Zest's founder (and former W Lounge owner) Casey Staker battled a cold and exhaustion over the holiday weekend to answer a couple of questions for us about the new hotspot in downtown SLC and the departure of W. (All pictures courtesy of Zest, profile picture via Colin Wolf.)
Gavin: How did you first get involved with the club scene, and what was it like for you building your career up into owning your own spot in town?
Casey: I guess I got my start at Todd's hosting Casey-oke -- Thursday night karaoke -- years ago. My friends always said I should have my own bar because I was so great at throwing parties. That was just a gig for fun and a way to get that microphone in my hands more often. I was in restaurant training and management and eventually decided to take the leap and go into business for myself with W Lounge.
Gavin: What made you decide to close W Lounge and start Zest?
Casey: W was a great thing for me, but after over nine years in the same place, I started to go a little stir crazy. I thought, if I could open a bar with healthy food options instead of the typical burgers and pizzas and create amazing cocktails to go with it, it would be a win-win situation. If I am having organic wine with a super-healthy dinner, I don't feel bad! There aren't enough healthy food options out there and that's why I decided to take the food the route I did. Now that we have food, we get to be a little more creative with our cocktails, like fresh-squeezed juices and herbs. I went through at least 50 names and nothing felt right. We had it narrowed down to three names and Ashley and Elisa help me decide on it. Once I saw it, though, that was it. Zest is festive, it says cocktails and food to me and it has a bit of a party vibe -- exactly what I was going for!
Gavin: How much research and planning went into this before you decided to go forward with it?
Casey: My buddy Tim Sleeper and I have looked at over 50 buildings the last three years. Finding the right location was a must. I wanted to be close to W and have more restrooms, be more visible than W was and, if we were lucky, have a kitchen plumbed already. Relocating was also a must. If I just tried to do a remodel and have a grand re-opening at W with food, people would think I was crazy. I would have been crazy to think I could get people to come dine there after 10 years of club nights. Tim and I have had our eyes on this space from the day Acme Burger closed. We did try and get in here before and after Hapa opened but it didn't work out. When I saw the "closed for maintenance" sign on Hapa, I called Tim, full of excitement. The landlord said they would take our offer. I thought, "This is really happening. Is this really what I want? Am I going to have enough money to make this happen, should I back out," etc, etc. I went from not working a lot to let's turn my life upside down and just go for it! I like the open air, I love the kitchen and we've nestled the heart of W right into its own little bar and dance area
Gavin: What was the reaction like from the community when they learned W would be going away, and how was it for you opening up Zest?
Casey: People are still bummed because we are not in the same space anymore, but W grew into what it was, it just didn't happen over night. The last night at W was just another night of work for me. I did get to see some people I hadn't in awhile, say hello, make drinks. I closed down the bar and went home around 2:30 a.m; nothing exciting, and no emotion, really -- probably because I knew I had to get all of our crap out of there. That was not fun, but I had some great friends/employees helping me so it went by pretty quick. Thanks, Andy, Mark, Nikol, Nicole, Hunter, Colin, and anyone else I missed, thanks again! The summer seems like a whirlwind now, from the time I got the keys and started cleanup, tearing out carpet -- yes, carpet -- and just working on projects for Zest while keeping W open to generate income.
Casey: I wanted to keep the formulas from W that worked; I kept a lot of my great resident deejays like Flash & Flare and Alastair. The reception from patrons has mostly been positive. People seem to enjoy the open-air feel that Zest offers. We are still making improvements until we get everything just right. I know for sure that nothing happens overnight. We have been pretty busy on the weekends, yes. A lot of our clientele are regulars from W, thank you! And we have gotten quite a bit of new clientele already, as well. We couldn't do it without our regulars!
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