construction looked complete and would not interfere with the guest experience.
“The Peppermill Casino is the Peppermill Casino and one way or another that is Bill Paganetti,” Adams said.
Stephen Ascuaga, the corporate director of business development at the Peppermill and son of previous Nugget Casino owner, the late John Ascuaga, said he knew Paganetti for his kindness, humility and generosity.
“If you ever met Bill, it was never about Bill,” Ascuaga said. “He was very unassuming.”
Carano remembered Paganetti’s attention to detail but also his leadership style, which aided in bringing different casino owners together.
“Bill has been a fierce competitor. A friend at the same time,” Carano said. “Our casinos downtown — we work with Bill closer than anybody else in the community, because that's the kind of guy he was. He was … always trying to bring people together.”
Paganetti was the oldest of six children of a large, close-knit family. He was born and raised in Petaluma, California, where his family had a small ranch and raised cows, pigs and chickens, according to an obituary published by the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Paganetti had full intentions to return to Petaluma to teach after he attended Santa Rosa Junior College and San Jose State University, according to the obituary. Instead, Paganetti and his friend, Nat Carasali, decided to move to South Lake Tahoe, where the two founded The Paganetti Construction Company.
According to his obituary, neither of the duo who would later become the founders of Peppermill Casinos Inc. had any experience in the cafe business, but when one client who couldn’t pay construction costs gave them the title to a small cafe in the Keystone Shopping Center, they took over. The business eventually failed and drained them of their money in the process.
At one point, Paganetti did not even have the 25-cent toll to cross the Oakland bridge when he was traveling to purchase better meat at a cheaper price for the restaurant.
Despite the business failure, it sparked Paganetti’s interest in upscale cafe-style dining and paved the way for the duo to create the Peppermill.
Peppermill: From coffee shop to statewide success
Paganetti and Carasali opened the Peppermill Coffee Shop and Lounge in Reno in 1971, putting their focus on high-quality food.
On the cafe’s opening day, the business partners did not have enough money to fill the cash register, writing a $200 check that would bounce if they did not make that total by the end of the day. But they succeeded, and by the next year, they had opened a second location in Las Vegas — the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge, which just celebrated 51 years in operation.
The Las Vegas location’s aesthetic is completed by deep blue and red seating contrasted against turquoise and magenta lighting that shines among indoor fire pits. The lounge has been featured in movies such as Casino as well as music videos featuring performances by Avenged Sevenfold, Santana and Adam Lambert. It was also a dining spot for Jerry Seinfeld and George Wallace for an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
In 1979, Carasali and Paganetti partnered with the Seeno Brothers — Albert Jr. and Tom, who the Reno Gazette-Journal called some of the most successful real estate developers in Northern Nevada.
A year later, the Peppermill in Reno expanded to include lodging that incorporated 57 types of rooms.
Adams said the Peppermill’s ample parking as well as its location south of downtown Reno made it appeal not only to tourists but locals, aiding in the casino’s success.
In 1983, the business partners opened the Western Village Inn and Casino in Sparks. In 2002, the Montego Bay Hotel Casino Resort in West Wendover opened, a property Adams noted was a “brilliant” business move because of the lack of casinos between West Wendover and Salt Lake City.
West Wendover, Nevada, and Wendover, Utah, are so close to one another that they are essentially one town split by the border with Utah, a state with stringent anti-gaming laws.
Paganetti’s business success did not stop him from devoting time to his family.
Though Paganetti had properties across the state by the end of his career, according to his obituary in the Reno Gazette-Journal, he would return home to Reno every night, even if it meant flying back to work in Las Vegas or West Wendover the next morning.
“His legacy will continue through … his family and the Peppermill family,” Carano said.