Utah Restaurant Association Celebrates Utah’s Resilient Restaurant Industry and Food Community

Crown Burger

The Utah Restaurant Association (URA) held their annual Restaurant Industry Awards Gala Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at the Grand Ballroom in the Union Depot Building at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.  The URA has held their annual gala for the last 30 years and had to cancel the event last year due to the pandemic. It is typically held in early spring. The gala recognizes the outstanding achievements of professionals in the restaurant industry, food community and also allies of the Utah restaurant industry. Winners are nominated by their peers and restaurant professionals. Restaurant owners, friends of the industry, notable vendors, as well as exemplary front of the house and back of the house employees with the “U R A  Heart of the Industry” award” were among those honored. 

This year’s event was particularly special as over 300 community members gathered together for the first time in a year and half. “The restaurant industry in Utah is the third largest economic engine in the state. And when we come together, it’s less about competition and more of a community of peers cheering each other on. This very difficult last year was a true example of that,” shared Melva Sine, President and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association. “We’ve weathered an unfathomable storm, we are still weathering it. We are recovering and WE ARE NOT recovered. But we are doing it united, together and in support of one another. We know there are many restaurants, peers, and people who we lost this year. I’d like to offer a moment of silence for our friends and families.” Sine continued. The event hall fell silent. The URA posthumously honored Mary Malouf with their Excellence in Food Journalism Award for her contributions to encouraging the food community to be the best they could be. “Let’s just say, when Mary was in your restaurant, you knew it,” said Sine. The award was accepted by Mary’s daughter Anna Malouf. The late Tony Caputo was honored with the URA Legacy award, a rare award that is given to those who leave a lasting legacy on Utah’s culinary landscape and community. “It’s rare to say that one person can impact the trajectory of an entire industry, but Tony Caputo did just that while simultaneously contributing to shaping the community of Salt Lake City.” Matt Caputo, Tony’s son was on hand to accept his award. 
Other winners included Chef of the Year Phelix Gardener of Pago. Wood.Ash.Rye, Nomad East, Ginger Street and Crown Burger were among those restaurant receiving the Concept of the year award. Scott Evans took home the coveted “Golden Spoon” award as he was honored as Utah’s 2021 Restaurateur of the Year. Cherie Bartleson from SLC Eatery received the Heart of The Industry Front of House award, and Executive Chef Justin Shifflett of Stoneground Kitchen and Francis Fecteau of Libations Inc received the Heart of the Industry MVP award. Over 55 Taste Utah awards were given out recognizing restaurants all over Utah as dining destinations that have been featured on the television series Taste Utah, on ABC that tells Utah’s dynamic food, restaurant and hospitality story. Additionally honorees were Salt Lake City Corp and the Downtown Alliance who partnered with the URA to facilitate the Tip Your Server Program at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — which saw restaurants close their dining rooms, some for weeks, others for months. Melva Sine also recognized Ty Burrell for his contributions to the program with her Presidents Award. 

The awards ceremony also highlighted the accomplishments of the URA’s ProStart Program students and teachers. The night celebrated all the regional and state competition winners and officially announced Provo High School as the State champions for the culinary competition and Carbon High School as the state champions for management. Although the National ProStart Invitational was cancelled this year, the URA still held state competitions which buoyed the spirits and gave the high school students something to look forward to and strive for. The URA’s school to career program ProStart® trains juniors and senior in high school to enter careers in culinary or hospitality management in the restaurant industry. 

“It is important to recognize the industry and our collective accomplishments as well as individual contributions. We love involving ProStart students because then, together as industry, we are crafting a stronger infrastructure through inspiring and feeding the dreams of our future. And our future is still bright as we work hard to recover from COVID!” ProStart is a two-year high school program that unites the classroom and industry to develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.  Under the leadership and foresight of Sine, Utah was the pioneer state for the ProStart program in 1996 and continues to feed dreams, build futures and change lives in Utah and across the nation.

A highlight of the evening came at the end of the night when Maxine Turner from Cuisine Unlimited — a member of the executive board of Utah Restaurant Association, along with the entire board of directors unexpectedly took to the stage and surprised Sine with a necklace called “The North Star”. “You have been our North Star throughout the last 14 months,” Turner shared. “There was never a phone call unanswered, no matter what time of night. No request went unfulfilled, if it was in your power. You offered the industry informative and up to date e-mails, zoom meetings, and no one felt like we were in it alone. You were unflinching on our behalf and always fighting for us. We felt it”. Jason Neeley, a partner in Wood.Ash.Rye in St. George and Sego in Kanab shared, “When I want to run through a wall, I call Melva Sine. She’s there telling me, ‘You’ve got this, you’re doing great, you can do it.’ Just the emotional support alone, that means everything.”

The Utah Restaurant Association was established in 1945 and was formed to represent the restaurant industry in the state of Utah, helping to create community of industry. Celebrating 76 years serving Utah’s restaurant industry and currently the 6th fastest growing restaurant industry in the nation, The Utah Restaurant Association strives to present a unified voice of the restaurant industry. The industry is responsible for providing over 90,000 people in the state of Utah with jobs and is responsible for feeding over half of the population of the state. The URA also proudly offers the culinary program ProStart®, a school to career program implemented by the Utah Restaurant Association in 62 high schools throughout the state of Utah.

Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at several sites including Gastronomic SLC, Utah Now and, The Utah Review; Stuart is a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune and has worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.