Las Vegas, N.M. – Isaac and Shawna Sandoval, successful restaurant entrepreneurs in Las Vegas, share the distinguished young alumni award. The married couple earned their Bachelor of Fine arts degrees from Highlands in 2010 and their Master of Fine Arts degrees from Ft. Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, in 2013.
“We decided there was a market here for different cuisine in Las Vegas,” said Isaac. Shawna added, “As Highlands graduates, we knew Las Vegas is a college town that could offer a business that appealed to students and locals.”
Shawna, 36, said they want people to see themselves in The Skillet and connect with the art and the food in an immersive way.
“Our murals and sculptures are large-scale works that are dynamic and engaging,” Isaac, 32, said.
The Sandovals renovated and adapted a historic building on 12th Street and opened The Skillet in October 2017. Since then, business has grown steadily along with the restaurant’s reputation and customer base.
The eclectic menu at The Skillet features items like the popular Bikini Bottom shrimp bowl with sautéed vegetables, rice and green chili mayo and bar drinks like The High Plains Drifter with sage, juniper and gin.
Juli Salman, alumni affairs director at Highlands, nominated Isaac and Shawna for the distinguished young alumni honor.
“Shawna and Isaac’s business, The Skillet restaurant, has been featured in local and statewide publications recognizing their creativity and entrepreneurship,” Salman said. “They have been credited with a large part of the burgeoning renaissance of Las Vegas as a tourist destination, attracting a new, younger demographic to our city. They have created a very popular, thriving business that enhances our community.”
Salman said Shawna and Isaac have pioneering spirits, leaning heavily on their education as a creative springboard.
“My fine arts education at Highlands and my MFA definitely taught me the creativity and resourcefulness to solve everyday business problems,” Shawna said. Isaac added, “A fine arts degree shows you how to hustle and how to use your abilities in a multitude of ways. It’s like a toolbox of skills.”
The Sandovals make time for their art while running a demanding restaurant and catering business and raising their 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte – nicknamed Charlie for her grandfather, Charlie Sandoval, who owns Charlie’s Café and Bakery in Las Vegas along with his wife, Elizabeth. Shawna and Isaac both entered paintings in the first Highlands Alumni Art Exhibition in 2018.
Salman said Shawna and Isaac “pay it forward” in many ways, always putting their positive energy into everything they do.
“Shawna and Isaac never fail to step up to generously support Highlands, whether it’s donating funds to help Highlands student success or supporting students with a venue and catering their exhibits. As President Minner says, they are soldiers for Highlands,” Salman said.
“We loved our experience at Highlands and want to do everything we can to support student growth,” Shawna said. Isaac added, “I’m thankful for Highlands in so many ways. It was a huge life changing experience and I want to help be a catalyst for other students.”