Steve Butler cooks up a meal with a side of tall tales
December 19, 2014
Everyone has at least one story of why they ended up around here, and how, and what twists and turns made the difference. Steve Butler has way more than one story. He’s a chef and inventor, a free spirit and renegade, a host and born storyteller. And now, as the owner of the unique Road Island Diner in Oakley with his wife Gin, he listens to as many stories as he tells. And, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
The Diner has almost become the de facto civic center of Oakley, the Kamas Valley, and beyond. It seems most everyone streams through here at some point, and all anxious to talk. Steve the Showman flits from table to table, giving out information and perhaps a sample of his new flavor of homemade ice cream, to all comers
Want to know who’s building the huge home in the canyon? Ask Steve. Want to know who rolled his truck in Browns Canyon? Ask Steve. He’s a clearing house of information. But what’s his story? It’s about happenstance, adventure, and a passion for life.
Steve, a native son of the north woods of Maine and Minnesota, fled to the sunny shores of Florida, to "see the ocean." With blonde hair to his waist, he promptly was hired to be part of the Coppertone Frisbee Team. No, really. "My job was to put Coppertone on girls’ backs," he says with a far-away look.
Then it was off to Sugarloaf, Maine for a decade, where he taught outdoor education at the Carrabassett Valley Academy, while squatting in a stick-and-twig shelter in the woods. "I had a big beard, and a topknot," he says. He tells the story of a friend’s goat, Tequila, who use to butt people off his deck, and a place where the only thing that changed in the local paper was the date.
In the mid-1980s he and two friends invented the popular dice game, Stack, which they marketed at the New York Toy Show. Purchases came complete with demonstrations all around the country via their VW van. "We were the first toy in Disney World that wasn’t a Disney toy," he says proudly. "Back then we trusted each other, and shared what we had," he said. "The world was a perfect place."
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In the early 1990s Butler came to Park City, where he witnessed what he calls the "downfall of Park City," with the infamous Joe Walsh street concert on Main Street. "After that the inmates were in charge of the asylum." Then it was off to Solitude to run the Thirsty Squirrel, where everyone knew him as Steve the Baker, and he met his wife. He provided baked goods for five restaurants, but in 1997 it was off to the Peruvian Lodge at Alta.
During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games Butler fed a bunch of athletes who competed at the Utah Olympic Park. "Fifteen of the eighteen I fed, got medals," he says. It was a fun and crazy and exciting time. Afterwards, on a motorcycle trip to Washington’s San Juan Islands he started Kumbaya Kitchens with the motto "non compos mentos" (not of sound mind). He was living on a 60-foot fishing trawler in Friday Harbor, baking bagels, and being a private chef for the vacationing glitterati, as he honed his skills.
Back in Utah, he purchased a bed-and-breakfast in Oakley, and Kumbaya Kitchens catering soon became the go-to food for events at the National Ability Center, Leadership Classes, Utah Olympic Park, Park City Municipal, Sundance Channel, and Park City School District, to name a few. Anyone who’s been to a local pig roast has tasted his fare.
Almost a year ago, Steve and Gin bought the 1930s era diner that had been trucked in from back East, renovated, and opened on the hill above the Oakley Town Hall a number of years before. With a new menu and a taste for good things, it’s been a big hit. One diner commented, "If this was in Park City it’d be half as good, and four times as expensive!"
Between the diner and catering they’re keeping the county fed. A few weeks back they catered the Nordic Combined races at Gorgoza. They go through hundreds of pounds of Tooele lamb to create his Lamb-a-Dama Ding-Dong Sandwich every week. There’re home-cut fries, a patio, and a bar and music venue in the works downstairs. There’s a steady stream of customers, and oh yes, stories.
I imagine that when the diner is closed at night, Steve sits around and swaps stories with infamous diner inhabitant Joe the Ghost, who has been spooking people for the 75 years. "There’s no telling what stories this place has to tell," says Steve. Sounds like a contest to me.
FAVORITE MUSIC: 1960s music
FAVORITE TRAVEL LOCATION: every place is special in its own way
FAVORITE THINGS TO DO: skiing and riding motorcycles
WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY: making other people happy
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