While many might know Draper’s Pirate O’s Gourmet Market for their gleeful collection of European candies and chocolates, I’m willing to wager many might not know the complete story. Flickering to life in the mid 1990s, the gourmet grocer was more happy accident than planned 25 year success story.
Opened by Orian Collinsworth (the titular Pirate O and captain of the ship) as a wholesale distribution operation, friends and acquaintances would repeatedly ask to purchase just one or two of the precious things they knew to be lurking inside. Reluctance happily gave way to relent and by 1999 Collinsworth found himself with a fully blown retail operation on his hands.
The magic behind the longevity stems from the delightfully expansive collection of specialty items, with local, regional, and international products making appearances. The Utah angle was something I wasn’t fully appreciative of until I took a tour around the aisles of the market. Indeed, supporting local producers has been part of the Pirate DNA from the get go. A quick flick through press archives shows an early example from more than twenty year’s ago – Buck & Dan’s Fancy Smoked Salmon – just one of many local producers boosted by the store.
The names have been numerous and notable throughout the store’s 25 year history. Beehive Cheese are just one brand that first established their credentials at Pirate O’s, their product available here first. The award winning cheesemaker can still be found amongst the extensive dairy display in the store; but showcasing startups doesn’t come without the odd upheaval. “Sometimes they just grow too big, they aren’t able to work with our single store operation anymore,” Kiki Collinsworth explained.
That doesn’t deter the company’s passion for local one bit mind you. Collinsworth continues, “When someone moves on, we’re excited to help the next newcomer. Sometimes brand new producers will stop by the store. We’re always sampling and offering feedback. We often find something we’d love to stock, but the company is just too early for production. It’s not uncommon for us to say, hey why don’t you make that for our in house label.”
Throughout the store you’ll find a variety of Pirate O’s branded products, many made in such a fashion with local producers. Salsitas Mendoza are a fine example, the Pirate O’s team collaborating with the company from their most nascent days. The partnership continues to this day, Salsitas helping perfect the in house tortilla chips and salsa the store offers. And if you want my two cents: Salsitas make the best enchilada sauce in the state, a richly-clove warmed velvet thing that knocks my socks off every time.
Amongst the labyrinthine layout you’ll find staggering variety, largely informed by European influence. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last year, Collinsworth senior confirmed, “The first people to have mercy on us was the Dutch. The Dutch customers came in and they saw some Dutch items in the store and asked, ‘Can you get this, can you get that?’ Then, the next people who had mercy on us were the Germans thanks to the late Marianne Young, who owned a German deli and restaurant, Marianne’s Delicatessen, in downtown Salt Lake City for 40 years.”
Glaswegian accents mingle with Münchnerisch, as an eclectic clientele seek out flavor memories from home. British bangers for your mash. Aussie Tim Tams for your tea. Whole sections of the shop are given over to distinctive deep dives; there’s nowhere like it in the city. A twenty foot wall of hot sauces is bewilderingly comprehensive, an entire room is dedicated to pasta, while another section unfurls with a sprawling array of unique soda. And of course there’s the chocolate and candy, a huge driver of foot traffic, especially in Winter months where the store enjoys its briskest trade. Multiple aisles replete with European names you might fondly recall from a vacation past. Ever tried a Crunchie? Turkish delight? German Milka chocolate?
The collection is delightfully idiosyncratic, eclectic and thoughtful. I could happily spend paragraph after paragraph detailing the lineup, but part of Pirate O’s fun is ambling from aisle to aisle, unearthing a new treasure on each visit. The store switches product in and out regularly – often with direct input from shopper’s suggestions. “Plenty of what you see here, was a direct result of someone asking us, are you able to stock this?” Collinsworth offers as we walk around the store.
We end up at the sandwich counter, which happens be one of the best kept lunch secrets in town, and makes my personal best sandwiches list; classic deli cuts as well as impressive hot panini that crib from in store product. The turkey and bacon panini is a best seller for good reason, enjoy it on the covered patio out front to bookend a well earned shopping spree.
As the younger Collinsworth clan start to take a bigger day to day interest in the business, gentle evolution is part of the plan ahead. “Online ordering for some items should be here for the holidays”, Collinsworth tells me, “with our busy season approaching, gift baskets become a huge part of our business, online sales should help streamline the shopping process for everyone.” The curated assortments are smartly themed and fly off the shelves October through December (n.b. the business is presently hiring full steam for this period).
The exterior grounds are earmarked as part of a larger ongoing renovation, a small garden area out back, maybe a space for food trucks. And remember folks – if you don’t see what you want – it’s probably only a quick query away before the Pirate O’s team land that must have taste on their shelves.
11901 S 700 E, Draper, UT 84020
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[This story brought to you as part of Pirate O’s sponsorship of our site. Through the coming month’s we’ll dive a little deeper into those shelves.]
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV shows.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for the better part of fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”. Want to know more? This is why I am the way I am.
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