Park City’s Shabu Celebrates 20 Years

“9990 opened today! I just got down from there, and I was surprised how good it was,” says Bob Valaika, Chef and co-owner at Shabu. Bob and his brother Kevin, the restaurant’s General Manager, have been operating the restaurant on Main Street for two decades, but they haven’t lost that irrepressible stoke of the first-year ski bum. 

The brothers came from skiing the same midwestern backwaters as I did, where bumps on the ground with less vertical drop than the local bunny hill built dreams of big mountain powder. “We’d go night skiing after school, and our parents used to bring us skiing out here,” says Kevin. “I tried the real world for a bit, but I knew I needed to be in the mountains.”

Bob, the Chef of the operation, has serious cooking chops, having attended culinary school before working in Aspen under famed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. “Nobody spoke English to me for years in the kitchen. It was just Japanese,” Bob recalls. “I started as a grunt, cooking rice and cleaning fish. But by the end of that period I could cook anything, and one day they tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would be the head chef at Matsuhisa in Aspen.”

Bibimbap, hot pot and other warming delights are the hallmark of Shabu. Photo by Adam Finkle

Kevin had been working with restaurateur Bill White in Park City, and ultimately, the brothers wanted to strike out on their own. “We kind of did it backward. We developed a client list with a private chef business first before we opened the restaurant,” Kevin says. “We paid $10 per hour to use the Morning Ray Bakery as a culinary kitchen whenever we had an event.”

Combining Kevin’s business acumen and Bob’s culinary mastery, they opened Shabu in February 2004 in the former Park City Mall. They moved across the street to their current location in 2010 following the economic downturn, and have been there ever since. The door to the basement space is easy to miss, nestled in an entryway with an art gallery. Head downstairs, however, and you enter another world, a cozy dining room and sake bar festooned with local artwork. 

The menu features classics like sushi, hot pot and my personal favorite, the Hot Rock, where you cook your own marinated Wagyu on a very hot rock. You don’t thrive for 20 years in a ski town without consistently excellent food, and the selection of sake and local beverages like the custom rice lager from Salt Fire Brewing only add to the experience. 

Come for the outstanding meal, and come back for the local flavor. “It’s hard to be an independent business in this town,” says Bob. “We didn’t have outside investors. We’ve put everything into this with all the risk and finally reward. We can’t imagine doing anything else.”  

If You Go:
442 Main St., Park City

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Tony Gill
Tony Gill
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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