One of the first restaurants I ever ate at in Utah was a Gastronomy Inc. eatery. It was 1992 and I was being hosted by a headhunter who was, among other things, trying to “sell” me on Salt Lake City and convince me to relocate from New York City. She chose Baci Trattoria as the venue for our dinner and it was a very good choice, indeed.
At the time, this was one of Gastronomy’s newer businesses, having opened in 1989. Gastronomy had debuted their flagship restaurant, The New Yorker, in 1978, followed by Market Street Grill in 1980, and the Market Street Oyster Bar in 1981, which launched on New Year’s Eve.
That was followed by Cafe Pierpont in 1986, and, as mentioned, Baci in 1989. Market Street Broiler near the U of U, and additional Market Street Grills would follow in Cottonwood and in South Jordan, as well as at the SLC International Airport. There were also at least three Market Street Fish Markets in operation.
I think it is fair to say that the face of SLC — particularly downtown — would look very different if not for Gastronomy Inc., which paved the way for many more restaurants and other businesses to thrive here.
Gastronomy Inc. (although it wasn’t called that yet) was founded by business partners John Williams and Tom Sieg, who mutually saw possibilities for the old, downtrodden New York Hotel on Market Street. Eventually, they would turn the Hotel, which was also home to a Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, into the much-heralded New Yorker restaurant.
For years The New Yorker was the go-to downtown spot for fine dining. It was a place where women could wear a gorgeous gown and where men didn’t feel out of place in a pre-opera tuxedo.
In 2005, I wrote that The New Yorker’s recipe for success was a fairly simple one: “A blend of traditional and contemporary American cuisine paired with outstanding service in an almost timeless ambiance, resulting in happy customers coming back year after year.”
To this day I believe that The New Yorker’s chef, Will Pliler, was one of the best chefs ever to work in Utah, and I miss his cooking. The New Yorker closed in October of 2018.
A third Gastronomy Inc partner — Tom Guinney — joined Seig and Williams in 1980, and the dapper trio would transform downtown SLC, repurposing old, run-down historical buildings and turning them into eye-popping eateries such as Cafe Pierpont, Baci Trattoria, and Market Street Oyster Bar. All three partners — now deceased — were also generous supporters of opera in Utah, as well as the fine arts and dance, and filled their restaurants with artwork produced by local painters and sculptors.
Today, diners are accustomed to eating freshly caught fish and seafood at restaurants like Takashi, Nom, Current Fish & Oyster, Harbor and others. But it was John Williams and Tom Sieg — back in the late 70s — who paved the way for that freshness. They arranged to have fresh salmon flown to SLC on Western Airlines, which became Delta.
That would grow, eventually, into daily shipments of fresh cod, halibut, oysters, shrimp, crab and more. I remember speaking to chef Greg Neville, who worked with Gastronomy years ago, about having to make trips out to the airport to pick up fresh seafood shipments. Today we take such freshness for granted, but circa 1978, it was anything but. Sieg and Williams were pioneers in the local fresh food movement.
In its heyday, Gastronomy Inc. operated 10 restaurants (anybody remember the short-lived Asian eatery called China Star?), numerous fish markets, and had some 700 employees. It was estimated by John Williams, before his tragic death, that Gastronomy restaurants had spawned more than 100 other eateries that were started by former employees.
I know a couple dozen chefs, servers, managers and bartenders who have gone on to open their own businesses since being trained by and working with Gastronomy. As Chris Redgrave said once on KSL, referring to the downtown Gastronomy restaurants, “This is one of the first successes of Downtown Rising before it was Downtown Rising!”
Today — in part due to the passing of all three Gastronomy Inc. partners — all that is left of their local restaurant empire is the three Market Street Grill locations and Market Street Oyster Bar. But noshing on freshly shucked oysters with a cold glass of white wine to sip alongside at the Oyster Bar is still one of this food writers’ favorite pastimes, and hopefully will be for many more decades to come.
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