Utah Hell's Backbone Grill, other popular restaurants at risk of closing
Some of Utah's most popular eateries are fighting to stay afloat as they struggle to emerge from the pandemic.
- Several other culinary mainstays have already closed.
Driving the news: Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder — Utah's first James Beard semifinalist for the nation's best restaurant — is trying to crowdfund its way to solvency, citing losses during COVID and rising costs.
- Owners Blake Spalding and Jen Castle were braced to deliver "the very sad announcement that we'd be closing our doors," they wrote in a newsletter Monday. Instead, they're trying to raise $324,000 for "short-term survival."
- Many other eateries — like Brownies x3 in Sugar House and Annie's Crepes and Pancakes in Bountiful — are warning customers of their vulnerability.
- Several hometown institutions like Salt Lake's Les Madeleines patisserie, Hector's in Millcreek and Murray's Restaurant Morelia shut their doors this month.
Why it matters: Some at-risk businesses are community fixtures and culinary standouts, many with strong visibility and passionately loyal customers.
- Hell's Backbone, for example, has collected an array of accolades in its 23 years.
- That suggests the industry's economic challenges are massive, imperiling even highly successful players.
State of play: Inflated prices for raw goods, supply chain disruptions, and labor shortages have converged in "a perfect storm," Molly Kohrman, owner of Brownies x 3, told Axios.
- Customers also are pinching pennies and buying less than they did before the pandemic, Kohrman said.
- After spending two years drastically changing operations to keep serving customers, a lot of owners are exhausted and can't take out more loans to keep trying new things, she added.
By the numbers: Egg prices have risen from $15–$18 a case pre-pandemic to around $60 Kohrman said. Butter has risen from $1 to more than $3 per pound.
- Meanwhile, sales are down. For example, Thanksgiving brownie pie orders were down 50% this year.
- "In the food industry when your profit margins are around 30%, 1–2% makes a big difference. A 50% decrease is pretty significant," Kohrman said.
The latest: Hell's Backbone had raised close to $150,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. But, the owners stressed, the restaurant's future is tenuous due to rising costs and "shockingly reduced" tourism in southern Utah this year.
- Spalding and Castle said they alerted customers last month that they were emotionally preparing to close, but decided to try fundraising after an outpouring of support.
- "There is no path forward without you," the owners wrote. "No matter what happens, thank you for showing up all of these years."
What they're saying: "It always breaks my heart when people hear that some place is closing, and they're like 'Oh, if I'd only known, I would have come more often,'" Kohrman said. "Right now, just assume everyone is struggling. And if you can afford to go out — do it."
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