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Making Meals Out of Misfortune Part 1

After a summer of pandemic and protests, local chefs have to get creative to keep the lights on

By , , and


Mid-March 2020: a fateful time for local restaurateurs and bar owners, when Gov. Herbert announced statewide restrictions on the hospitality industry intended to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Dining rooms and bars were closed to in-room service, which meant that eateries could only serve takeout or meals for delivery, while Utah bars essentially became "dry" under state directives.

The shocking closures also put a crimp in the publication schedule of Devour Utah, City Weekly's sister publication that celebrates the local food and beverage scene. It left in limbo a number of stories written by Devour staff for an upcoming "chef" issue.

Since then, several eateries highlighted in that issue have sadly closed for good!

Even though restrictions since March have eased and many eateries and bars now offer indoor dining (but with wait-staff donning masks and gloves and tables carefully spaced apart), Devour Utah remains on hiatus until the local hospitality industry is able to support our food-centric publication.

As part of City Weekly's ongoing COVID coverage, we're pleased to publish the untold Devour stories, allowing members of the local culinary industry to tell their stories of survival. John Rasmuson, meanwhile, tells the tale of a national chain that silently departed the Utah dining scene without so much as a tah-tah.

Fratelli’s Dave Cannell and Pete Cannella - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Fratelli’s Dave Cannell and Pete Cannella

Pete CANNELLA & Dave Cannell
The co-owners of Fratelli Ristorante, Pete Cannella and Dave Cannell, grew up in the industry, learning the ropes while working for their late uncle, Joe Cannella, of Cannella's downtown restaurant that closed this past summer after 42 years in business.

The name Fratelli means "brothers" in Italian. Pete is the brother in the kitchen, making the homemade sausage and sauces, while Dave is the front-of-house guy (although Dave makes a mean lasagna and the eggplant Parmesan, using his grandmother Mary's recipe.)

Now in its 13th year, Fratelli boasts a new location, where the brothers look forward to bringing more authentic Italian cuisine to customers both old and new.

"I get my inspiration from traveling through Italy," Pete says. "I have made over 100,000 plates of carbonara of the years, but my favorite dish is the Margherita pizza. I enjoy the sense of community that owning a restaurant brings, a gathering spot where people can come and enjoy good food."

Running the restaurant continues to be a family affair; on the weekends, you'll find their parents filling in where needed, and during the summer, Pete's daughter is learning how it's all done.

"We learned from my uncle the importance of customer service early on," Dave says. "We want everyone who dines here to have the best experience possible. We work hard on building relationships by treating people right and providing good food."

Fratelli's COVID Update
Pete Cannella notes: "While we were planning to close temporarily to move to our new location, COVID-19 forced us to be closed longer than expected. At our new location, we now offer a full-service deli, espresso bar and gelato. We also offer private dining in our bar area and have expanded seating areas so we can accommodate social-distancing protocols. Our hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (closed Sundays). We offer our complete menu for takeout services as well." (Aimee L. Cook)

Fratelli Ristorante
8612 S. 1300 East, Sandy

The Porch’s Jen Gilroy - JOHN TAYLOR
  • John Taylor
  • The Porch’s Jen Gilroy

Jen Gilroy
Jen Gilroy might just be the phoenix of Salt Lake's small-but-mighty chef world. She made a name for herself with the eclectic Meditrina. Then, she switched gears and opened Southern-focused Porch in Daybreak. Next came the leveling of the original Meditrina location and a move to the Granary District. Then, Meditrina surprisingly closed, and ELEVO rose from the ashes. But the new SugarHood spot was short-lived thanks to COVID-19, and Gilroy's Porch is all that currently remains as the bedrock of her restaurant legacy.

"Time to close one chapter to open another," Gilroy said of the closure of Meditrina. And now, months into the global pandemic, it seems prophetic.

Porch is now the steady spot that Gilroy's fans and followers can go to for her particular brand of creative dining. Familiar faces and food are a constant here. The restaurant's website description reads, "At Porch, we offer new American cuisine crossed with southern comfort food along with small plates favorites inspired by our former restaurant, Meditrina."

"I am fortunate to have brought my leadership team from Meditrina down south," says Gilroy. "Chef Josh McNeely has been a Porchonian from the beginning."

Today, elements of each of Gilroy's chapters are evident on the menus at Porch. Favorite small plates from Meditrina like the Korean BBQ pork belly and tangy house kimchi or the original shrimp & grits find a tasteful place among the colorful Porch salad built around arugula, chevre, watermelon, pecans and served with a cider bourbon vinaigrette.

You'll even find the citrus-dusted grilled shrimp mac & cheese with pickled apple relish she prepared on Guy's Grocery Games TV show.

Fortunately, the location of Porch on Daybreak's SoDaRow has allowed the restaurant to flourish over the years. "It feels really good to be part of a growing community and neighborhood," Gilroy continues.

With a Shop in Utah grant in place and buy one, get one free deals on offer during lunch and happy hour, Gilroy is poised to weather the unexpected at Porch as she rediscovers her passion for creating memorable, delectable food that appeals to a broad range of diverse palates. (Heather L. King)

11274 Kestrel Rise Road
Suite G, South Jordan

Courchevel Bistro’s Clement Gelas - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Courchevel Bistro’s Clement Gelas

Clement Gelas
Chef Clement Gelas' story can be told through his signature dish, baked cruzet, on the menu at the Courchevel Bistro in Park City. One bite of this hearty, delicious, traditional dish, and you understand how, for centuries, it sustained the high-altitude peasants of his home in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps. As executive chef and senior director of club operations for Talisker, Gelas' French European fare includes Idaho trout bouillabaisse, côte de boeuf, and coq au vin (braised chicken) as well as scrumptious desserts like dark chocolate molten and apple beignet. Everything is fresh and made to order, something you can witness for yourself through a glass partition.

Gelas' journey as a chef began at home where he learned the patience required to make everything properly from scratch with locally sourced ingredients. He was mentored by chef Jean Sulpice, the youngest French chef to ever receive a Michelin star, and with whom he went foraging in the mountains in the early mornings.

Gelas made his way to New York and then on to Utah 10 years ago where he could once again feel at home in the mountains. The chef's friendly exuberance is on display as he matches traditional, regional cuisine with innovation, using only the highest-quality ingredients, ultimately creating fine dining that is warm and approachable. Courchevel Bistro, which is owned and operated by Talisker Club, was recently recognized by CNN as one of the top 20 restaurants in the world for 2020. Bravo, Chef!

Courchevel Bistro's COVID Update
When Courchevel Bistro reopened in mid-June, Main Street in Park City was already busy. Talisker Club's preexisting customer base and frequent diners returned. Inside, furniture had been rearranged with tables spaced a safe distance apart for larger gatherings. But, for now, Chef Gelas says, most prefer outside dining. "The food and service remain consistent with the brand," he says. "We just have a lot more steps of service and dedicated positions to ensure everyone's safety." (Merry Lycett Harrison)

Courchevel Bistro
Talisker Club
201 Heber Ave, Park City

Galen Zamarra - The Lodge at Blue Sky - AUBERGE RESORTS COLLECTION
  • Auberge Resorts Collection
  • Galen Zamarra The Lodge at Blue Sky

Galen Zamarra
As a James Beard award-winning executive chef, Galen Zamarra attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and worked in a Manhattan hotel restaurant before beginning his stint at The Lodge at Blue Sky a year ago. Now that the chef has settled in nicely, he aims at creating dishes that focus on ingredients while expanding the pallets of diners.

"I use music and art to serve as a foundation and inspiration for creativity," Zamarra says. "Our menu changes seasonally, and we strive at creating an exciting culinary experience. We hope to create experiences that people can't get anywhere else."

Zamarra is working to create the infrastructure for more year-round local food and to create a culinary understanding of the region and what it could be known for.

"Food is interesting; it is something we have to have," Zamarra says. "When we take the time to really think about food, it is exciting for a chef. Food is a luxury for some people—that experience is what excites me and allows me to be very creative. I like to think about the whole experience together."

Zamarra won the Rising Star award from the James Beard Foundation at age 24, when, he says, younger chefs in the kitchen were "getting things done."

The chef admits the award took him by surprise. "It was great because it came out of the blue," he says. "it's not like my name was on the menu. It was nice to get that recognition, and it was important as I learned how to use it in the future."

Blue Sky's COVID Update:
Galen Zamarra: "We had to make significant changes to our operation as a whole. First and foremost, we follow guidelines to ensure our guests and staff are safe, although most guidelines were already in place for our kitchens and are preventative for COVID as well. So, in the kitchen, it isn't very different, except we go through many more gloves than before and have to wear masks. We also spread our work/prep areas out further to social distance in the kitchen. We have to clean and disinfect our stations, kitchen and dining rooms throughout the day.

"Blue Sky is perhaps unique and somewhat ideally designed to handle this pandemic. Our property is spread out, and most of our rooms are individual buildings. The result is that our guests have a lot of space and can enjoy their stay without having to worry too much about the virus.

"What has changed is our guests' behavior. We see them eating outdoors and ordering room service more than ever. Also, they eat every meal here instead of venturing into town. The hotel itself is quite busy, and we are at the moment mostly full just serving our hotel guests, without the room to take many "out of house" guests (due to COVID spacing and cover limits in the dining room).

"Further, we created different culinary experiences to encourage outdoor dining and exploring the property, such as picnics, packed lunches and private chef dinners at our remote locations. These are all hugely popular. Our private event business has shifted as well. Since we cannot host large gatherings over 50 people, our weddings have all been small affairs, anywhere from 2 to 40 people. Again, Blue Sky is perfect for these "elopements" and micro weddings." (Aimee L. Cook)

Yuta, The Lodge at Blue Sky
2749 Old Lincoln Highway, Wanship

Fred Moesinger, - Caffé Molise and - BTG Wine Bar - JOHN TAYLOR
  • John Taylor
  • Fred Moesinger,Caffé Molise andBTG Wine Bar

Fred Moesinger

Owner/chef of Caffé Molise and BTG Wine Bar, Fred Moesinger is a self-taught culinary master having got his start in a St. George restaurant before moving to SLC. Once here, in 2001, he began working alongside the original owner of Caffé Molise before taking it over in 2003.

Chef Fred loves the food-service industry—the activity, working with people and making good food. "I cook at home pretty regularly, too. I always enjoy going through old Julia Child's cookbooks, Moesinger says. "I love Spanish and Indian cuisine as well and find inspiration there."

Those cuisines may be behind the flavors of his most popular dish on the menu, which he says is the pork tenderloin. Both spicy and savory, it's enhanced by the "sweet of the fig compote."

Moving into their new location at the historic Eagles Building on West Temple in 2018 allowed them to create a space where people could relax and savor great food while taking in the ambiance of both Caffé Molise and BTG Wine Bar.

"We have enjoyed the experience of putting it all together," Chef Fred said. "It was challenging, but we are pleased with how it all worked out. We knew we could re-create what we had in the old spot, because it was really organic and had a lot of charm. We went forward with what we felt would work best for this spot."

Caffé Molise's COVID Update:
Fred Moesinger: "We closed for about a month but kept cooks on at the restaurant and provided meals for our staff during the closure. We reopened for takeout and did that for about a month until we got more guidance and felt more comfortable welcoming people back for in-house dining.

"Initially, we reopened for dinner service only so we could work through any kinks and get more comfortable and familiarize ourselves with the new regulations and guidelines. We recently added lunch service, so our hours of operation (for now) are Sunday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5-9 p.m. for dinner. On Friday and Saturday, we're open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5-10 p.m. for dinner. The wine bar is open, too, every day at 5 p.m." (Aimee L. Cook)

Caffe Molise/BTG Wine Bar
404 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City


As the Cup Turns
Alas, poor Dunkin’, I knew you well.
By John Rasmuson

As it does so often these days, the bad news circulated in the flotsam and jetsam of the Twitterverse. In this instance, however, it wasn’t more presidential drivel. It was about Dunkin’, the coffee-and-donut company formerly known as Dunkin’ Donuts. The bad news (“wicked bad!” if you speak a New England dialect)? Utah’s meager share of the company’s 10,000-or-so restaurants—seven to be exact—had been summarily closed. The Tweet ended on this note of disingenuity: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause to our loyal guests.”

Bear with me as I parse “loyal guest” and “inconvenience”—a task for which I am well-versed. Full disclosure: I am a loyal guest. I have a Dunkin’ Donuts Perks Reward card in my wallet; I buy Dunkin’ coffee at the supermarket; I own a few shares of stock dating to 2012 when Mitt Romney and Bain Capital took Dunkin’ Donuts public. Despite last year’s rebranding, which disappeared “donuts” from the company name, I cling to “Double-D” (DD). I could coin “Triple-D” by adding a third “d” for “depend.” There are millions of loyal guests who, like me, depend on DD’s Arabica coffee, dispensed at the rate of 60 cups per second nationwide, just as Southerners depend on sweet tea. A case in point: a young, Massachusetts loyal guest was jailed while traveling in Iran. It took more than six months for the State Department to negotiate his release and end a stretch of inconvenience. Repatriated in Boston, he hugged his parents, then beelined to a convenient DD restaurant.

I know just how he felt. I got hooked on DD’s coffee while living in Massachusetts. There, the DD logo is as ubiquitous as that of the New England Patriots. The 60-year-old company is such a cultural mainstay that there is a DD restaurant for every 1,200 Massachusetts residents. In my 30-minute commute to work, I passed three DD restaurants, and in the dark days of winter, I often stopped for coffee, available in small, medium and large sizes—not tall, grande, venti. A DD restaurant is as unpretentious as Dr. Anthony Fauci. It has a workingman’s ambience and a business model based on no-frills efficiency. But you always get a good cup of coffee for a good price. It is the coffee that commands a loyal following, not the donuts. Call it what you will—flavorful, aromatic, mellow—the DD brew has such a distinctive quality, I could pick it out in a blind tasting.

DD was chiefly a “beverage-forward” coffee company even before “donuts” was expunged from the logo. Since the 1950s, it has sold donuts as a coffee complement. The eponymous “dunkin’ donut”—a Q-shaped, unglazed, cake confection—fell by the wayside as bagels, muffins and croissants found a place on the menu. Krispy Kreme, on the other hand, is a donut factory outlet which also happens to sell beverages like coffee. That subtle distinction doomed Krispy Kreme’s much-heralded incursion into DD’s New England turf 17 years ago. Although its signature glazed donut might have been superior to DD’s, its coffee was not. Krispy Kreme withdrew from Massachusetts in 2007.

DD restaurants were brought to Utah by franchisee Sizzling Platter LLC in Murray. The first, in 2013, was on the corner of 200 East and 400 South. On opening day, a line formed at 4 a.m. In a celebratory column I wrote in City Weekly at the time, I reported plans to build 18 DD restaurants along the Wasatch Front over five years. That less than half were built suggests that Sizzling Platter misjudged the market’s appetite for coffee and donuts. America may indeed run on DD, but Utah apparently can run without it. Sizzling Platter isn’t providing any explanation. I know because I asked a few times. Why close all seven DD restaurants in one day without notice? Why stiff loyal guests whose rewards cards have cash balances? Finally, a woman from a Chicago public relations firm e-mailed me to say Sizzling Platter declined to comment. I was left feeling more betrayed than inconvenienced (a personal problem, I concede.)

A few weeks ago, I walked to the DD restaurant on 2100 South and 1500 East as I had done hundreds of times in the last seven years. The DD signs had been removed leaving empty, rusty frames. I peered in the window. The cheery space where I often read City Weekly on Thursdays was upended, dark and forlorn. As I walked home, I wondered if the seven DD restaurants were casualties of the COVID pandemic as were such other notables as Mazza on 900 South and Cannella’s. However, there had been some corporate belt-tightening before the coronavirus gained a foothold in the U.S. Dunkin’ announced the closure of 450 limited-menu outlets in Speedway convenience stores across 32 states. Then, in July, citing revenue losses of 20 percent, the company said 350 additional restaurants would be closed.

Thus, as this loyal guest began to adjust to post-DD inconvenience, I felt the sting of salt in my wounds. DD announced a collaboration with Post to sell coffee-flavored breakfast cereal. Two popular flavors—Caramel Macchiato and Mocha Latte—will be “hitting the shelves this month in a tasty tribute to Dunkin’ fans,” the company said. Will Utah’s jilted Dunkin’ fans warm to the tasty tribute? Not this one.