Once upon a time, there was a little foodie magazine in Salt Lake City called Devour Utah. Created in 2014 as a sister publication to City Weekly, over a period of six years, it grew from a one-off to a quarterly to a monthly magazine, focusing on dining out, eating well and local culinary trends, as well as enjoying the best in wine, beer and spirits in the Beehive.
Then along came a bug called COVID-19 that brought down Utah's entire hospitality industry for a couple of weeks in March 2020. Following that, the threat of illness had restaurateurs and bar owners cautiously tiptoeing back to life in a hypervigilant, highly regulated environment. Thousands of jobs were at stake, with many of them ultimately lost over the past year. Business owners found themselves wearing multiple hats and inventing new ways to keep their dreams alive.
And Devour Utah? As a publication that relied almost entirely upon the support of independent restaurants and bars, Devour initially was published online and then, last summer, went into hibernation until such time as the industry regains its steam.
Even still, we miss the stories written by our fabulous food writers (those writing jobs also were impacted by COVID), as well as the recipes and stunning photography. And we yearned to know how local food proprietors were doing, especially now that mask mandates have been relaxed and there's the hope of herd immunity off in the distance.
So, we touched base with a few of our Devour writers. And for the summer months ahead, we decided to start "taking the pulse" of our local eateries and drinkeries in City Weekly—at least once a month. In fact, this first "check-in" will be a two-parter.
These culinary proprietors are nothing if not creative, innovative and survival oriented. We all can take a page from their cookbook and learn what it means to pivot and prevail.
- Courtesy Photo
- A family affair: The Tapias serve up fresh Mexico City street comfort food at La Garnacha in Herriman
La Garnacha Mexico City Fare
Carlos Tapia, above far right, along with his brother Mac and their parents, opened La Garnacha in August 2020 after a successful run selling their homemade family recipes out of their brother's garage. Their Mexico City-style cuisine features huarache, pambazo and chorizo quesadillas, but don't look for chips and salsa on the menu—they're not authentic Mexico City fare, says Carlos. Enjoy inside dining, no masks required, with curbside and online ordering available.
So, how's business?
It is consistent. There are definitely some hiccups like any typical business would have, but we have been fortunate to not be victims of COVID.
Were you able to take advantage of any of the government pandemic programs?
No, we did not open on the due dates they wanted us to; we opened after, so we didn't qualify.
What has inspired you over the past year and kept you going?
The acceptance we have gotten from all of our customers about this "new" food. Mac and I have to be at the register most of the time in order to explain the menu, and we sometimes get discouraged by the amount of energy it takes; however, we know it to be essential to their experience. The biggest motivation has been the cultural re-education that we are doing in regards to what real Mexican food is.
Are your customers coming in numbers you would like to see?
Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of loyal people out there that are huge fans of this place, which makes me happy.
What else do you want the readers to know?
This is a beacon to any refugee or immigrant—or anyone that would be having a tough time—and not be going to bed hungry. They have every right to come here and feel at home here. We will feed any hungry refugee for free. We want people to have an experience here like the one you would have in Mexico City. We want people to have an open mind as to what actual Mexican food is like. (by Aimee L. Cook)
La Garnacha Mexico City Style Cuisine
5418 W. Main St.
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- Sidewalks are now more ‘activated’: Michael McHenry of the McHenry Group
Mr. McHenry's Neighborhood
Michael McHenry, the self-described "disruptive concepteur" of The McHenry Group, serves up lip-smacking cuisine at his four restaurants, Dirty Bird, Ginger Street, Oakwood Fire Kitchen (and its takeout eatery Southside Pizza Co.) as well as Sunday's Best, a new brunch spot opening soon in Sandy. Dining rooms are now open, while takeout and curbside pickup are available.
Business is awesome. A year ago, it was devastating; by the end of March last year, we were trying to figure out how to maintain the 100-plus team members that we brought on board with our mission. That was a huge stress to life in general. Myself, personally—I always felt a sense of calmness. All of our restaurants stayed opened and pivoted into something we already knew how to do well.
Did you create a pandemic menu that you will continue to use?
Yes. You have to protect the integrity of your food. We all realized when you order takeout, it is not going to be quite the same as what you get in the dining room. However, it has challenged the industry to be that good. One of our biggest pivots was: How do we become an extension of your own dining room; how do we create the Ginger Street experience in your dining room?
What's your opinion of takeout and delivery?
I saw that DoorDash had an incredible platform and an opportunity to be a great bridge to the consumer, and we needed to embrace DoorDash as a partner and figure out a way to make it work, and we did. Today, it is a big part of our entire fold.
We had to pay attention to the general things like getting the right packaging and the right menu, and identifying menu items that we could not only source consistently but that we could afford (because supply chain disruptions were abundant).
Are your employees returning?
In March , we did furlough, but by mid-April last year, we were ramping back up, and by May, we were hiring. By June, we'd recruited a highly talented director of operations to join The McHenry Group. Although it was hard work, we were motivated to be that cornerstone in the community, but there were a lot of unknowns. We knew we were putting ourselves at risk to be there for the community during these times. We created the option to let team members who weren't comfortable to opt-out or furlough; others were up for it.
Are customers returning in the numbers you like to see?
Abundantly. Especially in the suburbs. Greater than 30 percent of our revenue is delivery and takeout. It was a necessity and survival, and now it's absolutely necessary and it's the place that we thrive in. Everything outside of Salt Lake City proper is exploding. Salt Lake proper is slowly getting back. However, each week, I am seeing an increase in the sidewalks becoming more activated.
What do you want the customers to know?
We launched our Healthy and Full Initiative, which was a special opportunity because it was a win, win, win. This allows us to identify an individual business within the community that has the resources that could sponsor chef-made meals through local restaurants and then deliver those meals to frontline heroes. We personalized every one of those meals; we wrote something thoughtful on top of it, we sponsored thousands of meals over a three-month period. That [initiative] not only created stability for us but it also positioned us well and really championed our mission of being the most connective restaurant group in the communities we serve. (by Aimee L. Cook)
Dirty Bird Chxx, The Hut Food Hall,
495 E. 600 North, Provo
324 S. State, Ste. 150, SLC,
Oak Wood Fire Kitchen (and Southside Pizza Co.),
715 E. 12300 South, Draper
Sunday's Best (coming soon in Sandy)
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- Scott Gardner at Water Witch: Give people something they can’t get at home.
Casting a Spell
Scott Gardner, co-owner of the local watering hole Water Witch, is glad to be lighting drinks on fire again in their small bar that locals are willing to line up for and wait-list to get a spot inside the mixologists' haven.
So, how's business these days?
We reopened Aug. 1, 2020, but we had to change our bar significantly—shoulder to shoulder with strangers did not work during a pandemic. Business is great now; the past couple months, we have been as busy as we can be with the seating we can accommodate. Some people have been upset that we have to turn them away. We do what we can, we use a waitlist and take reservations for parties of four or more.
What kept you going over the past year?
Mostly, just having a job was a pretty big motivator. We put way too much time and energy getting this bar open to just scrap it because of a pandemic.
Did you do any remodeling during the pandemic?
Our bar is so tiny, we could only fit three tables. We configured the space, we lost 100 percent of our standing capacity plus our fourth table. Our patio had to be scrapped as well. We also had to put a menu together and go to table service. Honestly, it felt like we opened a new bar.
Were you able to take advantage of any of the government pandemic programs?
Yes, absolutely, and honestly, it was a lifeline. We put in a lot of time and energy. We invested in new equipment for the bar to make sure what we were doing was different and unique—not things you can do at home. If you are going to get people to leave their homes in a pandemic, our thought process was, you have to give them something they can't just do at home.
So, you created a pandemic menu?
And it wasn't a "we feel you, everyone is struggling, so we are going to dumb down our offerings"; instead, we level-upped our offerings and really tried to make them appealing and special.
Are your employees returning to the fold?
Yes, they are all back, 100%. Our goal was to take care of the team. We are a small, tight-knit crew.
Anything else you want your customers to know?
There is a lot of thought going into, "What are we going to be now?" when we can reopen fully. Now that we have been doing table service, it's really difficult to take it away. Our goal is to be the version of Water Witch that we haven't been able to provide yet. (by Aimee L. Cook)
163 W. 900 South, SLC
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- Jeff Masten: Left Fork Grill is now open every day except Christmas
The Pie Is Why
Jeff Masten is the owner of Left Fork Grill, a Salt Lake treasure whose housemade pies and breakfast entrees are to die for. They are happy to announce that their dining room is open.
What's been your biggest pandemic challenge?
It was getting the sales in. In the last couple of weeks, we started to get closer to what we used to be. Some days, the sales are just not there. Weekends are going pretty well. This week, we did really good on Monday. We still do quite a few pies. A lot of pies go out. Throughout this time, we also did a lot of food to go.
How has your business model changed?
Our business model will change because there are new apartments by us that just got finished. When they all get filled, there will be more than 500 apartments there. Right next to us! Those will be good for me. And there aren't a lot of restaurants around here. Hopefully, the business will turn around. Two years ago, we had a fire and had to close for 3 ½ months. We came back then, and we will come back now.
What are your bestsellers?
It depends on the time of day. During the daytime, breakfast is our bestseller. The jam, sausage and our pies are all homemade. My mother taught me how to make the crust, which is key to making pie. Then we fill it with all kinds of fillings. Last week, we had Kentucky Derby pie, which is pecan pie with chocolate. Our raspberry cream pie, banana cream pie and chocolate cream pie are also bestsellers. We can make any pie that's out there.
What are you looking forward to now that social distancing is ending?
Being busy, with people coming in and life getting back to normal. Customers don't have to wear the masks when they come in anymore. Our employees will still have them for another week or two. Now, people can sit anywhere that they want to in the restaurant. It's been a heck of a run. Now, we're open every day but Christmas.
How did you pass the time during the pandemic?
We just tried to stay busy. Even with the pandemic, we kept all of our employees. We even have one new employee now. We've been here a long time. I got COVID in October; I've [also] been able to get my shots in now. I just hope it doesn't happen again. Just sayin'.
What would you like to let your customers know?
Come in and get a piece of pie! My favorite is apple—when it comes out just right. The key is, I cook it at a low temperature for 70 minutes. In some apple pies, the apples are still firm. I like mine to be cooked. (by Carolyn Campbell)
Left Fork Grill
68 W. 3900 South, SLC