Saturday, February 27, 2021

Home Eat & Drink Size Matters in the Restaurant Biz: Why Fresco and Forage are Closing.

Size Matters in the Restaurant Biz: Why Fresco and Forage are Closing.


The dining news was harsh: Two of Salt Lake City’s restaurant stars announced their imminent closure this week.

In different scenarios, the reason for both closures was the same. It’s not because their names both start with “F.”

It’s a matter of size.

Both Forage and Fresco are very small and small restaurants have to make money by doing a high-volume business or serving higher-priced, chef-driven food. The balance is precarious, the margins are slim and the amount of money to be made is limited.

Fresco is and has been the most charming restaurant in the city because of its eccentric location behind a bookstore. But it didn’t get by on its good looks alone. Surprisingly, the restaurant has had a roster of stellar chefs who have made the name of other restaurants—Billy Sotelo, Logen Crews, etc.—starting of course, with chef-owner Mikel Trapp, who bought Fresco from David Harries.

“I thought I wanted to have my own little restaurant where I would be chef and have my hands in everything,” said Trapp in a recent phone conversation. “Ha! That lasted about seven months.”

Trapp, who also started both Cafe Trios and Luna Blanca Taqueria, is now partners with Joel LaSalle in Main Course Management which owns the spectacularly successful Current and the soon-to-open Stanza, considered a bankable proposition.

Letting go of Fresco wasn’t a sudden decision: Trapp has had the restaurant up for sale for the past six months or so, even though, he says, the restaurant is still successful and has a lot of regular patrons.

But “Current makes more money than all my other restaurants combined,” said Trapp, and Stanza is likely to be a repeat performance.

Main Course Management is growing a chef-ownership model for its future restaurants; seeking chefs who want to partner with them in chef’s food-driven places. Fresco’s size may be too small for this model to work. If by “work” you mean make money that’s worth the time.

A small restaurant requires as much oversight as a large one.

We’ll see. Trapp says a sale of Fresco is imminent. What the new owner will decide to do with Salt Lake’s most charming restaurant space remains to be seen. It may even be a new version of Fresco.

A few blocks away, Forage, the best restaurant in Salt Lake City, is also closing.

It too, is still successful, but its seven year lease is almost up and chef-owner Bowman Brown is feeling cramped.

At Forage, he’s still in a moribund partnership with Viet Pham who left the kitchen years ago to pursue culinary stardom. And the kitchen at Forage is almost unbelievably tiny for the kind of complicated, highbrow food Brown has become famous for.

In spite of its size, award-winning Forage is one of the most famous restaurants in Utah—its extraordinary brand of madly inventive, neo-molecular cuisine has been recognized by national magazines as well as by the James Beard Foundation.

But Brown can’t wait to stretch a little on his own. “I’ll be doing food much like I do here, only in a larger space. Mainly, a larger kitchen.” He has a vision of a small lounge area, besides the dining room, where he can offer some a la carte options and a shorter tasting menu on week nights.

So Fresco and Forage are closing. But Salt Lake diners don’t really have to say good-bye. Just au revoir.

Even in the exploration boom of the 1800s, nobody dared to explore the terrain flowing through the Green and the Colorado Rivers.⁠

That is, nobody until Major John W. Powell said the 19th Century equivalent of “Hey man, hold my beer while I try this.”⁠

Read more about his dangerous expedition at the link in our bio!⁠

Photo of Powell’s expedition courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division⁠

A brand new issue of Salt Lake magazine is coming your way! ⁠

We can't wait to share these stories with you. This issue includes our annual Blue Plate Awards celebrating those surviving and thriving in the restaurant biz. Plus, we take a road trip to Wyoming and ask why the only Utah passenger on the Titanic didn’t survive her journey.⁠

A note from our editor Jeremy Pugh, including beautiful tributes to Mary Brown Malouf from our friends in the community, is online now. Read more at the link in our bio ❤️⁠

Subscribers: Look for this issue in your mailbox soon. The magazine will be on newsstands March 1! 📬

Today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2021 Blue Plate Awards! ⁠🎉⁠

These prizes honor the growers, food evangelists, grocers, servers, bakers, chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs who do more than put good food on the table—they make our community a better place to live. This year, just surviving as a local business deserves an award, but each of our Blue Plate winners did more than that. They made us grateful for every person involved in the essential act of feeding us.⁠ 🍽⁠

At the link in our bio, we have the full list of winners, a celebration of feats of COVID creativity and a tribute to restaurants we lost this year. If you’re hungry for more, pick up a copy on newsstands March 1! Plus, check out our Instagram for spotlights on some of the Blue Plate winners. ⁠

This year’s Blue Plate Awards are the first without our beloved Executive Editor Mary Brown Malouf. We dedicate them to her, our town’s biggest food fan, critic and champion. xoxomm⁠ 💙

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @ricobrandut for Staying in Beansness⁠

Last summer, it seemed that Rico would be another victim of rapid gentrification in Salt Lake. Luckily, Rico was able to find a new home in Poplar Grove and now plans to add even more employees. It’s a last-minute happy ending for a community leader who literally wears his mission on his sleeve, courtesy a tattoo in bright red block letters: “pay it forward.” 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award Winner: @spicekitchenincubator for Keeping the Spice Flowing⁠

This year Spice Kitchen Incubator, already an essential resource for refugees, became, well, even more essential. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @thestore_utah for Special Deliveries ⁠

As grocery delivery becomes the new norm, The Store offers a personal touch that only an independent grocer can provide. Last March, high-risk and elderly customers began calling in their grocery lists over the phone, and The Store’s general managers personally delivered food to their homes. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @cucinaslc for Preserving Neighborhood Connection⁠

Cucina’s outdoor spaces became a place where the neighborhood could gather safely. Owner Dean Pierose offered free coffee in the mornings and encouraged his regulars to linger and commiserate together, preserving a semblance of society during a socially distanced time. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @oquirrhslc for Betting the Bottom Dollar⁠

When COVID-19 hit Salt Lake City, Oquirrh co-owners Andrew and Angelena Fullers' dream was seriously damaged. But the Fullers keep trying to follow the rules. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @hearth_and_hill for Opening Doors⁠

As the pandemic ravages independent restaurants, Hearth and Hill has reaffirmed its commitment to small businesses in Park City and used its large dining room as an informal gathering space for the city. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @fisherbrewing for Creative Canning⁠

This year, Fisher found ways to utilize their beer, taproom space and canning capabilities for good. They created special lines of limited edition beers in custom cans to help raise funds for local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. 💙⁠

A wind storm #tbt for your feed today. 🌬️🛹⁠

2020 was a long, long, loooong year, so we asked local photographers to share what the new normal looked like through their eyes. The link is in our bio!

Just hours after being sworn in, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for a review of the boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The monuments—designated by Barack Obama in 2016 and Bill Clinton in 1996—were reduced by roughly 2 million acres by former president Donald Trump, and the executive order is seen as move towards restoring the original boundaries.⁠

Read the full story through the link in bio.⁠

📸Bears Ears National Monument: Courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism

What’s your favorite park in Utah? ...