Logan and the surrounding community has been sheltered from many of the economic hardships the COVID-19 pandemic sparked due to the diversity of businesses in the area. While many other places are seeing businesses like restaurants shut their doors, three new restaurants have opened downtown in the last two months.
“I actually tried to open it in March, but I just stopped, and thought ‘I don’t want to do it,’” said Xiomara Robirds, who owns Mama’s Kitchen at 64 Federal Avenue. “I got scared, you know. I decided to open because it was getting better, but now it’s worse, and people are afraid to go out.”
Robirds had previously owned another Venezuelan restaurant in Idaho Falls, so she knew what she was getting into. But cooking is her passion.
“When people say, ‘Oh my God, it’s amazing,’ it just feels so good to make people happy,” she said. “And I just try to help people like when they’re in college, or they need money, they can work a couple hours. I know what that’s like.”
Though he’d never owned his own restaurant before, the same passion was the driving force behind Courtney Larsen taking over The Italian Place just down the street, at 48 Federal Avenue.
“I like to make food from scratch, and the only way I can make food the way I want to without compromising the quality is by owning my own place,” said the chef and Logan native. “You know, there’s a lot more economical ways to make money or make food, but it’s just not the food I want to make.”
Larsen had worked for the locally based bedding brand Malouf for six years and helped get its culinary program running but was presented the opportunity to take over The Italian Place in June. Within a month, he knew he’d rather make it his own, and That Sandwich Place reopened in September with a revamped menu featuring nearly all locally grown food and everything made from scratch — from the bread to the mayonnaise.
Although it’s a more time-consuming and involved process, the “made from scratch” aspect is something Larsen has championed for years, as it’s healthier and in most cases tastier than the cheaper frozen options.
“We keep sacrificing taste and quality of ingredients so that it can be mechanized, so that it can be made more efficiently and more industrial,” he said, “and we’re just losing methods of what food is supposed to do for us.”
Having healthy alternatives was also a huge draw for Jace Carmichael and Giddi Oteo, who took over Ah-Sigh-Ee and redubbed it “Crush” at 13 W. Center in Logan.
Oteo had grown up in the restaurant industry as multiple family members owned them back home in Provo. Carmichael, however, had not intended on getting into the business until he fell in love with whole foods and clean eating while the couple traveled the world in their camper-van.
Giddi worked at Ah-Sigh-Ee when the couple eventually settled in Cache County, while the two dreamed of eventually owning a food truck serving vegan versions of the smoothies and acai bowls.
“That’s one of the things that I really wanted to bring into the valley,” Oteo said, “so our restaurant is primarily plant-based.”
Similar to That Sandwich Place, new items have been added to the menu, such as gourmet toasts. Plans are to expand to soups and other food items rather than staying a “smoothie and juice shop.”
Carmichael said after rebranding as Crush and the new menu items were unveiled in September, business doubled. As cases have continued to surge, things have slowed down — something Robirds has seen on Federal Avenue, as well.
Larsen said That Sandwich Place was just starting to build up a new clientele when a positive COVID-19 case forced the staff to quarantine for two weeks.
“Looking at the books, I had about three months where I could keep paying to train people before this,” Larsen said. “I’m just a cook. I don’t have a lot of money behind me, no investors, I’ve just saved up my money.”
In order to stay in business, Larsen has had to cut all part-time employees so those depending on the business as the main source of income can still have some money coming in while the restaurant tries to get back on its feet.
“There’s just, unfortunately, not the funds to keep to keep open six days a week with untrained staff and trying to put all the extra money into training, while keeping the restaurant going,” Larsen said.
Instead, That Sandwich Place will reopen for online take-out orders three days a week, starting on Thursday.
“We’re going to keep doing things the hard way,” Larsen said. “We’ll keep making things from scratch, we’re going to make our bacon, we’re going to keep smoking our pork, we’re going to keep shaving down our Philly block, and we’re going to search out ingredients that we think are high quality. … We’re a scratch kitchen, and we’ll make everything from scratch as long as we can. If we can’t do it, we’ll close her up and call it good, but that’s our goal.”
When That Sandwich Place reopens, the menu can be found at www.thatsandwichplacelogan.com.
Mama’s Kitchen still is open for dine-in or carry-out, and the menu and contact information is available at mamaskitchenlogan.com.
Crush’s menu can be seen and online orders for pick-up can be placed at www.eatcrush.com.