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After Tastes

Mouthwatering musings on Salt Lake's restaurant history.

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DEREK CARLISLE
  • Derek Carlisle

"Come all ye who labour with the stomach, and I will restore you."

So read the sign, it is said, of one "M. Boulanger," an apocryphal early restaurateur of 18th-century France. While the man and the sign may not have even existed, Boulanger's message still evokes the perennial invitation of many an eatery both great and small.

Long before French bouillon shops transformed into the modern restaurant that we all recognize, humans had enjoyed gathering to eat in many configurations, from Greco-Roman cook shops and medieval inns to teahouses and taverns. Combining the needs for satisfying hunger and gathering with one's fellows, the restaurant (which we will use here to broadly encompass venues of prepared food) is a fascinating and ever-changing social space.

Much of Utah's restaurant history has been lost to time and the available retrospectives form a complex kaleidoscope of factual record sprinkled with anecdotal recollections. Even when focusing on Salt Lake City's restaurant landscape—as this article will—for all the places and people that are mentioned, countless others could just as easily be given some attention.

Photographs and official records are often sparse. As former Salt Lake Tribune reporter Kathy Stephenson wrote in 2016, "even those restaurants that have stayed open for generations tend to evolve—moving to new locations, changing names, getting new owners and updating menus."

City Weekly explored this shifting maze through a mixture of historical research, social media inquiries and individual interviews to get our bearings. Let us sample as many flavors as we can in the face of such a vast banquet. Bon appetit!

Go Thou and Do Likewise
The restaurant scene in the earliest years of Salt Lake City typically amounted to foods served at hotels and saloons. For travelers passing through the territory or for soldiers at Camp Douglas, there were a few options available.

The fare ranged from local fish and game meats to cold slaws, soups, breads, liquors, tea and coffee. Oysters, in particular, appear to have been a longtime favorite in Salt Lake eateries throughout the 19th and early-20th centuries. Some locations offered a fixed-price meal at a group table for specific times of the day, while others could prepare something for a guest in short order.

One of the earliest known restaurants in Salt Lake City was David Candland's Globe Saloon, just south of Temple Square on Main Street. Candland (1819-1902), an English convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the Globe in 1856 at the recommendation of church President Brigham Young.

The Globe boasted a fruit stall, a shaving parlor, an omnibus shuttle to the nearby warm springs and a selection of wines and cigars. While it lasted only until 1860, its "choice viands" received positive marks from the Valley Tan newspaper in 1859: "We have tried it; 'go thou and do likewise.'"

Another notable figure of the era was John Gallacher (1850-1924). Born in Scotland, he converted to Mormonism at 18 and traveled to Utah shortly thereafter. Initially in the employ of the Bavarian baker Daniel Greenig, Gallacher branched out into catering and later ran the Centennial Arcade Restaurant (127 S. Main, SLC) in the 1880s.

Well regarded by associates and newspapers alike, Gallacher opened what would become his most beloved eating house in 1894, the Saddle Rock Café (133 S. Main, SLC), and operated it until his retirement in the 1910s.

Flavorful Refuge
By the turn of the 20th century, restaurants, lunch counters, delicatessens, cafes and coffee shops had proliferated in Salt Lake. Railroad and mining operations, as well as missionary work abroad, all influenced a massive wave of immigration to Utah, and international food options subsequently grew in visibility. There were German offerings at the Heidelberg on 300 South, Abraham Mejia's Mexican Chili Parlor on Commercial Street, the Chinese eateries of Plum Alley (behind what is now the Eccles Theater), and even a Yiddish dining room run by a Mrs. R. Lisser on 56 W. 200 South.

In Salt Lake's Greek Town (west of what is now The Gateway), there were coffeehouses like the Parthenon and the Open Heart. It was there that workers signed on to jobs, held dances and puppet shows, and discussed current issues reported in Greek-language newspapers.

"The coffeehouse was the men's true home," noted historian Helen Z. Papanikolas in The Peoples of Utah, "In its gregariousness, they found security against nativist hostility."

African Americans likewise had limited options for security when it came to eateries they could frequent. Many worked in Salt Lake's white-owned railyards, hotels and restaurants, but most of these very services were denied to them. As a result, African Americans operated their own hotels, clubs and restaurants around the rail depots of Salt Lake and Ogden. While precious little remains of these spaces today, there are still echoes of Salt Lake's African American history if one looks closely at the built landscape.

Located at 323 S. Main, SLC, the Rotisserie Inn was operated from 1915 to 1957 by Cesare Rinetti and Frank Capitalo. Specializing in French and Italian cuisine, it was one of three Salt Lake restaurants listed in the Green Book guide for African American travelers in need of a hospitable destination. Currently occupied by the Whiskey Street bar and restaurant, this structure is the only one of the Green Book trio that still stands.

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Delightful Dishes
Every diner has their own tastes when it comes to what is delectable, and the list of beloved dishes at Salt Lake's eateries of old is endless. Some residents of a certain age might still yearn for the pizza that "Mama" Mary Gallo made at Gallo's Italian Restaurant in Rose Park, or for the cream of cheese soup at The Print Shop in Arrow Press Square.

The clam chowder at Bratten's Seafood Grotto (644 E. 400 South, SLC) and the curry dumplings at Koko Kitchen (702 S. 300 East, SLC) were favorites of those who were fortunate enough to try them. The marzipan cake at Scandia Kaffe House (1693 S. 900 East, SLC) and the rice pudding at the recently departed Lamb's Grill (now Chettinad House, 169 S. Main, SLC) are still craved by admiring sweet tooths.

Quality vegan options in Salt Lake have grown in number over the last 20 years, but two trailblazing locations still hold a warm place in the hearts of those who sampled their wares. The now-closed Evergreen House (1084 S. State, SLC) was a sanctuary of vegan Chinese dishes from the late 1990s and nourished many at a time when making the dietary switch was not as common as it is today.

Park Ivy Garden Café operated for a decade in the heart of the 9th & 9th neighborhood and was a trailblazer in animal-welfare efforts. The cooking turned some heads, too, as Curtis Harris of Roy experienced. "I hadn't considered vegetarian food to be a good option until I went there," he recalled. "The lemon orzo soup and wheat meat 'chicken' salad sandwich were amazing."

Appealing Atmosphere
While food quality is the most prominent aspect of a restaurant's appeal, atmosphere plays a significant role as well, either in the realm of aesthetics or—as was the case with the Rotisserie Inn—the atmosphere of acceptance.

Salt Lake has had many kitchens that specialized in creating a memorable setting, such as La Caille's French chalet (9565 Wasatch Blvd., Sandy), the simulated storms at Johnny Quong's The Hawaiian (2920 Highland Drive, SLC), the dancers at The Athenian or the elegance of La Fleur de Lys and the original Roof restaurant atop the old Hotel Utah downtown. Others may remember the performers at Gepetto's (1300 East near the university) or the countercultural haven that was Mama Eddie's Right On Beanery (764 S. State, SLC), where the musician Taj Mahal might have even dropped in to play a set.

"We make memories with our senses," observed Salt Lake City resident Spencer Lawson. He still recalls the feel of The Training Table's (2254 S. 1300 East) brown enamel tableside phones, which were used by customers to place food orders. As outdated as the surroundings may have been, he considers his family visits there to carry a lasting allure in his memory. "It's the way you choose to eat and the people you eat it with," Lawson said.

The atmosphere of conviviality can be felt by those who work behind the scenes too. Joan Young provided support to her husband Glen when he operated Ristorante della Fontana (336 S. 400 East) in the closing years of its 31-year run (1967-1998). Spending the kind of time that one does with the staff and solving problems as they arise, Young's fondest memories were of the people with whom she worked and the longtime customers she served. "People get to know the waitresses or the person at the register," she mused. "You get so that it's like family."

Say 'Aloha' to the Dois
A similar atmosphere prevailed in the eateries run by two significant figures of Salt Lake restaurant history, Mary and Wallace Doi. Mary (1923-2015) grew up in the Japanese micro-community of Salt Lake's Japantown, while Wallace (1922-1967) hailed from Hawaii.

Following the events at Pearl Harbor in 1941—and an initial rejection from army enlistment due to his Japanese heritage—Wallace served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He lost a leg in Italy and came to the Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham City to recover. It was there that he and Mary met and they soon married.

With support from Mary's mother, the Dois opened the Aloha Fountain Café in the vicinity of 100 South and West Temple. The Aloha remained in operation there from 1947 until the mid-'60s, when Japantown was demolished to make way for the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Robin Doi warmly remembers his parents and childhood in Japantown. "You could go into the café, and you could see anybody and everybody," he recalled.

While the Aloha had relocated farther south into the industrial section of town, Wallace passed away shortly thereafter. Mary decided to retire, but it was to be short-lived for someone so characteristically on the go. "That's just the type of person she was," Robin Doi said.

Having started with just a coffee cart at the Aloha, Mary's culinary talents found greater public expression as she went along. Improvising like the best of jazz musicians, she felt her way about her four-burner stove, never writing down her recipes and instead operating by taste. Her scrapbooks still bear notes of what regular customers liked, such as the notation on one patron's business card: "Hot rice and okazu every morning at 7 a.m."

The Aloha largely served American-style lunch foods like hamburgers and hot dogs. It was when Mary started the Fuji Tea House a couple of years after her first retirement that her Japanese cuisine became more widely available. Initially located in the building now occupied by the Kyoto (1080 E. 1300 South, SLC), the Fuji later moved beside an apartment complex at 1810 S. Main, SLC, where Penny Ann's Café now resides.

Wherever she went, Mary Doi's clientele followed. The Fuji forged a meaningful gathering place in the lives of its visitors until closing in the summer of 1993.

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The Trick of Timing
As could be seen with the Aloha and the Fuji, restaurants can benefit from how and when they arrive on the scene. Timing—that most elusive element for a small business to navigate—comes into play as a result of both choice and happenstance. Not only are a restaurant's food quality and atmosphere vital, but the time when a restaurant first opens its doors and how it comes into a customer's life are the most unpredictable and mysterious factors of all.

For Molly Peters of Salt Lake, the Italian restaurant Cinegrill (300 East near 400 South location) played an "intricate role in my parents meeting and falling in love." Perhaps with Ed Allem's signature salad on hand and the sounds of Eugene Jelesnik's violin in the air, Peters' parents had the Cinegrill as their staple.

How about those go-to locations that would remain open long after everything else closed for the night? Paige Willey said she always had Bayleaf Bar and Grub (159 S. Main, SLC) to depend on when she was out on the town. The restaurant, which shut down in 2013 as its building made way for the Eccles Theater, was known for its hearty breakfast-all-day fare and 24-hour operation Friday through Sunday.

"They were one of the few places that sold food late," Willey said. "Every weekend, I went to a concert or two and hit up the Bayleaf afterward for a huge glass of water and a waffle."

Modern Movement
For Al Church, the experience of having Mexican food at La Morena Café (North Temple and 300 West) was memorable indeed. Coming to Salt Lake from the east as a VISTA volunteer in the late 1960s, he had his first taste of Mexican cuisine at that famous center of Utah's Latino civil-rights movement. "We could eat Mexican food the rest of our lives," he said. "It was that good."

Church, a retired educator, previously wrote restaurant reviews for Utah Holiday Magazine, the Deseret News and PM Magazine Utah. He's witnessed the change in the city's restaurant landscape since his early visit to La Morena and is quite hopeful about Salt Lake's culinary direction.

Crediting the inflow of immigrants as well as changes to liquor laws that local leaders made in preparation for the 2002 Olympics, Church believes that Salt Lakers have "crossed a threshold" in wanting more diverse foods and trying new things. "I'm very positive about the dining scene in Salt Lake City and Park City," he said.

Historian Linda Thatcher added additional context to this process of transformation over the last 50 years in the book This Is the Plate. Immigrants escaping warfare and seeking a new life have dramatically expanded the palates of citizens, she says.

"Utah is now home," Thatcher wrote, "to an ever-growing and wide-ranging number of people from places like Thailand, India, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as refugees from Vietnam, Tibet, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Africa."

As positive as these developments have been on the whole, the dining industry's experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the terrain and thrown much about the restaurant business into a tentative state. Stephenson, formerly of the Tribune, observed that many local eateries were already moving in the direction of more casual, quick-serve and take-out approaches to their menus before 2020, and since that time, the speed of that trend has only accelerated.

The rent charged by building landlords and the costs imposed by prolonged shortages of supplies during the pandemic have contributed to the closure of many Salt Lake restaurants in the last couple of years.

"Restaurants don't make a ton of money," Stephenson said. "People do it for love, not to become millionaires."

City Weekly food writer Alex Springer has also observed that switching the menu to a takeout model has been a lifesaver for numerous establishments. Takeout may not equal the dine-in experience, but it is a necessity for an already-fluid industry during an uncertain time. "Restaurants are always going to have people coming in," he said, but with COVID, "that is not their ace-in-the-hole."

Good, Wholesome, Right
What is it about food and restaurants that excites us? Is it the flavors we enjoy, the spaces we discover or the people with whom we connect? The mélange of memory chronicled above suggests that it encompasses all such elements.

So many restaurants no longer exist in Salt Lake, but they live on in our memories and our history. We no longer enjoy the earthy Mexican flavors of Cordova's El Rancho (543 W. 400 North, SLC) or hear the jukebox in Bill and Nada's (479 S. 600 East, SLC), but we do have so many delightful offerings with us still, such as Siegfried's Delicatessen (20 W. 200 South, SLC), Ruth's Diner (4160 E. Emigration Canyon Road, SLC ) and Curry Fried Chicken (660 S. State, SLC). Spicing up our dining scene are places like Chanon Thai (278 E 900 South, SLC), Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen (877 E 12300 South, Draper), Jang Soo Jang Restaurant (58 E. 3750 South, South Salt Lake) and numerous SLC-staple food trucks along the way.

"I don't want [them] to go out of business," says resident Sara Dansie Jones, "but I'm sure they'll eventually retire, and [they] will be gone." Particularly with the ethnic restaurants of the Salt Lake Valley, Jones suggested that we would do well to seek these places out and savor them while they exist.

Food is a universal experience and the places in which we gather to enjoy it are hubs of memory and life. It is there that we celebrate our cultures, friendships and palates. With any luck, this reappraisal of such public spaces might even train our taste for what Italy's Slow Food Movement calls "the good, the wholesome and the right," and away from the processed, the fast and the impersonal.

"In other words," as the Movement's manifesto reads, "return the table to the taste, to the pleasure of the throat."