Restaurants that saved old buildings from the wrecking ball
Restaurants follow trends. Whether it’s an unusual ingredient or a new eye-catching technique, there’s something new to embrace. My favorite trend is about renovation—when a restaurant revitalizes a run-down building that had a different purpose in days gone by.
Salt Lake City has many old buildings crying out to be brought back to life. There are different ways to accomplish this, like putting in a specialty boutique or bookstore. However, what better way to enrich our community than to locate a restaurant in a historic building? People will again use a building that was left behind, untended and unappreciated, and gather there to eat and celebrate. It’s a great trend I hope to see more of. Come along and explore four renewed spaced that are now thriving restaurants.
The Rose Establishment
In 2009, Erica O’Brien sat with her father on the porch of the old Cudahy meat-packing facility, watching bicyclists pedal by. For two years, she’d been looking for the perfect spot to create her first restaurant, and she told her dad that this building, an old warehouse across from The Gateway, was definitely the place.
Cudahy built its meat-packing plant in 1918 to process beef after it arrived by rail that ran directly past their loading dock. The building also had a few offices and a small storefront where locals could buy meat.
Subsequently, the building became home to the Challenge Butter & Creamery. Then, it sat idle and vacant until O’Brien partnered with her father to transform it into what it is now: The Rose Establishment. She had a vision and he had years of experience renovating buildings. They agreed that if they were going undertake a major project, they should do as much of the work as possible themselves. They used copper piping throughout—you won’t find any PVC at all. The industrial design and tile floors and walls are complemented by a warm, inviting decor that includes a flower-trimmed patio in the summer, antique wood, and green plants throughout the interior.
Today, The Rose Establishment focuses on high quality, organic and local food, served up in a stunning setting in the heart of Salt Lake City.
Stay tuned for O’Brien’s next renovation called Ta Contento (meaning “I am contented”) coming soon to the old Vertical Diner on West Temple.
235 S. 400 West, SLC
Before it housed this eatery, this space was home to the Saltair Railroad Co., the Utah Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Village Brownstone Clothier, an investment firm and, believe it or not, a head shop called the White Rabbit. It was also the original Red Apple lunch spot.
The three-story Brownstone Building was built as the Utah Commercial & Savings Bank in 1890. Richard K.A. Kletting designed the brownstone, which is considered a rare example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Utah. Modeled after New York City’s brownstones, it’s actually built with red sandstone quarried locally from Red Butte Canyon. The building, also built with brick and oak, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
When Bill Campbell (the building’s current owner) came onto the scene in the late ’90s, he decided to invest in the building, which was in such disrepair, it wasn’t even safe to enter. After making upgrades, he signed a preservation easement with the Utah Heritage Foundation to keep the building in its current condition or better.
Martine Café set up shop in the brownstone in 1999, with co-owners Scott Hale and Tom Grant at the helm. While they’ve been around awhile, Martine’s cuisine never seems out of date. Martine led with the small plates concept, and they continue to offer a robust menu of tapas as well as entrées. They also have devised a more thrifty prix fixe menu for theater-goers.
While you’re there enjoying the locally sourced organic dishes, take in the many historic touches: The chairs were brought in from the old Peery Hotel, and the flooring is the original Italian linoleum. Look up and you’ll see 15-foot-high ceilings in the two main dining rooms.
Behind the bar is a beautiful metal-and-wood staircase still in use after 128 years. The mezzanine overlooks the restaurant and is lit by a skylight. The space also boasts two original bank-vault doors, one of which contains Martine’s atmosphere-controlled wine cellar. (I’ll leave it to you to discover what’s within Vault No. 2.)
After two major downtown construction projects limited access to their restaurant, Hale and Grant used the slowdown in 2014 to update Martine. They removed sheetrock to expose historic red brick and refinished the entry. They also reupholstered the booths, installed new floor tiles and expanded the kitchen. For those who love historic buildings, the brownstone is a heavy hitter, one that will be around for the ages. Martine is here now, a place to meet and mingle in the city’s vibrant downtown.
22 E. 100 South, SLC
Current Fish & Oyster
Constructed in 1923, this beautiful building housed the Baker Ford dealership for several decades. After that, it became Salt Lake Antiques. According to Joel LaSalle (co-owner of Current and design leader for the LaSalle Restaurant Group), the building was ideal for Current because of its proximity to the city’s business district as well as to nearby neighborhoods.
The bones of the structure reminded him of the seaside warehouse buildings in places like San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and Boston. The big barrel roofs, original windows, metal and wood give the space a dramatic, open feel. The large exterior windows bring in natural light, and the high arching ceilings and metal turnbuckle spines throughout add to the incredible energy of this space.
Building renovations had already been underway for a few years prior to LaSalle Group’s purchase in late 2014. They immediately began to shape the restaurant space we know today, which opened in March 2015. The eatery boasts a simple and understated design, intended to let the history, the character and the outstanding seafood cuisine shine.
279 E. 300 South, SLC
You might remember a run-down eyesore of a building on 900 South, just north of Liberty Park. It sat idle for 32 years without any activity within its walls. For a short time, it housed a business that rented out bicycles and roller-skates to park-goers. Built in 1932, it originally was a gas station.
Enter the two modern-day owners, Salt Lake City locals Ashton Aragon and Max Shrives. They decided it was just the spot for their first venture together, now known as the restaurant Tradition.
When renovations started in December 2016, the floors were dirt and at least a foot lower than they currently are. Aragon and Shrives (who is also the head chef) loved the look of the old brick walls, so what you see today are the 86-year-old original service station walls. In April 2017, they opened for business.
Patrons at Tradition come for the made-from-scratch cuisine and cocktails, and they might find it hard to envision that they’re sitting in the bays where the automobiles were serviced in days gone by. If they didn’t know the building’s history beforehand, they’d never guess it from the renovation.
At the front of Tradition is a 21-and-over area. This is the structure’s oldest section (it’s registered with the Utah State Historical Society), and it’s a pleasure to sit here enjoying an adult beverage or two.
501 E. 900 South, SLC
All of these fantastic restaurants deserve our appreciation and patronage. Now that you know how they came to be, perhaps you’ll be able to appreciate them that much more. Enjoy the great food and atmosphere in these renovated and repurposed buildings.