Posted // 2013-03-07 -
Provo's 100 Block may be the city's most influential spot for local entertainment, but people are starting to recognize that downtown Provo is beginning to ride a cultural high, as the younger generations have started revitalizing historic locations and bringing new life into the city. A perfect example would be the efforts of the Old Adobe Group, who in the past two years have launched Station 22 Cafe (which has transformed into a dining hot spot overnight) and two classy venues, The Underground and The Bell Room, bringing more nightlife to an area that a decade ago was almost written off as a dead zone for the city.
Today, I chat with the two founders behind Old Adobe Group, Richard Gregory and Jason Talcott, about their partnership and the businesses they run, reviving downtown Provo, plans for the future and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of Old Adobe Group.)
Jason Talcott (right) & Richard Gregory (center)
Gavin: Hello, gentlemen. First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Jason: My name is Jason Talcott. I have been cooking for 22 years. I spent 10 years active duty in the Army, and my last duty assignment was as Executive Chef for Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and Donald Rumsfeld. I currently serve as a food service sergeant in the Army Reserves. I love regional American cuisine and all things food, wine, beer and whiskey. If I'm not working, I'm eating, drinking or listening to music.
Richard: I'm a designer and serial entrepreneur from northern California, in the wine country. I got my start working with my dad in the field of architecture and have worked most of my life in that field. I guess I did the same thing so long that I just sort of exploded with other ideas. I moved to Utah in '09 and have been working in and around Provo Town Square in downtown Provo, carving out a little world for us. I started out here as a landlord with a dead and half-empty property and we've now built quite a little community here.
Gavin: What got you both interested in wanting to open local businesses?
Richard: I'm a local yokel; here in Provo, I call them "downtownies.” I've always been interested in colorful communities, and local business is where all the flavor comes from. I have ZERO experience in the corporate world and I avoid it like the plague.
Jason: I have always wanted to own my own community-based eatery, someplace I could take American regional cuisine, amp it up and make it super-cool.
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet and become friends?
Jason: Richard and I had a chance meeting last May at the first Rooftop Concert Series in Provo and hit it off from there. Station 22 Cafe was open as an eclectic sandwich shop at the time. I fell in love with the space and knew that, somehow, I was meant to meet Richard. A month later, I was looking for a new place to hang my chef hat and Richard was looking at selling Station 22. I convinced him to instead bring me on as a sweat-equity partner -- the rest is history currently in the making.
Gavin: How did the idea to start up Station 22 come about, and where did you get the name from?
Richard: In truth, it feels like it just happened to me. I had a great opportunity when a tenant went out of business and, being someone who compulsively seizes every opportunity, for better or worse, I just jumped on it. I have never been professionally involved in a restaurant but I eat out A LOT and always have, so I felt like I had some secret expertise. A design background has been great for me because the same principles that guide design aesthetics can be applied to practically any situation. Choosing the name was a funny process. I wanted my team to feel involved in the branding and I didn't want to just make an executive decision and exclude the others, so we all sat down with a whiteboard and chose the name by process of committee and majority votes: Cafe 22 -- the address and cafe. I hated it; I think everyone hated it. It was a great lesson for me that majority voting is not the way to accomplish anything interesting. The next day I was talking with our graphic designer, Rick Williamson, and we came up with Station 22 Cafe.
Gavin: What was it like getting everything together, and how did you come across the location on Center Street?
Richard: I spoke with every single person I knew who had anything to do with restaurants and they all told me the same thing: Leave it alone! I didn't have the experience, but how hard could it be, right? As it turned out, VERY HARD. Looking back, I can't even believe how challenging it was for us to get everything built out, started up and moving during the first few months. We had some crazy-hard and sometimes gut-wrenching situations and loads of insane stress, but we hung in there, and all the while I was desperately searching for a good partner who could help wrangle this beast. I had just about given up and was starting to explore the option of selling when I met Jason, a kindred spirit, and together we've turned this dog-and-pony show into a three-ring circus.
Gavin: What was the opening like, and how did the first few months go for you?
Jason: In October, we remodeled and re-concepted the restaurant as a full-service sit down with a true Americana vibe. It started out well and gets better and busier by the week.
Richard: The restaurant continually evolved since day one, which was in March 2011. I tried to stay light on my feet and learn as quickly as possible and make adjustments. After bringing Jason on and growing some of my gonads back, we closed the place and re-modeled and re-conceptualized the restaurant into what it is today. The switch took place last October. Things are growing fast now, and we can barely believe how insanely busy we've been. We have to expand now, so we're working on some other concepts.
Gavin: At what point did you start formulating a way to create a bigger business plan, and what eventually led to you both forming the Old Adobe Group?
Richard: I tend to like to find a good wave and ride it as far as I can. Right now, we're on an incredible wave that, thanks to the explosive growth in Provo, is likely to last a few more years, at least. We're sitting right in the middle of the downtown and we intend to take full advantage of the situation. At Provo Town Square, we have 10 historic buildings together here, so we could conceivably have quite a bit of interesting stuff going on. Our long-term plans include a music venue/lounge, a pub, a couple more restaurants, coffee shop -- who knows? I don't really care what we do as long as it's fun and helps to create an awesome downtown vibe.
Jason: I have many culinary fascinations. My long-term goal is to own a thriving group of restaurants in Provo, Salt Lake City and Park City. Catering is a natural extension of our restaurant. We are the kind of place and food that people want to gather around, so it only seemed natural.
Gavin: When you starting to put OAG together, what made you decide to marry two very different businesses of running a restaurant and catering with booking and running venues?
Jason: The space in Provo Town Square, which is owned by Richard and his mom, was available and it seemed like a much better use of space than renting it out to someone else.
Richard: The beauty of this opportunity is that we have the ability to operate literally dozens of different operations under one roof, with a centralized and streamlined management. Basically, how it works is that whatever space we have vacant, we just cook up a business to run in it. It's actually a bit silly if you walk around the property with us and hear about all the fits and starts. There are many!
Gavin: How did you come across The Bell Room, and what specifically drew you to that venue to start running it?
Richard: It was, again, just a sort of comedy of errors that brought that on. Originally, we were going to open a restaurant in that space, but then another space opened up where Station 22 is, so we thought, "Well, let's do two, then"; a foolish move that turned out great. We ran out of money, so we just decided to rent it out for special events until someday we have the capital to do what we really want to do in there. The event venues have turned out great, though, and have really proven to be popular. Who knows what we'll do in the future?
Gavin: Subsequently, how did you find The Underground, and what set that location apart from the Bell?
Richard: The Underground had been vacant for many years. My buddy David Price, who moved out here with me and my family, worked with me to get the place hollowed out and usable. Originally, it was just our private party space. It, too, is waiting to someday be turned into something else. In this case, we're looking to do a sort of speakeasy-style jazz/blues/folk club.
Gavin: Did you put any work into revitalizing those rooms, or did you keep them mostly as they were for the nostalgic feel?
Richard: We did a ton of work on revitalizing them. They had great bones, though. All we had to do was work with what was there. We did everything on such an extremely tight budget, basically nothing. It would shock you to learn how little we spent. We just recycled materials from all over the building and took our sweet, sweet time. It took about two years to get The Underground where it is. My good man Daniel Silvetti is a certified genius with refinishing and reusing materials. He's been a huge part of developing our look.
Gavin: How was it been for the two of you balancing running those venues and Station 22, both as separate entities and together under the same banner?
Jason: We are really just getting it going. The biggest challenge has been bootstrapping all the project. It's hard to start a business under-capitalized, but in the long run you end up not being heavily tied to investors, which gives you the freedom to do what you want on your own terms.
Richard: It's been flat-out crazy. We are understaffed and under-capitalized, but we're pushing forward anyway. We know where we want to go and we're just trying to take it a day at a time. The financial rewards aren't the motivation. We just want to keep moving and creating.
Gavin: Word has it you'll be starting up a new restaurant called The Bake Shop. What's the progress on that, and when can we expect to see it?
Jason: We have two projects in the works and two to three more that are more long-term. As we grow and are able to attract investors, we plan to have some amazing and exciting eateries, venues, entertainment, libations and retail space under one roof.
Richard: First up and coming this summer will be La Lucha: "Street Food with Attitude," a modern take on Latin street food. Sometime later, probably late summer, will be The Bake Shop, a luxury dessert shop and coffee bar. After that? Hopefully, something with a bar.
Gavin: Through all these ventures you've helped bring more people into the thriving scene happening in downtown Provo. What's your take on having that kind of an impact?
Jason: I have only been involved in Provo for about two years and I am truly amazed. There is a thriving art and music scene, and as one reviewer put it, "Provo is the hippest place in Salt Lake City." With the growth of the tech industry in Utah County, Front Runner and the the re-birth of historic downtown Provo, we feel like we are on the cusp of something that is going to be huge! I think Provo in five years will be something no one ever expected.
Richard: We have helped, for sure, but there is so much incredibly positive energy in Provo right now that is moving everything forward, from our amazing mayor and a progressive city government to the music scene, the other great restaurants, etc. It's such a gratifying feeling to see all of this coming together. When I moved to Provo, I thought my job would be easy: Take a mostly vacant property and just get it rented up, then move on. However, the biggest challenge facing the property was the fact that the downtown area was just not very highly valued by most people. There was nothing I could do to make the property a success without trying to revitalize the environment surrounding it. I've worked hard for four years to market and promote the downtown and to partner with other people who wanted to make a difference. They were hard to find at first, but not anymore!
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and OAG over the rest of the year?
Richard: We've hired on some financial-management muscle, so we plan to see some aggressive growth this summer. Our friends, fans and supporters have been so amazing and encouraging. As long as they keep loving what we're doing, we'll keep doing it.
Jason: As mentioned, we plan on opening a restaurant two doors down from Station 22 on Center Street; totally different direction but with that same cutting-edge hipness that has made Station 22 so popular -- killer Latin tunes, awesome street food, amazing drinks and a ton of fun.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Jason: Yes, angel investors welcome! We have space, ideas and drive and we'd love to make your money!
Richard: Haha! Jason said it best. Come down to Provo Town Square this summer for the Rooftop Concert Series, one of the largest free shows in the state! Station 22 will be there, rockin' the rootsy food!
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