I’ve always been interested in how restaurants got their names. I’ve interviewed a lot of restaurateurs in the past 20 year, and that’s one of the questions that I nearly always ask. Sometimes the name refers to a location, such as Market Street Grill in Salt Lake City, or Huntsville BBQ. Often they’re named for the owner, as in Gabor Brothers in Layton, Javier’s in Ogden and Farmington, or Valter’s Osteria in Salt Lake City. When you have an ice cream parlor and your last name is Farr, it’s a no-brainer to go with “Farr Better Ice Cream.”
A couple of my pet peeves with restaurant names: they should be easy to pronounce and remember. People aren’t going to recommend going there if they fear stumbling over the name and sounding stupid. And I’m not a fan of sticking “Grille,” on the end. It’s “Grill,” folks. It may seem more chic to add that extra “e” on the end, but a “Grille” goes on the front of a car. And most of those restaurants who spell it “Grille” seem to go out of business.
Many northern Utah restaurants have interesting stories behind their name. If you know the background on your favorite restaurant’s name, feel free to share the store in a comment.
The Copper Onion in Salt Lake City: Ryan and Colleen Lowder wanted a name “that sounded very Utah, and and something to let people recognize that we’re pretty vegetable-friendly,” Colleen Lowder said. “So we named it after the state mineral, which is copper, and the state vegetable, which is the onion.”
Hug-hes in Ogden, Syracuse and Layton. It’s not pronounced “Huggies,” or “Hughes,” but “Hugg-Hess.”
When they were opening the restaurant about 30 years ago, Blake and Kathryn Hawkins discussed name ideas with Kathyn’s sister, Marilyn Hughes.
“Marilyn remembered that when our dad, Reed Hughes, worked back East in the FBI, their nickname for him was Hug-Hes,” said Kathryn Hawkins.
“The folks he worked with back there mis-pronounced his name,” said Blake Hawkins.
So, the restaurant became Hug-Hes, after Kathryn’s mis-pronounced maiden name.
“It actually ended up working better than I thought it would, because people were always curious about it,” said Blake Hawkins.
In 2014, a second Hug-Hes opened in Syracuse. When they opened a smaller, express restaurant on Layton’s Main Street last year, they called it “Hugs.”
J. Wong’s Asian Bistro in Salt Lake City got its name from owner Kwan Wong’s four sons who helped her run it: Jason, Josh, Jordan and Jesse. Kwan has owned the China Platter in Bountiful for over 30 years.
The New Yorker in Salt Lake City. When John Williams and Tom Sieg remodeled the old New York Hotel building, they almost chose the name “The Knickerbocker.” They settled on “The New Yorker” due to its location in the cellar of the New York Hotel. Open since 1978, it’s still considered one of Salt Lake City’s top restaurants.
Plates & Palates in Bountiful: In 2004, Justin Christensen, his wife Nina Christensen and brother Jared Christensen opened a kitchen wares store with a deli. They wanted a name that described both sides of their business.
“Plates & Palates was a name for both of those things,” said Justin.
But soon the deli business took over, and they took out the kitchen wares store in order to add more customer seating.
“In hindsight we should have thrown ‘Café’ onto the end of our name, because now we don’t sell any kitchen wares,” said Christensen. “But our name is already out there, and we’re already as busy as we can handle. So, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Eva in Salt Lake City: Chef/owner Charlie Perry named his restaurant after his grandmother, Eva, because she inspired him to become a chef.
Bella’s Fresh Mexican Grill in Farr West started out as Melina’s. After owner Joe Cottam’s 21-year-old sister, Rebecca, died in a car accident in 2005, he changed the name to Rebecca’s nickname, Bella, in her honor.
Tona Sushi Bar & Grill in Ogden: “Tona” is a hybrid of the owners’ names, Tony and Tina Yu.
“There are lots of other names we considered, but we think Tona represents the best of us,” said Tina Yu. “We are happy with the name because it’s unique and different.”
Sea Bears Scottish Fish House in Ogden. The “Sea Bears” name was part of Tony and Monika Siebers’ family long before they decided to open a fish-and-chips restaurant.
“We have three sons, and it was a nickname that people called them when they were little. They would show up somewhere and people would say, “The Sea Bears are here,” said Monika Siebers. “We’re a family business, so that’s what we wanted to name it.”
The three sons, Collin, Chase and Austin, all work at the restaurant.
Chuck-A-Rama: The name, which endures its share of jokes, came from owner Don Moss, said his son, Duane Moss, the company’s current chief executive officer. He took the term “Chuck” from the “chuckwagon” used for cooking on Old West cattle drives. “Dad combined it with something that was dear to his heart — the Scout-O-Rama.”
Two Bit Street Café in Ogden harks back to Historic 25th Street’s seedy nickname due to its brothels and prostitution in the early 20th century.
“I grew up here in Ogden, and it was always called Two-Bit Street,” said owner Penny Allred Dayley. “And also, my name is Penny, and there’s two bits in a quarter, so it seemed the most natural thing to call it. The minute that the name came to us, we said, ‘That’s it.’ ”
MacCool’s in Salt Lake City and Layton: Owner Mic Warner told me MacCool’s was named after the legendary Finn MacCool, an warrior who supposedly gained the gift of infinite wisdom from a salmon. Whether the story is true or just blarney, MacCool’s has a Salmon of Knowledge entree on its menu: a char-grilled fillet glazed with barbecue sauce.
A Good Life Café in Ogden: Co-owners Gary Greenwood and Gloria Bartlett wanted to reflect “how we wanted enjoy our life, and a huge part of that was the food we eat,” said Barlett. “So, A Good Life Cafe was the result of that decision.”
Eats of Eden in Eden: When Bill and Jayne Christiansen first talked of opening a restaurant in 1992, Bill threw out the name “Eats of Eden,” as a joke, said their daughter, Tanya McFarland, now the owner.
“We soon realized it was actually a great name — a restaurant in Eden, plus people refer to the Ogden Valley as the “Garden of Eden” because it’s so pretty. And then there’s East of Eden, the book and movie,” said McFarland. Her father, a general contractor, built the building in 1992, and the restaurant opened in March 1993. Jayne owned and operated it until 2003, when McFarland bought it and has run it ever since.
Brixton’s Baked Potato in Ogden and Farmington: Jeff Hill, one of the original owners, served an LDS Church (Mormon) mission to Brixton, England, where baked-potato shops were very popular.
He brought the idea back to Utah with him and opened the first Brixton’s in downtown Ogden about six years ago at 2386 Kiesel Ave. Jamie Renda bought the restaurant in 2013, and opened a second Brixton’s in Farmington’s Station Park last year.
Gabor Brothers Main Street Grill & Pizzeria in Layton: Jeff, Greg and Chris Gabor are real-life Gabor brothers.
When the restaurant opened in 2002, “There were a few other names that came up, but it was mine, and I stuck with it,” said owner Jeff Gabor. “Same as the logo, I decided on it, and I wouldn’t budge.”
Steiny’s Family Sports Grills, both in Ogden: The owners, brothers John and Joey Stein, were both nicknamed “Steiny” during their many years as athletes.
“Whenever you play sports and you get in a huddle, everybody has a nickname,” said John Stein. “You’re never just Jones or Smith or Stein, it’s Jonesy, or Smitty or Steiny.”
The label also fits, because, “In a sports bar, we have steins of beer. Secondly, from our days at the ballpark, we had a lot of personal and business contacts who we hoped would recognize our name and want to support us,” said John Stein. “If you were to put Steiny’s in any other city or state, most people will look at the name and see that it’s a family place, there’s sports, and there’s beer.”
Hearth on 25th in Ogden opened as Jasoh! in 2003 on Harrison Blvd., south of the Weber State University campus. The restaurant eventually moved to 25th Street. In 2013, the name was changed to Hearth, as a nod to the wood-fire oven used to cook many of the dishes.
“Hearth is a more descriptive name for us,” said owner Shana Hubbard. “We were already doing a lot of wood-fire dishes; it is the center of what we do. Our wood bill is the biggest utility bill I pay.”
Herm’s Inn in Logan was initially built by Herman “Herm” Johnson and his wife Elizabeth in the early 1900s, according to the restaurant’s website. They lived upstairs as the inn transitioned to a gas station and general store/diner. Back then, Canyon Road was the only route into Logan Canyon. So Herman’s Inn (as it was known then) was the first chance to get gas as you came from the canyon, or the last chance if you were heading into the canyon. The original Herm’s Inn closed around 1948, but businessman Jim Laub restored and re-opened it in 2012.
Sonora Grill and Thai Curry Kitchen in Ogden: When Steve Ballard chose names for his restaurants, he wanted to identify the business as a restaurant. Secondly, he wanted to give a clue as to the type of cuisine. And finally, he wanted people to be able to pronounce it.
Before opening Sonora Grill, he had taken several food-eating trips to Sonora, the largest state in Mexico, to come up with an authentic Mexican menu.
“We liked that Sonora is a word that non-Spanish speakers can easily say,” Ballard said. “We first planned on ‘The Sonoran,’ but after repeating it over and over again, it sounded like we were talking about snoring.”
So Sonora Grill won out.
When Ballard opened Thai Curry Kitchen, “We we wanted people to know it was Thai food, we wanted to emphasize curry since that’s what our menu features, and ‘kitchen’ was our way of identifying that it was a restaurant. Again, all easy words to pronounce.”
If you know the back story on the names of other restaurants, feel free to share them in the comments section.