Park City mainstay Blind Dog Restaurant and Sushi commemorates 20 years
Penn Kinsey cannot help but smile when she thinks back on the last 20 years.
It has been full of late nights, stressful moments and big decisions. But the key to getting through it all and having a successful restaurant is clearly stated on Blind Dog Restaurant and Sushi’s menu: It is imperative that you maintain a sense of humor.
Kinsey, the founder and executive chef of the restaurant, is excited and a little shocked to be celebrating two decades of being in business, especially because she was expecting to own the eatery for only a few years.
She grew up in Delaware in a family with generational experience in the oyster business and a second home in Park City, which they would frequent for ski trips. After Kinsey graduated from culinary school, she planned to work in Park City for a season. When she arrived, she met her future husband Derrick Kinsey while both were participating in sport fishing tournaments.
They got married and quickly decided to open a seafood restaurant. The Olympics were around the corner and they thought it would be fun to have a business during the time. The plan was to try out owning a restaurant for a few years and leave Utah to pursue another adventure.
“It was supposed to be temporary. It was supposed to be a couple of years,” Kinsey said. “Now we have a much larger restaurant, two kids and the blind dog is no longer with us.”
Rigger, the blind black lab that inspired the name of the restaurant, is gone, but he is seen in photos and artwork around the restaurant. In fact, dog paintings, statues and photos surround the entire building. One wall near the rear of the restaurant is devoted to photos of dogs. The collage, which includes more than 100 photos, has been around since Blind Dog’s first years in the late 1990s.
Other décor has also followed the restaurant from its first location in Prospector to its current one on Kearns Boulevard, including a jar of homemade chocolate chip cookies that guests can snack on and the “tribunal,” which are three paintings of dogs above the entrance that supposedly judge every guest that walks through the door.
Even with the familiar mementos, it is unmistakable that the restaurant has changed over time.
The first Blind Dog Restaurant location only sat 54 guests, but the new one, which opened eight years ago, has 300 indoor and 100 outdoor seats. The kitchen has expanded from 400 square feet to 1,700 square feet. Even the amount of wine labels the restaurant offers shot up from 17 to more than 500, Kinsey said.
The growth matches the changes in Park City. When Kinsey and her husband opened the first location, she said she was surrounded by dirt lots. People said she was crazy for opening a restaurant off Main Street. Now, restaurants and businesses have sprung up all over town and the population has grown.
The menu has changed as well, adding sushi two years after opening and now featuring a raw seafood bar. And in the restaurant itself, there are always alterations. This year, the Kinseys revamped the bar areas, added some artwork and unveiled a new menu for the 20-year anniversary. Earlier this year, they updated the patio with a new fence and furniture.
“We are not ones to just sit around,” she said. “Every year, there is always a project.”
But they must strike a balance, as well, because after all these years some menu items could not be removed without complaint from regulars, and even minor changes to décor are met with some pushback.
Kinsey might roll her eyes that she must keep meatloaf on the menu, but she is happy to have guests who have been coming to the restaurant since it opened.
One of the employees — who started as a dishwasher and is now a sous chef — started working at the restaurant on Blind Dog’s first day. Others have worked for Kinsey for 12 or 15 years.
“We have a really good crew,” she said. “This 20 years wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Looking forward, she knows she will not be able to sit still. There are a dozen ideas she has to renovate the restaurant, and even plans in the back of her head to open a different restaurant somewhere down the road. For now, she is glad she has the Blind Dog, where her guests and employees are like a family.
“We are a little big to be called a neighborhood restaurant, but we kind of are,” she said. “And that is what we wanted.”
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