Just six months before the opening of Devil’s Garden Grill in Escalante, President Trump slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument’s protected lands in half with the stroke of a pen. Conservative lawmakers and some Westerners cheered the move as retribution from decades of federal overreach, but many local business owners were fearful of what this could mean for their future.
Scott Ashley, chef and owner of Devil’s Garden Grill, was undeterred by these monumental changes. He had big plans for expanding the food options in the monument and was going all-in despite Trump’s decision. He knew opening a restaurant in a rural community with an uncertain fate would be a challenge, but was still surprised by the difficulty of his endeavor.
After steering operations at the Sweetwater Kitchen at Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch for years, Ashley was approached by local entrepreneur, Mark Austin, to develop a fine dining facility in Escalante. Austin was instrumental in the development of the renowned Hell’s Backbone Grill in neighboring Boulder and was seeking to establish the same high quality options in the town of Escalante.
Named after the monument’s mini-wonderland of colorful hoodoos, the Devil’s Garden Grill opened in June 2018, serving Southwestern dishes with a local twist. The restaurant itself is small, unassuming from the outside, and simply furnished with local art adorning the walls.
Ashley uses whatever local ingredients he can get his hands on and has recently incorporated the 10,000 year-old newly rediscovered Four Corners potato into menu items and has plans to begin cultivating the potato himself. The menu is constantly evolving due to limitations of running a restaurant in one of the most remote locales in the US.
The 800 residents of Escalante are an assorted mix of pioneer descendants, ranchers, and newcomers lured by the region’s astonishing beauty. The local population just isn’t large enough to fill his staffing needs, and luring workers into town is a challenge given there are very few housing options. Ashley has had to get creative with staffing and has recruited family members to help with the endeavor, recently acquiring two more local restaurants, the North Creek Grill and Circle D Eatery, to form a collective of sorts to create a pool of staff to work from.
Their first year went really well with rave reviews across restaurant review websites, but Ashley says 2019 has been different. “Sales were way down compared to the first year we were open. Escalante businesses, across the board, seem to be 30-40% down.” He’s not sure if the diminished hoopla surrounding the monument reduction led to the lower sales this year, but what he does know is that the vast majority of his diners are out-of-staters and that is something he’d like to change.
“The Utah populace just doesn’t seem to come down here,” says Ashley, and he’s hoping that by elevating the food scene in Escalante, he can get the town on the foodie map and draw more Utahns to visit the area. U
Devil’s Garden Grill
530 W Main Street