Restaurants coping with Covid: Re-imagining Oquirrh

Caught between COVID-19 and protest marches. local restaurants have been experiencing a double squeeze. Just when COVID-19 restrictions were starting to ease, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall slapped an 8 pm curfew on the city, a momentary additional setback. For a brief period, it looked like social distancing and mask-wearing were indeed flattening the curve. Now it looks like we’re in for a second surge of the virus. Over the next few days, we’ll be talking to restaurant owners about how they’re coping with multiple crises. Last week, we spoke with Bob McCarthy, owner of Stoneground Italian Kitchen and the Garage. Today we chatted with Angie Fuller. With her husband Drew, she owns and runs Oquirrh, Restaurants, one of the most exciting new restaurants in the city.

“When all this hit, we were still new,” says Angie Fuller. “And tiny.”

Governor Herbert’s guidelines for re-opening restaurants include a prohibition on groups larger than ten—easy in this small space, but also specifies that restaurants maintain a space of six feet between tables.

“We would only be able to accommodate seven tables in the entire dining room,” says Angie. “It’s hard to justify opening for seven tables.”

Not to mention the number of servers and cooks necessary to produce the kind of food Oquirrh is known for—the kind of innovative fare that inspired Chef Drew and Angie to open their own restaurant in the first place. The signature presentation of carrots, for example, for which carrots of several colors are roasted, cured in miso or braised, then planted vertically in a ground of carrot-top pesto with a brown rice chip to add back in some crispness, is a time-consuming, multi-handed dish to prepare. Not only that, but it’s spectacularly unsuitable for curbside pick-up, the service option that is saving many restaurants from completely going under. That’s true of many Oquirrh staples: It’s hard to imagine the whole lamb leg crusted with a curry mixture and deep-fried, accompanied by house-made naan, vegetables roasted in garam masala and eggplant relish in a styro clamshell.

Instead, Angie says, “We’ve been offering salmon or steak for two or four. But our curbside business is dying off severely.”

The current curbside menu features a sandwich, a Caesar salad, a hamburger (“We swore we’d never serve one!” says Angie) and a few other basics, along with a few of the regular menu stars, like the chicken confit pot pie. Family-style lasagne is also available.

But (except for the pie) those aren’t the dishes that draw people to Oquirrh. They come to be surprised and delighted by the food and the quaintness. “The dynamic of our restaurant is so important,” says Angie. “We want it to be a way to connect with the community.”

That’s hard to do with no-touch nitrile-gloved service of dinner in a box.

Can you save your business by changing it entirely?

“We want to try potentially to be open next week,” says Angie, “with just the two of us operating. I’m learning how to cook.”

What Oquirrh needs most is the support of the public who want it to be there when life gets back to normal. So call in and pick up—this city can’t afford to lose those milk-braised potatoes or that curried lamb leg.

For more on food, click here.

Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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