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Bon Appetit: Honoring the 2016 Utah Restaurant Industry Awards

It’s a gathering of leading chefs, restaurateurs, suppliers and industry up-and-comers. An evening of celebration. An opportunity for hard-working folks behind the scenes to be recognized for their starring role in Utah’s restaurant scene. It’s the annual Utah Restaurant Industry Awards, hosted by the Utah Restaurant Association and Utah Business. A tradition more than 30 years in the making, here we shine a light on the latest honorees to receive top dining accolades.

 

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Honoring a Utah restaurant industry leader whose contributions have helped shape the culinary landscape over the course of the last 25 years

 

Jeanne_Palmer_the_PieJeanne Thomas
The Pie Pizzeria

Practically hidden in the basement under the University Pharmacy, just steps off the University of Utah campus, lies one of Salt Lake’s sought-after destinations for pizza—The Pie Pizzeria. It all started in the early ‘80s, when Jeanne Thomas launched the new restaurant in the subterranean space.

Barely bothering to post a single sign (hidden behind a wall on 200 South), Thomas let the pizza do the talking, and students and professors were quickly listening. As the crowds grew, the ambiance stayed the same: a famously dusky, relaxed hangout with dark brick walls covered in decades of customer-etched graffiti, odes to love and existential “I was here” proclamations.

Over the past 35 years, Thomas (now joined by her three sons, one of whom is a chef), have taken The Pie from one location to soon-to-be six—stretching from South Jordan to Ogden. As managing member, Thomas guides the family-owned and operated business, maintaining its commitment to its no-shortcuts philosophy even as the company has grown.

Thomas received the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award for shepherding the restaurant through its growth—no small feat considering the intense competition in the pizza sector. “The Pie stands out from the national pizza chains and other pizza competitors because we change with the times,” she says. “We maintain the integrity of our original product, but we also add additional healthy options like vegan toppings, sprouted wheat dough, thin crust pizzas with light cheese and gluten-free pizzas. The Pie offers ghost pepper pizza dough for those who like extra hot food, and sweet dough for desert pizzas. Customers are not rushed off—they can sit and relax for as long as they like and be a part of The Pie by writing their name on the brick walls before they leave. The Pie also has a division that mails frozen pizzas all over the United States and the world. These pizzas are sent to our military forces overseas, college students, missionaries, relatives, friends and as gifts on holidays. Pie pizza is a little ‘taste of home’ for those who have to be away from Salt Lake.”

A perennial No. 1 choice among magazine, newspaper and online polls, The Pie offers traditional pizza toppings, but also gourmet selections like linguiça sausage, smoked gouda, bay shrimp and smoked oysters. Some of its specialty pizzas push the envelope further, like the seasonal Bacon-Berry (sweet strawberry balsamic sauce, roasted chicken, cilantro and strawberries) and The Greek (with authentic white cucumber sauce, gyro meat and a squeeze of fresh lemon). The menu rounds out with Zappis (calzones), baked subs, salads, breads and even unique noodle dishes like the Spicy Thai and Holy Shiitake Pasta.

Of the award, Thomas says, “As a woman in business, it was a tremendous honor to stand before my peers in the restaurant industry, to be recognized for surviving and succeeding since 1982 in a very competitive pizza marketplace. I have great respect for the Utah Restaurant Association and all they do to help family-owned businesses.”

For helping guide The Pie’s growth, endurance and culinary innovation, Jeanne Thomas more than deserves the prestigious 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

GOLDEN SPOON

Honoring a Utah restaurateur who personifies the hard work, passion, teamwork and leadership it takes to operate a successful restaurant

 

Eric_Scott_Slaymaker_WingersEric and Scott Slaymaker
Wingers

They say opening a restaurant can be one of the toughest business ventures around. They also say working with family can be one of the most challenging ways to build a business. But Eric and Scott Slaymaker (aka the Winger Bros.) have bet against the odds and won, wildly, with the success of their joint venture, Wingers.

They began working together back in the 1980s, with their first concept, California C&R, a small counter-service eatery built inside a vintage 1940s rail car. Stationed in downtown Salt Lake, the burgers, sandwiches and salads helped get the place moving, but it was the wings and ribs—with a fresh twist on a hot-sweet sauce—that really helped the duo pick up speed. As the guests accumulated and the awards started piling up, they decided to take their crowd favorite further.

They opened their first Winger’s in Bountiful in 1993, with the Original Amazing Sauce as the catalyst. Over the past 20-plus years, they’ve expanded the wing options (original or naked) and now tantalize customers with sauces that include Bourbon BBQ, Rebel, Sweet Red Chili Pepper, Island Teriyaki, and Classic and Atomic Buffalo.

But they’re not just about wings. With a culinary philosophy dedicated to “serving the most popular food items of the day,” they’ve paid close attention to what customers want, adding menu items such as the Fowl Cow Burger (chicken breast, burger, fried egg and bacon) and Baja Deep Tacos (grilled mahi mahi, mango slaw, strawberries and guacamole). They’ve also taken their locations farther, with a mix of corporate-owned and franchised stores in Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Wyoming.

For all their achievements, Eric and Scott recently received the 2016 Golden Spoon Award (Restaurateur of the Year). Both were taken aback by the award. Scott says, “I must admit to being completely surprised. I have never had any real expectations of being recognized for what we do every day as a matter of course. It is a great honor not only for Eric and myself, but for all of the people in our organization that work very hard every day to provide great experiences for our guests.”

When asked what have been the biggest lessons learned along the way, Scott says, “Credibility and trust is huge. You must earn it every day in everything you do. When confronted with difficult decisions, you often hear our team leaders say, ‘Do the right thing,’ even though it may not be the easy decision.”

As for the secret to working with family, Eric says, “At times it can be very challenging and always creates a different dynamic than a company that is not family-owned. Luckily, Scott and I have worked well together, and understand our strengths and weaknesses, so that we have been able to work through the typical family issues that often arise.”

 

HALL OF FAME

Honoring a Utah restaurant industry leader whose contributions have helped shape the culinary landscape over the course of the last 50 years

 

Tom GuinneyTom Guinney
Gastronomy

With its San Francisco Cioppino, Gulf Coast Shrimp & Scallops and Outer Banks Calamari, Market Street Grill beckons otherwise landlocked diners to savor its oceanic fare. The acclaimed restaurant opened its doors in 1980 on the renovated main floor of the historic 1906 New York Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. It was the first restaurant Tom Guinney helped establish with partner John Williams, launched just two years after Williams and partner Tom Seig opened the New Yorker restaurant, under the same restored hotel roof. From there, the trio went on to create parent company Gastronomy, Inc., which would ultimately elevate Utah’s fine dining landscape.

In the early days, Gastronomy’s discriminating insistence on serving up the freshest seafood possible—as in fresh from the ocean in 24 to 48 hours—meant the restaurateurs exclusively arranged for Delta Air Lines to fly the latest catch to Salt Lake City on a regular basis. Guinney, who was just recognized with the 2016 Hall of Fame Award, says, “We have always cared deeply about our people, the quality of our product, and the delivery of our service and food. Our customers are number one.”

Gastronomy’s attention to detail showed not only in its menus, but also in its locations. Market Street’s second iteration was in the aging 1930s Firehouse No. 8 across from the University of Utah, which Gastronomy transformed into a stunning historic eatery.

Gastronomy’s turns at Italian and Mexican cuisine, Baci Trattoria and Café Pierpont, brought elegance and vitality to downtown Salt Lake’s Pierpont Street. And as Market Street has settled into its current additional locations (Cottonwood Heights and South Jordan), each venue has maintained the downtown restaurant’s signature ambiance and energy, with exhibition kitchens, long counters and tile floors, all “reminiscent of the grills of the 1930s.”

Over the past 35-plus years, Tom Guinney has helped oversee the growth of the company, something that has been a lifelong passion. “I was literally born into the restaurant business and have worked here all my life. I’m committed to the industry, to the people who work in it, and to the people who are our customers,” he says.

And while a Hall of Fame honor connotes a look backward, Guinney is also looking ahead. “Our vision for the future is the same vision we have always followed: the art of good eating,” he says. “Gastronomy continues its mission to provide the best food, ambiance and service. Our goal is to continue to follow the vision set out when we began. Additionally, we are supporting programs like ProStart through the Utah Restaurant Association to nurture young people in their pursuits in this industry. ProStart reaches over 95,000 students nationwide in 1,700 schools and gives students a platform to discover new interests and talents.”

As a lasting tribute to those who have shared in his journey, Guinney says, “The award recognizes the great strides the company has made and the long-term contributions we have made to the hospitality scene in Utah. It came at a time we were all mourning over the death of my business partner John Williams. It was a very poignant reminder that he was instrumental in my success.”

NEW CONCEPT AWARDS

NEW CONCEPT – QUICK SERVICE

Jersey Mike'sJersey Mike’s Subs
It’s the same basic elements: meat, veggies, cheese, a few condiments, a dash of spices and a hoagie. One might think it’s already been done a zillion times over, so why try bringing something fresh to the Utah’s sub scene? But while Jersey Mike’s Subs is new to Utah (the first local store opened in Cottonwood Heights last year), it isn’t a newbie to subs—in fact, the original restaurant was part of the dawn of the sub sandwich era back in the ‘50s, when its first proprietor, Mike, opened his mom-and-pop shop on the Jersey Shore.

Not much has changed since its earliest days, when attention to quality and outgoing customer service were the hallmarks of the sandwich hot spot in Pleasant Point, New Jersey. Today there are more than 1,500 restaurants opened or under development across the country, all making subs “Mike’s Way®” with the trademark tartness of “the juice”—a red wine and olive oil blend. With meats and cheeses sliced in the restaurant and bread baked in the store, Jersey Mike’s prioritizes freshness. And now that it’s bringing its unique take on an American favorite to Utah (a second store opened in Salt Lake City earlier this year), more Utahns will get a taste of that Jersey Shore zing.

 

NEW CONCEPT – FAST CASUAL

Pizzeria LimonePizzeria Limone
When prosciutto, blackberries and basil come together atop a hand-stretched crust, blistered delectably under the heat of a custom oven, you know this isn’t your everyday pizza, nor your run-of-the-mill fast-casual stop. This is Pizzeria Limone, a “Neapolitan Revival” that started as a dream, literally.

Back in 2011, Jeff Whiting, who had taken Aspen Hills Bakery from a single store to more than a dozen from Palm Springs to Chicago in the ‘90s, awoke with the idea fresh in his mind. He shared the concept with his wife, Jana, and they decided to make it a reality. Opening their flagship restaurant in Cottonwood Heights a few months later, they’ve since expanded Pizzeria Limone to five (soon-to-be six) locations throughout the state.

The atmosphere is a rustic-contemporary fusion, which mirrors the menu—described as “mouthwatering pizzas that stay close to their Italian roots, but that are also innovative and delicious.” The Limone, for example, piques the palate with a gathering of garlic, red onions, basil and sliced lemons. The Pera surprises with prosciutto, sliced pears and pistachios. The fire-roasted tomato Zuppa (topped with creme fraiche, pistachios and basil) is a popular starter and the house gelato finishes things up nicely for guests from downtown Salt Lake to St. George.

 

NEW CONCEPT – FINE DINE

HSL RestaurantHSL Restaurant
One of downtown’s newest fine dine establishments has already caught the attention of discerning patrons and the press—HSL Restaurant. With an impressive pedigree, it is a fresh evolution of Park City’s acclaimed Handle (which has been mentioned in The New York Times, Forbes, Food & Wine and other prestigious publications).

Members of Handle’s team, including Chef Briar Handly and Partners Melissa Gray and Meagan Nash, collaborated to curate “a dining experience that combines the best of Handle with new offerings that complement our downtown location.”

With particular attention to guests’ aesthetic experience, the interiors were designed by Melissa Gray and Cody Derrick of the renowned City Home Collective. And as for the menu, the team has placed priority on local sourcing and foraging, with selections that include starters such as lavache (with dry aged beef tartare, caper, cornichon, hen egg yolk and torn herbs) and wood-burnt pork shank (buffalo-style with apple, celery and whipped ranch). Entrees include rope-grown mussels with patis fumet and grilled flap steak with potato puree, roasted salsify, artichoke barigoule and veal demi glace.

An equally distinguished wine selection, cocktail offerings and desserts round out the offerings in this intimate space that seats no more than 100 guests.

 

HEART OF THE INDUSTRY AWARDS

 

 CHEF OF THE YEAR             

Dave Jones
Log Haven

Dave Jones got into the restaurant business after realizing the aptitude he lacked in the classroom he had in abundance in the kitchen. After a couple of years of struggling in college, he dropped out, walked into the best restaurant he knew in the Monterey Bay and got a job.

“I dedicated myself to working one year at that restaurant to see if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and it all clicked,” he says.

After that year, Jones decided to take cooking seriously. He enrolled in the California Culinary Academy and never looked back. His skills and flair led him through several restaurants in California before bringing him to Utah, and ultimately netted him the title of Chef of the Year at the 2016 Utah Restaurant Association Heart of the Industry Awards.

Jones has been a witness to—and major player in—the birth and explosive growth of Utah’s food scene. Since being recruited by Log Haven in 1994, Jones has spent roughly 18 years (he took a break or two to work on other projects) developing and perfecting the restaurant’s menu and reputation. The state of the state’s gastronomic industry from then until now is night and day, he says.

“It’s been a privilege to be part of that experience and really enjoy the diversity that we have now around the state,” he says.

Along the way, he’s also found himself helping add to the restaurant scene all over the region as employees and protégés take what they’ve learned at Log Haven and use it elsewhere—cooking is, after all, a borrowed experience, he says.

“One of the coolest things over the years when you’ve been in the game this long is to see the success of people who have worked in your kitchen over the years in different places,” he says. “Food overall, over the years, has always been inspired by others.”

 

BARTENDER OF THE YEAR

Scott Gardner
HSL Restaurant

Scott Gardner fell into bartending through the strength of his curiosity. Starting out as a server in Albuquerque, Gardner eventually began to bartend and then never left the trade. He began to build on his knowledge, first with wine—taking the Court of Master Sommelier track and the level 1 test—and then with spirits. It was the latter that captured his interest and passion. He began to work at Bar X, where he focused on the creation of cocktails, PAGO, and then Finca.

Working in restaurants and learning from the kitchen, says Gardner, helped mold his style as a drink maker and bartender. When creating a menu for a restaurant, Gardner says the challenge is making a cocktail that pairs well with food.

“I didn’t want [my cocktails] to feel like a big heavy booze bomb like a Manhattan—after or before dinner, that’s fine. With dinner, not so much,” says Gardner.

Gardner opts for smooth, complex flavors in a minimalist design. Everything, he says, is about balancing flavor and texture while elevating flavor combinations. If Gardner wants to add a flavor to his cocktail—be it something unusual like sesame or something classic like lime juice—he finds ways to make sure the characteristics of that ingredient don’t negatively affect the cocktail’s texture. For the rum drink he’s created for HSL, Gardner uses agar-agar to clarify the lime juice, making it crystal clear with a silken texture that adds, rather than detracts, from his cocktail’s appearance and flavor.

“You clarify it, refine it, and make something you can drink with dinner rather than before or after. It’s sort of deceiving. It looks like a glass of water, but it’s a powerful flavor,” he says.

Gardner will be with HSL through July, after which he will focus on opening a neighborhood bar, Water Witch, at Central 9th Market with his two partners, Sean Neves and Matt Pfohl.

 

EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR

Sasha Gray
Lagoon Corporation 

The 2016 Employee of the Year recipient is the perfect combination of strong vision, work ethic, leadership and fun—all qualities that are vital for her position. Sasha Gray has worked for Lagoon for over 20 years, and she is one of the most respected people in the Lagoon family. Her responsibilities include overseeing more than 700 employees on a daily basis, and her team serves over 240,000 catered meals in a four-month time frame.

 

FRONT OF THE HOUSE

 

Maria Bawden
Litza’s Pizza

Maria Bawden has been working at the same great restaurant, Litza’s Pizza, for over two decades. She began working as a teenager and her first duties included salad making. She quickly progressed to becoming a server, and now she is known for always greeting people with a smile and a warm welcome. Bawden is notorious for making her customers feel like family and is a favorite server at Litza’s Pizza.

 

 BACK OF THE HOUSE

Kendra Begay
Even Stevens

Kendra Begay has been cooking in kitchens for nine years and joined Even Stevens in 2014. She is the definition of a team player, training new employees as well as rocking the dining room with her great big smile at the Sugar House location. Her infectious positive attitude has made her a valued part of the Even Stevens family.