Denise Pace’s catering and restaurant career was launched, in part, because of a murder trial. A federal judicial team came to Summit County, Utah in the late ’80’s to oversee a case, and a local caterer was hired to provide the group’s fare. After a few days of unsatisfactory meals, the judge requested a new food supplier, and a friend who worked at the jail suggested Denise. “I was 26 years old, with three kids and thought that this would be a great way to earn some extra Christmas money,” Denise says. During the course of the trial, Denise delivered from-scratch breakfast, lunch and dinner to the state’s out-of-town guests.
Whipping up a well-rounded table of food is second nature to the Denise’s Home Plate proprietor. Denise grew up on a farm in Coalville where life and work were one in the same. “Starting around 10 years old, my job was to have lunch ready every day for the hay crew.” On the midday table 10-15 hungry workers might find spare ribs, baked potatoes, salad and dessert. “There always had to be a dessert,” Denise points out.
After the trial concluded, Denise subsequently was awarded the Summit County prison food contract. “I found out what the lowest bid amount was and bid a nickel lower,” she recalls with a smile. Youth’s ambition is sometimes viewed later in life as favorable naivete, and until the new kitchen-equipped jail was built in Park City, Denise prepared three squares for up to 45 of the county’s inmates. She prepared and delivered each meal including special meals the day before a traditional holiday. “Prisoners would beg to come to Summit County because of the food,” she laughs.
A fire razed the residential space Denise was using to make the prisoners’ meals, so she made a desperate call to the owners of a historic Main Street home that had been on the market for years. “I said, ‘If you accept my offer, I need to move in tonight because I have to make breakfast for 35 prisoners tomorrow morning .’” Within months, Denise’s business segued from prison food contract to giving the Coalville community what they’d been asking for for years.
Denise’s Home Plate opened on Main Street 28 years ago. At first, Denise tried a few different restaurant strategies, serving dinner and what she calls “higher end” food, but Coalville folks knows what they like. Denise’s is open for lunch and offers a menu created “for the area,” serving homestyle soups, sandwiches, daily specials and freshly baked rolls and desserts in an unpretentious atmosphere. “Our pies and rolls continue to be people’s favorites,” she notes, adding, “I hate to brag, but we make really good pies.”
In addition to serving food, Denise also serves the community. She still maintains a catering business, and three times a week fulfills Summit County’s Meals on Wheels contract. She regularly indulges her restaurant patrons their food idiosyncrasies, what she cheerfully calls “customizing for the community.”
“Not much has changed over the years,” she remarks, “but people love the fact that we know them, their families and their lives.”
Denise’s Home Plate, 49 North Main St. Coalville, UT. Open Mon-Fri, 11am-4 pm