Surplus of new restaurants suggests Salt Lake is on course to become the next culinary capital

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Salt Lake is booming. It’s no secret that more and more people are choosing the Wasatch Front as their new home. And while a larger population comes with some drawbacks like traffic, there are also benefits, like the influx of new restaurants that the Salt Lake Valley is currently experiencing.

“It really looks like, lately, Utah is finally getting the attention it deserves from the restaurant world,” said Chris Byers, senior vice president of rentals at Mountain View Village.

The Riverton Shopping and Lifestyle Center will welcome a total of 34 new restaurants – including five first in the Utah market – when it opens in phase two in May 2022.

Most of the new restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley are businesses of restaurateurs, chefs and hotel moguls based in bigger, more culinary cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. For many years Utah has struggled to be recognized as a cultural center, and now it seems everyone is taking notice at the same time.

But why Utah? Simply put, this is where the people are.

“The number of people who have moved to Salt Lake County and surrounding counties is remarkable,” said Matt Minichino, operations manager of Flanker Kitchen and Sporting Club, which will open its first location in downtown Salt Lake’s Gateway. Center on December 8. Flanker is a concept created by Carver Road Hospitality Group, based in Las Vegas, which owns and operates restaurants in New York and Las Vegas.

With the steady stream of new Utah residents coming from more populous states including California, the demographics of the state of Beehive are now a perfect fit for many of these restaurants.

“We have a lot of transplants from other areas, especially those that might be more familiar with our brand in Southern California,” said Dan Pena, operations manager of the San Diego-based fried chicken chain, The Crack Shack. . “For us it’s a pretty natural fit.

Minichino had a similar revelation when it came to making his Flanker debut in Salt Lake. He cited customers drawn to the area by tourism in Park City and the plethora of tech jobs in the Silicon Slopes area as the reasons Carver Road decided to tap into the Utah market.

“There is a clientele that loves the experience, likes going out, dining, eating and drinking, listening to live music and playing sports,” he says.

Byers is surprised that the restaurant boom did not happen sooner, although she notes that prior to the current circumstances, many chefs and hospitality companies may have been pushed back by Utah’s strict laws on hospitality. alcoholic beverages. Now, however, the tide seems to be turning. With a young population coming from large cities, the demand for alcohol in restaurants is increasing, opening up more opportunities for businesses to make money from the sale of alcohol.

In his 10 years of leasing malls in the Salt Lake area, Byers has also learned that Utah is a brand neutral market, which is very appealing to restaurateurs and may be part of the reason. to which they are attracted to the state. .

“If a hip, really cool restaurateur wants to leave the Seattle market, or come from an urban area of ​​downtown Portland, it’s not going to hurt their brand,” she says. “A lot of restaurant owners think that when you come to a suburban mall, you’re selling yourself to this world. But what it really becomes is that you are really exploiting a market that hasn’t been touched. “

And opening a restaurant establishment in Utah is also incredibly beneficial financially, says Byers. Utah honors tip credits at their restaurants, which means they’re legally allowed to pay waiters less than minimum wage, assuming the employee makes up the difference in tips. If an employee does not earn up to the minimum wage in tips, the employer is required to make up the difference.

“From a financial standpoint, there is a real incentive to come to Salt Lake City,” says Byers.

And the perks of moving to Salt Lake are causing some restaurants – like the Crack Shack – to pull out of other more expensive markets. Their move – and the closure of the two Los Angeles locations – were driven in large part by the changes that took place during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately with COVID, our two locations in Los Angeles were heavily dependent on offices and tourism and those just didn’t come back,” Pena said of The Crack Shack’s decision to shut down their Los Angeles locations. “A lot of the office buildings in Century City went home permanently and we just couldn’t make it work. “

Byers also believes the strict COVID protocols that have become daily in the most populous cities have been tough on restaurants and pushed owners – and diners – to more relaxed precautions in states like Utah.

“Los Angeles has been pretty hard hit. They were closed and they went back and forth demanding masks and I think markets like Utah were pretty stable once we reopened last spring, ”she says.

So what does this mean for the future of Salt Lake City?

In the years to come, we may well see world-class restaurants emerge from Salt Lake City. According to Minichino, there are already plans to expand Flanker to other major markets. Investors in restaurants like The Savory Fund – which has partnered with The Crack Shack, Via 313 Pizzeria and others – are also actively working to bring new flavors to the region.

Salt Lake also has local restaurants – like the hot chicken phenomenon Pretty Bird – that have garnered national attention. Maybe other local favorites will soon get the recognition they deserve, too.

“I think the future is very bright, given the basic statistics on the number of people and businesses that have settled in this region,” Minichino said. “When you see the volume within a 30 mile drive radius of downtown Salt Lake, it’s a real positive sense of growth. “

Whether it makes you cry out in joy or moan in terror, Salt Lake City is growing. Every day, the affectionate nickname “Wasangeles” grows further from a pun and closer to reality.

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