Burgers and Beer | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Private Eye

Burgers and Beer

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I was born between a café and a bar. Most kids who grew up in Bingham Canyon also grew up around a bar or café, since there were so many of them. Thus, I've never been bothered being around beer, booze or food. Indeed, my first job was cleaning the Moonlight Garden tavern, just feet from our kitchen, on Saturdays. I was 12 years old, and still remember the special reek of miner piss, beer and cigarettes.

It was a short career. I was also 12 when I lost my job at the Moonlight. In 1967, union miners walked off the job, and for the next nine months or so, they stood at picket lines just yards from the Moonlight's front door. My dad was a company man. The strikers were his buddies, so he made me quit so that someone else might make the $5 a day I was paid. Those guys were in bad shape. Until today, I think that was the toughest period of my life—watching the suffering of people who only wanted to make a living.

With so many men out of work, car sales dipped, as did home sales, movie theater tickets bought, ice cream purchases and on and on. At the time, Kennecott was probably Utah's biggest employer, and the impact was felt statewide. I now think coming to grips with what happened then, helped Utah migrate to a new type of economy. One driven by services, schools and hospitality.

Yet, 50 years on, here we are: Schools, services and hospitality are basically shut down statewide due to the coronavirus outbreak—and the real havoc is yet to come. Comparing 1967 to now, I'd rather have one voice instead of the millions on social media. There is so much garbage and posing going on that none of us can tell the good news from the bad. Nor can we seem to get on the same messaging page.

Last weekend should have been the busiest of the year for Utah's hospitality industry, but St. Patrick's Day fell harder than a drunk leprechaun from the Blarney Stone. Club and restaurant owners, aware of what was already happening in other cities braced for the worst: that Utah might also impose closures on their industry. What came though, was a fiasco.

On Sunday, word got out, apparently attributed to the Salt Lake County Health Department, that for the short term, clubs and restaurants would not close if they practiced social distancing, so merchants made their weekly purchases. On Monday, during a meeting led by Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenall, it was suddenly tweeted that Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's office would enact a 30-day closure to take effect that night.

Left unprepared, and with stores of food that would rot, GR Kitchen in Fort Union and Kimi's Chop House in Sugar House opened their shelves and gave food to their soon-to-be laid off employees. Others likely did similar, and God bless everyone who did. They could have done so with the same teary eyes but without the desperation that comes with uncertainty.

Meanwhile, local governments were not very helpful except to cite "we're all in this together" emails and tweets. Yeah, uh-huh. On cue restaurants and clubs were notified that they should seek low-interest government loans. "What the fuck?" asked one local club owner. "They shut us down and then offer us a loan? While they bail out cruise ships? My people are hurting!" Yes, they are, just like 1967, and like '67, it will ripple down.

The hospitality industry directly employs thousands of Utahns, and indirectly affects tens of thousands more, such as cleaners, supply companies, soft drink and beer distributors, food distributors, security personnel and so on. There's lost parking revenue. Same with private lot owners. There are going to be permanent closures. It will affect the wallets of all of us. It affects City Weekly, too. "Bigly," as our president might so perfectly put it.

For more than three decades, this newspaper has supported all facets of Utah's hospitality industry. We've helped change laws that make Utah a better place to live. We've helped change laws that brought more life and diversity downtown. Would tech have arrived if Utah was still a dreary place to attract talent? No, and we moved that needle. During this time, we've kept Utahns enlightened and informed. It hurts us to know that so many of our friends in the industry are in pain right now. We've seen the tears. It also hurts to no end to know that any next issue could be our last. That's our reality; if they die, we die. I can't imagine even an invigorated Salt Lake Tribune doing what we do. They just don't. I shudder to think, frankly.

So, we'll keep trying. You can support the hospitality industry now by taking a meal home from those places that are doing their best to adapt to take-out and curbside service. You can buy gift certificates now that can be redeemed later. You can save up and spend like a drunken cowboy at the state fair when this ends. Our biased and favorite solution is the City Weekly Store, where you can get huge discounts to many of your favorite clubs, restaurants and retailers. Shopping there is a boon for City Weekly and our merchant partners. Find more at cityweeklystore.com.

This will end, as did the nine-month long strike of '67. I choose to think we will become somehow better for it; that Utah will continue to evolve; that our friends and neighbors will grow together again; and that some kid in a garage invents the next big thing: Free burgers and beer forever.