Apr 18, 2023 - News

Salt Lake's 9th and 9th dessert district draws a crowd

A crowd waits outside Xing Fu Tang boba shop at 9th and 9th. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

A crowd waits outside of Xing Fu Tang boba shop at 9th and 9th. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

Eateries are piling into Salt Lake's 9th and 9th neighborhood, creating a dessert district that's drawing crowds.

Yes, but: Some neighbors worry the business district isn't equipped for increased traffic, especially as the city prepares to rebuild its main thoroughfare this summer.

Driving the news: Hundreds of customers lined 900 South this weekend for the grand opening of the Taiwanese boba shop Xing Fu Tang — the latest specialty cafe to join the neighborhood.

  • The international chain makes the drinks' signature tapioca balls on-site and serves them freshly stewed, so they have a softer texture and more defined brown sugar flavor than most boba.

The big picture: Xing Fu Tang opens within a quarter mile of three ice cream parlors, two bakeries, two coffee shops, at least 10 restaurants, a smoothie shop, and a new yogurt and health food bar — with another opening soon next door.

  • Most of the neighborhood's eateries weren't there five years ago, and a new building will include space for yet another cafe.

The other side: The cluster of restaurants is making 9th and 9th "more of a destination hub" than residents envisioned a decade or two ago, said Kristina Robb, chair of the East Liberty Park Community Organization.

  • Parking has been tight for years, Robb said, with on-street spaces filling fast and cars squeezing into the narrow adjacent side streets. That was the chief objection neighbors' lodged when the building that houses Xing Fu Tang was being planned.

Reality check: 9th and 9th has long been an entertainment destination, with fixtures like the Tower Theater, Coffee Garden, Dolcetti Gelato and Pago restaurant pulling in guests since the 2000s and earlier.

  • But the hodgepodge of mom-and-pop businesses — dance studios, beauty shops and clothing boutiques — is thinning out a bit, and many of the newcomers are regional and national chains.

Meanwhile, in a 2019 survey of residents in the area near 9th and 9th, restaurants were the type of business most people said they wanted more of.

  • Residents said they also wanted more parking to be required for new buildings — and driving was the most common way respondents said they traveled to the neighborhood.

What we're watching: The city is rebuilding 900 South and plans to start construction at 9th and 9th in June or July, which could make the neighborhood's new businesses hard for customers to reach.

  • The rebuilt road will include a bike trail, which could make the area more accessible — unless "it really just becomes that everyone still drives their car and parks all through the neighborhood," Robb said.
  • In road construction planning documents, city officials wrote that 9th and 9th "still has significant room" for increased parking demand.

What's next: The community organization is planning a meeting with business owners and city officials in the next couple of weeks to discuss the pending construction impacts and long-term vision for the neighborhood.

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