Eating Establishment sold to group headlined by ‘Modern Family’ star Ty Burrell
March 31, 2016
It will be the people that Rick Anderson will miss the most.
Sipping soup in the middle of the Eating Establishment restaurant on a recent weekday afternoon, he made that much clear. He recently sold the restaurant, a Park City landmark that hearkens back to the town’s early days as a resort destination, and he is eager for retirement and the days he will spend on the golf course or the ski slopes. The recession derailed his plans to step away five years ago, so as much as he loves the Eating Establishment, he will not bemoan no longer having to working tirelessly to ensure it thrives.
But the people — the people he will miss.
"Both employees and customers," said Anderson, who bought the restaurant in 1990. "It’s a great place. The Eating Establishment has quite a tradition in town, and it’s been rewarding for me to continue fulfilling that tradition."
The announcement of the sale comes just months after Anderson sold the Eating Establishment building to a firm based in Salt Lake City. He said that transaction included a verbal understanding that he would give up the restaurant as soon as a new owner could be found. It didn’t take long.
Edison Alley Group was eager to step in. The group, whose most notable partner is Ty Burrell, the Emmy award-winning actor who plays Phil Dunphy in the popular ABC sitcom "Modern Family," was looking to expand on the success it has seen with its ventures in Salt Lake, Beer Bar and Bar-X, which have become popular destinations for residents in the valley. The group is set to take over operation of the restaurant near the end of the month.
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For Anderson, the timing seemed right to pass on the Eating Establishment to new hands.
"We’ve recovered from the recession, the economy has been good, so it’s just a good time to make a sale," he said. "So I decided to do it now. I mean, I’m going to be 70 years old in a year."
Anderson will be leaving behind one of Park City’s most venerable institutions. Opened in 1972, the restaurant has served generations of tourists and residents, alike, and has developed a reputation for its casual American West atmosphere, all-day breakfasts, and moderately priced meals. As Main Street has evolved into a worldwide destination in a way few could have foreseen in the ’70s, the Eating Establishment has continued to flourish, in large part, because it’s remained the same.
"I think it’s a tie to tradition," Anderson said. "Main Street is a much different commercial district than it was when the restaurant opened up. I think it’s a tie back to the early days of the resort economy."
And at a time when Park City’s historic district is changing particularly fast, Anderson sees the Eating Establishment as an anchor for those who hope Main Street retains its small-town charm. Tourists love it for its all-day breakfast, while residents throughout the area come because it’s affordable, he said.
"It’s important to not only locals in Park City, but locals along the Wasatch Front," he said. "They’re familiar with the Eating Establishment. It’s been here for a long time, and we get a lot of Wasatch Front traffic in the summer. People are comfortable coming here.
"I think the Eating Establishment serves a very important role in maintaining attractiveness for the city," he added.
Its status as a mainstay in town is precisely why Edison Alley Group pounced at the opportunity to take over the restaurant, Burrell said in an interview with The Park Record. Many of the group’s partners — including Burrell’s wife, Holly, a Utah native — frequented the Eating Establishment growing up. And for Burrell, the dining experience draws him back to his own youth, working at a small café in Ashland, Oregon, where he waited tables during college.
"It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had," said Burrell, who lives in Salt Lake when he’s not filming "Modern Family" or his other projects. "It’s because it was comfortable, and there’s just something about that."
Burrell pledged to keep the spirit of the Eating Establishment alive. His group will briefly close the restaurant for cleaning, and customers will notice nary a change when it reopens. The group intends to add the cocktail menu from Bar-X and a beer list this fall, and may eventually alter the dinner menu, but the restaurant will remain what it always has been.
"We’re going to spend the summer basically learning how Rick does it, and how to keep it what it is," Burrell said. " We genuinely have respect for Rick and the employees, and we don’t want to fix what isn’t broken."
Edison Alley Group’s dedication to preserving the Eating Establishment’s tradition is important to Anderson, who worries that Main Street is in danger of losing its "funkiness" as smaller retailers grapple with the rising cost of rent. He said the restaurant drives much-needed traffic to upper Main Street, which would be lost if it ever closes its doors.
"There’s a lot of different businesses coming in that I think threaten the store mix and variety on the street," he said. "There are a lot of high-end restaurants and retail shops that have come on, and I’m concerned that the T-shirt shops and souvenir shops might find it difficult to pay the kind of rents that are being demanded on Main Street."
The sentiment that there is value in small businesses remaining local resonates with Burrell. He said that outlook aligns closely with the values Edison Alley Group has held tight in operating Beer Bar and Bar-X. That’s how they’ll approach the Eating Establishment, as well.
"Ultimately, the Park City residents will be the judge of that," he said. "We take it seriously, and hopefully what little changes we make, the Park City residents will feel like they’re improvements, without losing the spirit of the original."