Provo’s food culture

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The development of Provo’s downtown over the next few years is moving with the times, shaping up into more than just a commercial space. The Utah Valley Convention Center, which was completed in May 2012, will soon be followed by the completion of Nu Skin’s 164,000-sq.-foot Innovation Center next summer. The Provo City Center Temple is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2015.

This sort of influx of funds and construction being poured into the downtown area is what is allowing the city, along with its food culture, to develop, says Victor Sandoval.

Communal is one of many restaurants in Downtown Provo.

Four and a half months ago, Sandoval received a call from a business partner, who asked him to take a look at a restaurant concept they were looking to open up in Utah. Two weeks later, Sandoval gave up his home in sunny southern California to take the helm as head chef of Old Towne Grill in downtown Provo.

Over the past three years, 15 restaurants have opened along Center Street and University Avenue, a 39 percent increase to a current number of 53 independently owned and operated restaurants. The influx of restaurants in the area has also changed the dynamic for older restaurants in the area.

Wild Ginger, which has been open for nearly a year now, was a Chinese buffet that catered mostly to lower-income households. Today, the restaurant also features a sushi bar and an ala-carte Chinese menu that attracts college students and middle-class households. Along with that, Guru’s, a local health cafe, recently expanded to open Enliten, a new bakery concept.

The evolving food culture 

Kat Mason, co-owner of Black Sheep Cafe, said Provo has potential, and it’s time for the city to evolve.

“This is a great place to grow, especially for us,” she said. “We needed somewhere that we could grow with. Provo is helping us grow as we are helping them grow.”

At Gloria’s Little Italy, it is kind of hard to keep up with such a classic feel in a college town, said Chris King, assistant manager at the restaurant. Sometimes, he said, college kids don’t want to sit down and experience fine dining.

“The downside is that sometimes kids want something a little more casual than what we offer,” he said. “Our waiters are all in dress shirts and ties. Sometimes I think they (students) want to have a party when they eat. It’s happening, there’s music, there’s a live band. (They want) something different, something new, something funky and fresh. We don’t offer a whole lot of the funky and fresh. We offer a lot of quality; we offer a lot of good service.”

With the influx of restaurants, King said that though there might be more competition, it is actually helping business because more people are coming downtown to try out the different places. King said the dining experience is getting lost in a fast food, instant-gratification kind of mentality.

“There’s time in this spot, especially (with) the atmosphere we have,” King said. “It’s very charming, it’s very intimate and I think it gives people the opportunity to converse and to just enjoy the dining process.”

Gloria’s Little Italy has lunch combos and date deals too.

Development of Downtown Provo

With the influx of various developments and restaurants, Downtown Provo Inc., which manages the development of downtown, is helping restaurants with marketing and promotion, said Jared Morgan, executive director of Historic Downtown Provo. He said Provo is growing into its own, especially with the feel of the area.

“Downtown has a unique and historic feel to it; the architecture and eclectic nature of downtown Provo has drawn some great culinary options,” Morgan said. “Downtown Provo has been focusing on residential and commercial developments that bring population density to our geography. Downtown Provo is headed in a fantastic direction, the quality of life continues to increase.”

Mason said the reason she thinks so many restaurants are opening is because people saw restaurants and thought it might be a great idea. With some succeeding and others changing location or shutting down, the landscape of downtown Provo is changing.

“As a community, people saw that things needed to be done, and people followed that, and that’s how it’s gotten done,” she said.

Chris Neidiger, manager of Communal, elaborated on his designation of Provo as a destination spot.

“There’s so many suburbs around here that downtown Provo is becoming a destination for the locals, which has been something,” he said. “It is hard in a suburban area to establish this little thing that downtown Provo has going on.”

Learn more about Downtown Provo restaurants.

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