Over the past 20 years that I’ve been covering the food scene in Utah, I’ve found that it’s a well-connected world. Chefs, restaurateurs, employees, food suppliers and customers often rub shoulders with each other. And, many people in the food industry tend to move around to different jobs.
So when two “food” people first meet each other, within a few minutes of conversation they realize they know a lot of the same people. It’s almost like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” idea that nearly anyone in Hollywood can be linked to Kevin Bacon.
In the case of Utah food happenings, maybe “Six Degrees of Bacon” is more appropriate.
A few weeks ago, I met a friend for dinner at the Brio Tuscan Grille that recently opened in downtown Salt Lake City. In chatting with the general manager, Bob Boyland, we realized we knew some of the same people. I tried to recall the name of a restaurant manager whom I used to silently call “Dapper Dan” because he was so well-dressed. Bob supplied his real name, adding, “He always looks like he just stepped out of GQ; he could be a model.”
I nodded in agreement, but kept my “Dapper Dan” nickname to myself.
Bob has had an interesting 20-year-career in the local food business. It started when he opened a small sandwich shop near Layton High School called Hoagies Heroes, which he owned for seven years. He later opened a coffee shop in Ogden called Cup Cup And Away. Do these places ring a few bells with Layton High alumni, or with Ogdenites who tend to hang at coffee shops with catchy names?
After a stint with the Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant chain, he opened up a smoothie bar in Sugarhouse that he called Jungle Juices. (See what I mean about the catchy names?)
“That was a really fun one, I had all kinds of fun names for the smoothies, and we had coffees and baked our own muffins and cookies,” he said.
When an opportunity came up, he sold Jungle Juices and became the manager of the deli and coffee bar and the downtown Wild Oats store (before it became Whole Foods).
“Then I went to work for the Harmons grocery store chain as they were getting into the natural foods business,” he said.
So how did he get from hoagies, coffee, smoothies and natural foods to an Italian restaurant? Through Buca di Beppo, another Italian chain that opened its first Utah location in anticipation of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“I did some research looking into Buca di Beppo, and one day I got a call from a recruiter. I was there for 11 years, starting as a sous chef, then became the head chef, and then was the general manager for 6 1/2 years,” he said.
So it wasn’t such a big leap to Brio, which is a bit more upmarket than Buca di Beppo or Olive Garden.
“Once I ate the food at the Murray store, I was sold,” he said. “The food here is a lot of crafty culinary type of cooking, with combinations of sweet and savory and layered flavors. There’s a lot more technique and education that goes into it.”
I have to agree. I ordered Salmon Griglia (grilled salmon) with roasted vegetables ($16.95), which tasted way more flavorful than the 450 calories listed on the menu.
One of the daily soups is a luxurious lobster bisque, studded with little chunks of lobster ($5.95). There are a lot of pastas on the menu, but nearly as many steaks, chops and seafood.
Since Brio seems to be a successful career move for Boyland, it might be his last in a long line of food jobs.
But I have no doubts that in the future, I’ll be talking to another chef or restaurant manager, and we’ll discover that we both know Bob Boyland.
The Six Degrees of Bacon strikes again.
Valerie Phillips blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.