Since it opened in April 1963, R.C. Farms has had a very particular relationship with the overflowing decadence of nearby Las Vegas. At the time, the Combs family operated a modest hog farm in Chula Vista, near San Diego. They established relationships with a local army base, collecting food scraps to be reused as pig feed. Every year the base would contract out the privilege of collecting their wasted food to the highest bidder, with a few local farmers vying for the deal. But in Vegas, tens of thousands of pounds of food were going to waste. “My dad came here to Vegas for his 70th birthday, to have little gambling vacation,” Combs said as we sat at the round kitchen table of his modest bungalow farmhouse. On that auspicious trip, Combs’s father wandered through a backdoor of the now-long-gone Navajo-themed Thunderbird Hotel, and he came upon a huge container full of food being thrown away — the same sort of stuff he was bidding on back in La Mesa.
Combs told me the story with a well-practiced, raconteur’s confidence. It’s a tale he’s likely told a hundred times before, slowly metastasizing with each telling into a bona fide legend: Imagine Jed Clampett happening across oil in his fetid swamp, except that the treasure is something that was being chucked away. Where the casinos saw only untouched shrimp cocktails and half-nibbled slabs of heat-lamp-warmed prime rib, the older Combs saw profit. He leased 150 acres north of the Strip, at the dead end of a dirt road, and installed his son to run the place. The young Bob (affectionately known as “Goof” to his family) arranged deals with several of the old-school casinos — the Desert Inn, the Stardust, the Sands, the Flamingo, the Sahara, the Tropicana, Caesars, the Riviera, and other locals-only joints. The business model was simple: collect buffet food scraps, reprocess them as feed, fatten hogs, send them off to slaughter.