Be Our Guest | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

November 04, 2020 News » Cover Story

Be Our Guest 

Tipping our hats (and wallets) to those on the serving forefront.

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As Jack Frost paints the Salt Lake Valley in hues of gold and red, it's usually a cheerful time for bars and eateries. They stack and store the patio furniture and start focusing on holiday menus and party planning. It was that very patio dining (and the extra floor space it provided for social distancing) that enabled many restaurateurs and bar owners to survive in times of COVID-19. There's no denying the past six months have been brutal for the hospitality industry, especially eateries without a drive-thru, but with winter's approach, things could get more dicey.

It goes without saying that all sectors of the economy were hit by COVID-19; few, however, received the wallop of the hospitality industry. Initially, after restaurants and bars were forced to close in the spring of 2020, thousands of servers were left high and dry in terms of income. Coming to their aid was the Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City Corp. and Modern Family actor/local bar owner Ty Burrell. Their local "Tip Your Server" campaign raised more than $650,000 to help displaced service-industry workers.

Slowly but surely, over the summer, a number of restaurant jobs returned. However, with the requirement for limited indoor seating, most places could only accommodate about half the clientele they used to cater to. As such, the business model had to evolve. Serving jobs involve a lot more boxing and bagging of to-go orders than ever before.

This past fall, downtown restaurants, bars and shops got permission to close Main Street to vehicle traffic so patrons could sit outside and enjoy a semblance of nightlife. But those measures were temporary, and winter is coming.

As diners move inside, there is another troubling concern facing the industry: Unmasking. While other businesses can require mask-wearing by customers and staff, food and bar businesses have to allow guests to remove their masks in order to consume their food and beverages, leading to a higher risk of exposing fellow diners and staff to the airborne virus.

It all points to the need for leadership and a long-range plan. To keep the lights on and employees earning a living, the industry needs not just band-aids but ongoing survival strategies, including financial assistance (such as Paycheck Protection Program dollars and state and local grants) as well help with regulations (i.e., greenlighting cocktails to go and other pivotal approaches to survival).

For our readers, if there are dining establishments you would miss if they went away, at least order from their takeout menu. Keep them alive if your means allows you to.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Ory Hernandez and Megan Wagstaff have scribed articles about the serving life for Devour Utah (our sister publication that's currently on hiatus, so we're publishing them here). Plus, we're including an update on the former Avenues Bistro on Third, now Wildwood. It's our way of saying: Hang in there! —Jerre Wroble

Michael Grundy, front-of-house manager at Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar, offers some spirited advice.
By Rebecca Ory Hernandez

Michael Grundy knows a thing or two about the fine details of starts and finishes. He's one of the wonderful service people whose impact is felt immediately upon your entrance into the dining room at Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar. We have lauded the marvelous food that talented chef, Jonathan LeBlanc, has graced us with over the years. What many people may not realize is that their dining experience all starts with the "front of the house" or FOH. FOH includes the things customers see: the manager, wait staff, host/hostess, bartenders, ambience, the service flow and the way the service people work with one another outside of the kitchen.

One walks into Stanza and is greeted like family. Serious attention to detail is needed to make patrons feel comfortable and well taken care of. Grundy cheerfully and dutifully snaps to attention the second a guest enters the restaurant door—a welcome that washes away whatever you were doing before arriving. Think of Grundy as the, "I'm here to make sure your experience is a positive one." His sunny, welcoming and professional demeanor (along with a Hollywood smile) speaks volumes without saying a word.

"He's the person who knows what's going to make you happy," says a staff member "... and he's not afraid to make you feel like the most important person in the restaurant"—because you are. He has been known to remember clients' birthdays as well as their children's, their anniversaries and other important milestones. That kind of added touch goes a long way in the service industry, aided by software or not.

Having met Grundy over a decade ago,I was delightful to catch up with him after his return from bartending across town. We chatted about what's been happening lately in his world.

  • Courtesy Photo

Rebecca Ory Hernandez: What's your background, Mike?
Mike Grundy: Born in the small mining town of Helper, I grew up in Salt Lake City. My first job in the food and beverage industry was while in high school. I worked at Peter Piper Pizza (which is no longer around). There, I learned how to make pizzas and helped customers. Then, I did stints as a busboy followed by my first serving job at an Italian restaurant where I quickly moved up as daytime sous chef, prepping all sauces and dishes for the day while also preparing food for the lunch crowd.

I moved to California for a year and worked in catering and waited tables at an Italian restaurant. Upon moving back to Salt Lake, I was a server for Applebee's as well as a bartender and manager. I also did the training for the serving staff at new stores opening up in the valley. From there, I was a server and daytime sous chef at a Mexican restaurant called the Toucan Cantina and then went on to work at the Porcupine as a server and manager.

Wanting to try something new, I got a job at a little dive bar called Todd's Bar and Grill, where I was a cocktail server, bar back and eventually was one of the top bartenders. I then went to work at Hotel Monaco and Bambara in room service; I eventually became restaurant supervisor. When the hotel changed management, I went back to bartending at The Sun Trapp before coming to where I am at now: Stanza Italian Bistro and Wine Bar as the FOH manager. I've just always worked in the food industry.

Food and beverage was not my first choice as a career—it just fell into place. I love food—eating it, cooking it and learning more about it. Possibilities are endless when it comes to food. I love interacting with the guests, learning about where they are from and talking with them just about anything. When you work in a restaurant, the staff becomes more than just co-workers and employees; they become your friends and family (sometimes, dysfunctional family). I really like where I am at right now.

What does a typical day look like?
A typical day is sometimes easy and other days can be very stressful. I handle the daily operations: FOH scheduling, hiring and training. I'm constantly researching. When I am on the floor, I assist FOH staff serving and bar staff with anything they need and ensure guests are have a nice dining experience. I like the fine attention-to-detail aspect of the dining experience. And there is the not-so-fun stuff that is necessary: paperwork, crunching numbers, the end of day reconciliation and monthly inventory.

What's a favorite Stanza meal?
The duck breast with a grilled corn and ricotta ravioli, wine-soaked blackberries and arugula. The flavors on this dish from top to bottom are exquisite!

And your favorite cocktail?
For a delightful ending to a fabulously curated meal, I recommend the smoked Negroni.

The drink is made from the smoky Laphroaig Scotch (10 year), Averna and sweet vermouth. Averna is a traditional Italian amaro with an earthy caramel flavor and the aroma is similar to what you might find in an old library ... it is delicious.

Nowadays, we have these wonderful new bars with craft cocktails that feature infused syrups and liquors. Drinks are made with fresh ingredients that take time and skill to prepare. They've become an art.

Any fun stories in your long career?
I was working at Bambara, and this lady came in and asked for a table. I was certain that I knew her and was racking my brain. Finally, I asked her if we went to high school together, and she replied "No." I was like, "Are you sure? I swear we know each other."

She laughed and said, "You will figure it out soon." So, I left and sat down. It was driving me crazy, and finally I said something to a server about how I knew this woman but couldn't figure out who it was. He started laughing and said, "Michael, that is Pink!"

I was so embarrassed and looked over, and she pointed at me and laughed. It was great!

Who inspires you to keep upping your game in this competitive business?
The person I admire has nothing to do with food—it is my mother. She was a single mom raising three boys, sometimes working three jobs, and she always had food on the table for us. Everything I know is because of her. She is amazing!

* * * *

You can find Grundy at Stanza most evenings, and he can help you beyond breakfast, lunch and dinner with chef-led experiences, wine tastings, private dining and other special catered events and offers. Just look for the impeccably groomed guy with the friendly smile. He will make sure you feel right at home.

Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar
454 E. 300 South, SLC

Stanza's COVID Update by Mike Grundy
Stanza has distanced its restaurant tables by 6 feet and limited groups to 10 people. Groups over 10 are seated at two separate tables. Enviromaster comes in and sanitizes the restaurant once a week and keeps the hand-sanitizing stations stocked. Signs are posted at the entrance about social distancing and mask wearing.

The staff has been really good at cleaning, washing hands and wearing their masks. We also clean and sanitize the tables and common areas prior to opening and in between lunch and dinner.

The reviews we have received about how safe people feel when they come to Stanza make me feel proud of my team. We have really only had a couple of instances where people refused to wear masks. It has been OK so far, and we hope to keep our patio open as long as we can.

Grundy is also happy to announce the return of the Stanza wine dinners, with the next one on Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. featuring Alaina Rahimzadegan with Vine Lore Imports. Chef Jonathan LeBlanc and pastry chef Amber Billingsley will prepare an autumn harvest feast including a roasted pear and chevre mousse amuse bouche; chai-spice pumpkin velouté, pecan-smoked quail, juniper-crusted elk medallions, brown-butter-glazed pumpkin cake—each course with wine pairings and topped off with a Stanza Winter Old Fashion. The price of $75 per person includes the wine. Seating is limited, so reserve your space now.

Drinks Every Home Bartender Should Master
Grundy recommends every bartender know how to make these popular beverages:

½ ounce dry vermouth
2 ½ ounces gin or vodka
Build in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives or cocktail onions.

2 ounces whiskey 1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes of bitters Stir in mixing glass over ice and strain into glass

Old Fashioned
1 ½ ounce bourbon or rye whiskey
2 dashes of bitters
1 sugar cube
Muddle sugar cube with bitters until dissolved. Add ice into mixing tin, shake and strain into glass.

Moscow Mule
To 2 ounces vodka, add lime juice and ginger beer.
Build in copper mug over ice.

  • Freepik

Serving It Up
A love letter to restaurant life
By Megan Wagstaff

Almost anyone who has waited tables or slung drinks will agree that it's an experience everyone should try at least once. Often this sentiment is expressed in relation to customer service; patience is taken to another level when serving a hungover crowd on the Sunday brunch shift or dealing with a party of 20 teenagers and split checks on prom night. There's the business dinner—where everyone orders wagyu and expensive cabernet—but the host tips as though they ordered side salads and soda water. Then, there's the young parents who encourage their toddler to order for himself as he shyly hides behind his mom's shoulder and I'm standing with a full 40-pound tray in one hand, wishing I wasn't a part of this "teaching moment."

My 16 years in the food and beverage industry have taught me a multitude of lessons—some food-related (like the right way to cut an onion and cook a pork chop), some not. Serving and bartending offers an intimate look into other people's lives: a first date, an awkward breakup, birthday and graduation celebrations, even an engagement or two.

In fact, I met my husband when we were both working together at Porcupine Pub & Grille over a decade ago. Restaurant relationships, whether romantic or platonic, are inevitable. It's where I've formed some of my strongest (and most unlikely) friendships and the thing I miss most about the server/bartender lifestyle.

It's also where I found my love of food. Working in restaurants exposed my palate to flavors far beyond Utah Sunday dinners of funeral potatoes, meatloaf and Rhodes rolls; how about osso buco with risotto alla Milanese, watermelon with goat cheese and saba, togarashi fried chicken, whole grain mustard glazed coho, and ingredients like enoki mushrooms, chicories, gochujang chili and European butter (who knew what a difference the right butter makes!).

Salt Lake's food and beverage scene was growing up at the same time I was and being in restaurant kitchens provided a front-row seat to the city's culinary coming-of-age. I can credit the bulk of my wine knowledge to The Wine Academy of Utah's Jimmy Santangelo, whom I was lucky enough to work with when he was sommelier at Cafe Trio back in the early aughts (chef Logen Crew, now of SLC Eatery, also worked there at the time). I watched from behind the bar as IPAs took over keg taps, pomegranate martinis made way for Old Fashioneds with oversize ice cubes, rosés went from trashy to très chic.

Although writing articles about food is now the current extent of my restaurant and bar work, my food-and-drink obsession lives on. Sometimes, I even fantasize about going back to restaurant life. It's true—it really is an experience everyone should try at least once.

Wildwood chef/owner Michael Richey - JOHN TAYLOR
  • John Taylor
  • Wildwood chef/owner Michael Richey

Call of the Wild
Avenues Bistro on Third is now Wildwood.
By Megan Wagstaff

If you're fortunate enough to live in the Avenues, you're likely familiar with Avenues Bistro on Third, which has recently rebranded as Wildwood, the perfect neighborhood spot for a "cautiously cozy" dinner with your quaran-team or a damned fine takeout on a chilly fall night.

Chef/owner Michael Richey has a passion for food that dates back decades; he spent years cooking in San Francisco before moving to Utah and opening up Pago with Scott Evans in 2009. That was followed by tenure at St. Bernard's, The Yurt at Solitude Village, and Zagat-reviewed but now closed Fireside on Regent. Since his arrival at Wildwood, locals feel as though they've whisked him away to a tiny nook of the Avenues where they can keep his talent all to themselves.

The intimate dining room, featuring hand-built zinc tabletops, wallpaper from France and solid walnut banquets, lends itself to a true bistro vibe, as does Wildwood's open-kitchen layout, which puts Richey's culinary prowess on full display (although he jokes he's growing shy of the spotlight).

He and chef de cuisine Kurtis Krausse worked together to whip up Wildwood's current menu, which includes seasonal favorites like the Desert Mountain burger with melted Beehive Cheddar, Mary's organic buttermilk fried chicken and rabbit pot pie with puff pastry and fall root vegetable veloute. Mike is a stickler for impressively fresh fish, so dishes like langoustine and fresh pasta, the soft-shell crab sandwich with chipotle slaw and the classically French mussels and frites are not to be overlooked.

Oh, and in case you were trying to save up calories for Thanksgiving pie, don't. The Nutter Butter cheesecake with cajeta caramel and cream begs to be eaten now. Like, right now. Pair it with a Ginger Heat cocktail, made with bourbon, ginger-chili simple and angostura bitters, then make a reservation to come back and dine again ASAP. Wildwood is here; let's help make sure it's here to stay.

564 E. Third Ave., SLC

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About The Authors

Rebecca Ory Hernandez

Rebecca Ory Hernandez

Rebecca was born in New Orleans and is a native of Gramercy, Louisiana. She has called Ogden home since 2004.

"Like most Cajuns, I learned to respect the land under my feet... to grow food and cook at a young age. To know the soil and the seasons. It comes naturally because we lived that way."

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