Dining Guide 2023 | Dining & Bar Guide | Salt Lake City Weekly

Dining Guide 2023 

Lessons Learned

Pin It
  • Derek Carlisle

Even under the reasonably normal circumstances that we knew before 2020, running a restaurant was hard. Most restaurateurs who make the attempt fold within a year of operation simply because managing a business, keeping on top of food trends, training staff and keeping customers happy is a superhuman effort to juggle.

When we hit the end of 2020, we saw around 10% of our local restaurants throw in the towel, many having been in business since the late '70s or early '80s. Though, from the consumer standpoint, things are getting back to normal, our friends in the hospitality industry are still trying to get their feet on the ground.

That said, something every successful restaurateur knows is that trials keep them sharp. The ability to think quickly and creatively while maximizing every available asset is what sets owners, cooks and hospitality workers apart. So, what lessons have our local chefs taken from those nightmarish few years, and what do those lessons mean for restaurants and bars moving forward?

We'll start with a chat I had with Andrew Corrao from Forty Three Bakery (67 W. 1700 South, SLC, fortythreebakery.com). "One thing I think every manager had to learn was that employees had to feel safe at work," he says, as I perused his freshly baked croissants and pastries. "When you employ a person, you employ all of a person."

This conversation reminded me of the many news headlines that chronicled the increase in resignations between 2020 and 2022 when employees decided that working at a restaurant during the pandemic wasn't worth the risk of contracting COVID. Not only that, but many had their hours and wages reduced. Though safety has always been a priority for Corrao and his staff, being cognizant of his staff's mental health was something that became more clear as he navigated his business over the past few years.

Jen Gilroy, owner of Porch (11274 S. Kestrel Rise Road, Ste. G, South Jordan, 801-679-1066, porchutah.com), also saw employee relations as a key factor. "Every relationship is different," she says. "I think you run into problems when you treat all of your employees the exact same way. You have to consider them as individuals."

Porch's cozy patio and craft cocktails in the Daybreak community are a welcome anomaly to those of us who live and work a bit south of Salt Lake City—we are elated to find creative upscale dining outside the Salt Lake metro area. Simply sustaining a niche restaurant like Porch no doubt tested Gilroy.

But she maintains that restaurant owners have never been strangers to flexibility and, to some extent, that's what keeps her and her team going. "This business requires so much adaptability for success," she says. "You have to be able to constantly pivot and make shifts."

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, concerns with everyday issues grabbed all the attention. "Restaurant owners have had to retool their whole business models," Gilroy says. "So many things were impacted by COVID—economy, labor crises, supply chain issues—and we had to cut costs in other places."

When our conversation shifts to the present day and what lessons have been learned, Gilroy considers the relationships she's formed with her team and her community. "One thing I've learned over and over again is really taking care of the people who take care of you, and the rest kind of falls into place," she says. "I didn't qualify for a PPP, but the community here would come and tip my staff 100% to help us out."

Moving forward, Gilroy echoes a request that many restaurant owners and hospitality workers share, and that's to give restaurants a break when it comes to your inner Yelp! reviewer.

"Prices have gone up exponentially for everyone," Gilroy says. "There's a disconnect when people are paying twice as much for groceries but are expecting restaurant prices to stay the same."

Everyone has been impacted by food shortages and increased prices, but keep in mind that restaurants have to operate, profit and take care of their staff under those exact same circumstances.

"If people want the restaurant industry to flourish, then restaurants need to be profitable," Gilroy says. "Big chains don't have to spend money on labor because their ingredients are prepped, frozen and shipped out. Local restaurants don't have that option."

Despite the fact that restaurant owners and their staff are made of some pretty tough stuff, it behooves all of us who love to dine out to not make things any tougher. There was plenty to be learned by those who took the plunge and launched an eatery or a bar, but it's reassuring to know the lessons include being more mindful of workers who help run the show.

Dining out in Utah has become this wonderful, evolutionary pageant, and we surely don't need any more of our beloved local eateries closing up shop.

Pin It
Erin Moore

Erin Moore

Erin Moore is City Weekly's music editor. Email tips to: music@cityweekly.net.

© 2023 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation