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What 2024 has in store for the Utah dining scene

Crystall ball predictions for 2024 (Midjourney)

Welcome to the other side everyone, welcome to 2024. You’ll be glad to hear I’m done with all the recapping, remixing and retelling of the stories that were. Now it’s time for the stories that will be. The businesses, names and dishes that you’ll be encountering this year across Utah.

One of the most eagerly awaited stories I write about each year, the monthly recaps of what’s new and notable. So let’s start here. Here are some of the names I’m personally tracking for the month’s ahead.

Cosmica

This one should be at the top of your list to keep tabs on in 2024. Several talented toques are involved, not least local restaurateur Ryan Lowder (Copper Onion, Copper Common). While chewing the fat with Lowder about the upcoming Cosmica (945 S 300 W), he was keen to underplay his own involvement, instead preferring to giddily gab about the skills of the project’s partners.

Zak Pelaccio is a key figure behind Cosmica, notably a James Beard best chef winner (2016) for the much lauded Fish & Game in Hudson, NY. The restaurant eventually went on to be named one of the most influential restaurants of the decade by Esquire in 2020. Pelaccio’s CV is stacked with hits, not least the Malaysian-fueled Fatty Crab that wowed New Yorkers for years.

The chef on site at Cosmica will be Zach Wade, who has previous tenure alongside Pelaccio back in New York – most recently at Lola. The menu? I’m going to hold onto that last little secret a while longer – count on a full preview as we get into the year proper. Expect a restaurant resplendent in 70’s mustards and greens, one that pays homage to SLC history while flashing with Italian flair. “I miss the feel of the iconic American diner”, teases Lowder as we wrap.

Cramer House

This 2,000 square foot brick building is the next target on the map for the Water Witch team; last seen opening the unique Bar Nohm in trendy Central 9th to much fanfare.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Cramer House was built in 1890 by Danish immigrant Christopher Cramer. His titular flower shop is long since gone as downtown SLC’s skyline has spiraled up around it. You can find CH amidst the new Aster development’s two new mixed-use buildings. The building sits on the public plaza that separates the new builds.

Details on precisely what the James Beard nominated Witchers have in store for the bar have yet to be released, but you know where to look when they are – yep – hit that subscribe button at the top of the page.

Templin Family Wines

You might’ve missed this one in the small print of December 2023’s DABS meeting, but a new winery manufacturing license was granted to this very well known local name. I reached out to the team at T.F. Brewing who confirmed that yes, this is indeed a new venture for the award winning brewer. There are no firm details for me to share at this time, but I’m told that might change come the Summer of 2024. As far as I am aware this is should be an Utah first, a brewer making the leap to fermenter.

Mensho

Coming to the Post District this year, sometime late Summer or early Fall the owners tell me. Mensho is the famous name that was kick started in Japan by Tomaharu Shono. Growing operations across the globe saw a first U.S. outpost land in San Francisco which in turn has been Michelin rated since 2017. The company tout a “farm to bowl” approach to their ramen, leaning on local farms and seasonal updates.

Hoppers

Ever since the closure of the famed Midvale brewpub location, locals have lamented the loss of this one. To confirm, work continues at the Central 9th location – and I believe a Daybreak location is still in the works too. Here’s hoping that 2024 is the year we see the name return and raise a glass with them. The Central 9th location directly faces the likes of Scion, Laziz and Central 9th Market – it would make for an even buzzier strip of food and drink. One that could arguably compete with sections of downtown and Sugar House.

Repeal

Repeal should be what rises from the ashes of the now departed Bourbon House. Kelly Howard – the chap who setup Prohibition in Murray – took over the lease for the Walker Center basement space last year and began to completely remodel the underground bar.

During a 2023 DABS meeting Howard noted the renovation will be exhaustive, completely tearing the venue apart, right down to the bare concrete. Repeal should feature a whole new bar built from scratch; the kitchen size will effectively double too.

Felt Bar & Eatery

While I can’t dig up any precise info on this one yet, I do know it’s what’s set to replace the departed Pago On Main in downtown Salt Lake City. Signs are now up on the street facing windows at the Felt Building (341 S. Main Street). They in turn link to the following as yet to updated Instagram page. Word on the street is that a former Takashi alumni will be leading the charge here, with the business currently on the wait list for a precious bar license. Whatever transpires this should add another interesting option to busy Main.

Neptune’s Palace

Still no official word on what might be next for this one, but the name still appears each month on DABS license applicants for a bar license. Presumably, it’s still a work in progress. The last I heard was almost a year ago when the Downtown Alliance’s Joshua Jones wrote, “promising authentic tiki drinks and animatronics in a whimsically-themed world. The name truly lives up to the Willy Wonka-meets-Hunter S. Thompson vibes that we’ve heard about through the rumor mill.”

Chain, chain, chains

Don’t believe the hype that Utahns are somehow overly obsessed with chain openings – it happens everywhere folks. The truth of the matter is that as much as Beehive denizens love the shiniest new franchise, those chains love Utah even more.

Shake Shack debuted a few years back to seismic reverberations; with the Riverton location’s drive thru launch, a first for the Danny Meyer directed group. During the the second half of 2023 Panera opened their first proper store in the state, while Smash Burger have big plans to expand further. You might recall that Jack In The Box opened to much clamor last year and the launch has the chain gleefully seeking more growth with Utah stores averaging $100K per week. Meanwhile Raising Cane’s are screaming toward a $10 billion operation, expansion states like Utah a clear driver of business.

Confirmed for this year is Flower Child, part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts, latterly purchased by Cheesecake Factory. Expect Flower Child to debut their “farm-fresh, fast casual food everyday” this year for sure. Super star chef Bobby Flay’s burger brand is still targeting town, while Cheesecake Factory themselves recently announced their first Utah county operation. Expect more, many more. Expect abundant complaints and hand wringing, while subsequent lines develop at debuting stores.

On the higher end of the spectrum boutique offerings are also flocking to Utah. Mexican eatery Sol Agave recently opened the doors at their 650 S. Main location, making it six or the Cali-based operator; it’s a similar story to the opening of Sugar House’s El Cholo just a few months prior. Just over the the holiday period, global brand STK flung open their ritzy doors opposite the Delta Center.

Groundbreaking growth

The next couple of years should be transformative for downtown SLC. A raft of massive new projects like the Astra are finishing up. One has to assume the copious amounts of ground floor retail will be occupied by at least a few new restaurant names.

Further developments are also slowly moving the center of downtown Salt Lake City’s center of gravity westward. The West Quarter development saw The Le Meridien / Element hotel duo open in ’23, along with the on-site Adelaide restaurant and the Van Ryder rooftop bar. The aforementioned STK opened in the final week of last year, with phase two of the area revamp now underway.

The larger hospitality scene is seeing a refresh too. Both the Radisson and Marriott are undergoing revisions, while Hotel Monaco recently finished their grand makeover; both Bambara and onsite bar The Vault seeing dramatic re-imagining. Asher Adams’ big, bold hotel project on the edge of the Gateway recently topped out and is gunning for a 2024 Fall debut – four dining options will apparently accompany a couple hundred rooms and suites.

Who knows what additional investment and growth will result from the return of the Winter Olympics. In ten years time, people will still be telling you, “you should have see it here just five years ago”.

Mealtime mavericks

While food halls briefly caught the imagination over the past eighteen months, a cool down in newcomers has seemingly bookended that one for now. The next trend? Ephemeral food is the new food truck dontcha know. 2023 witnessed numerous blink and you’ll miss ’em moments. A keen and well informed social media eye is needed to enjoy many newer projects around Salt Lake City.

Case in point, Arthur returned to SLC just before Christmas this year, arriving, plating and packing up in half the time it took me to pen this post. Central 9th have been a stalwart in supporting micro startups this year, misfit bagel and bedlam baking just two names that come to mind.

Familiar faces from C9 have appeared at popup events at the likes of Arlo, ACME, Citizens and more. Sunburst Fog Oysters, Thank You For Short Notice, Sunakku, Noche – the list of extemporaneous entrepreneurs is growing almost weekly. These concepts eschew prior wisdom that a permanent location, food hall counter, or roaming truck are required. All a would be creative cook needs is a willing bar or restaurant to host.

Meanwhile over on the apps (they aren’t going away, as much as you kick and scream) a new breed of businesses are solidifying. I’ve spoken about ghost and virtual kitchens before, but the likes of 9UP, Drunken Kitchen, and Marcato Kitchen speak to more refined models of operation – boutique businesses built around doorstep deliveries.

Liquor law legislation

Update: things are looking optimistic with this one.

All hospitality eyes this year will be on the impending 2024 legislative session. So far there’s been surprisingly little news about what if anything might be on the docket – which could be a worrying portent. In this recent interview on City Cast, Ben Winslow commented on what he’s heard from the hill. Spoiler alert, it’s little beyond minor technical adjustments. Winslow also confirmed that an expected report – issued to study Utah’s quota laws in comparison to other control states – has yet to materialize. As a reminder, seven bar licenses remain up for grabs in Utah. These need to last until the Summer.

The larger picture

Fees

The National Restaurant Association are leading this fight back against possible FTC updates. The proposed policy changes date back to October 2023 and would work to combat “unfair or deceptive fees”. Translated into the hospitality arena this might preclude the charging of service fees, levies for large groups, or credit card processing fees.

Inflation

While the headlines are all about the dropping rate of inflation, it’s important to note that doesn’t mean prices are coming down, merely continuing to rise at a slower rate. A seemingly obvious point, but still missed by many. Hands up who routinely hears the word deflation bandied around, nope, me neither. Until you do, that means pricing pressure on restaurants from all directions continues.

From watching the previous year’s restaurant closures I still fear we’ve not seen restaurants completely price this into their menus. It’s understandable that many, especially smaller mom and pops, are loath to pass these costs onto consumers via their menus. The unwinding shock will undoubtedly see many more sadly having to call it quits in 2024.

Tipping

One of the predictions in this piece that caught my eye was the continuing murmuring around tipping. While most of us are aware of the increasing consumer ire at tipping screens popping up at every encounter – RBO’s Peter Romero cites another interesting item to watch in 2024.

Romero notes that many states are working to end what’s known as the “tip credit” afforded to restaurant operators. At least six states are working to upend this current model, which allows restaurants to blend hourly wages with tips. An end to the tip credit would mean employers would need to meet minimum wage requirements *without* tips included in their calculations. Here’s the NRA‘s explanation and rebuttal of the moves, in respect of the viewpoint of a restaurant operator.

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Featured image: midjourney v6



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2 thoughts on “What 2024 has in store for the Utah dining scene”

  1. I recently subscribed to your newsletter, and have already made some great discoveries thanks to you. I am requesting that you always include an address when discussing a restaurant. For obvious reasons I am much more interested in restaurants that are near where I habitually travel, and read those reviews carefully. If I know a restaurant is in Herriman, the review will get a brief glance at best. Thanks again for this great service for local foodies!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Chase, I’ll definitely review how we handle formatting and info like this, you’re not the first to mention this one 🙂

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