Rural restaurateurs advocate a different kind of business
Few cookbooks have forewords written by authors like Terry Tempest Williams. From the start, Williams’ elegant opening lines set "With a Measure of Grace" apart from many similar books.
Written by the owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill, Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, with help from Blake’s sister, Lavinia Spalding, "With a Measure of Grace" captures many of the most popular recipes from the Zagat-rated fine dining establishment, which makes its home in the fairly improbable location of Boulder, Utah, just outside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
This Sunday, however, two of the book’s authors, Castle and Blake Spalding will find themselves in Park City for a book signing at Terzian Gallery. The event will come at the end of their Four-Corners tour that has seen the authors promoting their book and the ethics behind Hell’s Backbone Grill.
The restaurant is built for sustainability, running a 100-percent from-scratch kitchen and either raising or buying nearly all of its ingredients from fruit and vegetables to beef and fish locally. In keeping with its local roots Hell’s Backbone Grill offers cuisine with roots firmly planted in the Four-Corners area, with "Western Range, Pueblo Indian and Southwestern flavors," as the restaurant says.
"With a Measure of Grace" matches the restaurant’s local focus. The book isn’t simply a list of recipes or anecdotes; it’s a document of the restaurant and its surroundings. While there are certainly sparkling pictures of the manicured dishes cooked by the restaurant, there are also many photos of Boulder and the surrounding countryside.
"What makes the book unusual," said Spalding, "is the focus on community."
Like the restaurant, the book includes stories about Boulder, the history of the restaurant and stories about the establishment’s patrons and helpers.
"It’s more a comprehensive story of how a restaurant came into being in a small town," said Spalding.
While "With a Measure of Grace" is a cookbook, it is also tells how a restaurant based on principles of Buddhism and sustainability, with a commitment to becoming part of the community, succeeded.
"The book was intended to inspire people," said Spalding.
The largest employer in Boulder, Hell’s Backbone Grill not only provides an economic anchor for the town, but also incorporates itself into the fabric of the community. Each summer, the restaurant hosts a Fourth of July Celebration and an ice cream social, and otherwise the business makes a commitment to be a steward of the community.
Such actions are particularly important, the authors noted, in such a small town.
"We’re very involved in the community," said Spalding "and when you live in a town of 140 people, everything you do has a definite impact."
The book, Spalding noted, presents Hell’s Backbone Grill as an example of a business that has used its principles to flourish, and at the same time, the story offers a pattern others can follow.
The work evolved naturally from the restaurant. Spalding and Castle decided to create the work when people started to notice the restaurant’s success and when word of the establishment spread across the country, carried by publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Bon Appetit.
"We had a lot of requests for recipes and there was an interesting story there to tell," said Castle.
"We kind of realized we had a bigger story to tell about how we structured our restaurant based on our Buddhist principles and principles of sustainability," added Spalding.
The public proved willing to listen to that story. Released a year ago, "With a Measure of Grace" has succeeded as admirably as Hell’s Backbone Grill.
"We feel really encouraged and pleased about it," said Spalding. "We’ve already gone through our fist printing and we’re into our second."
The experience, according to both Castle and Spalding, has reinforced the direction in which they are taking their restaurant. They said the success of the book has been an affirmation of their path and an extremely positive experience. Whether that experience will lead to another cookbook, though, remains to be seen.
"It’s not something we’re ruling out at this point," said Castle.
"The only thing missing is the time," said Spalding.
Both agreed that before they made plans for a second book, they would have to find time among running the restaurant and their other engagements to actually complete the work.
In the meantime, the pair is focusing on their current work and spreading its messages of sustainability and community development. They only hope others will follow.
"This book is really one that can inspire you to find the same place in your own community," said Castle.
Blake Spalding and Jen Hall will be at the Terzian Gallery signing books from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18. For more information about the event, call 655-5627.
Hell’s Backbone Grill is currently closed for business and will reopen in March of 2006. Reservations are strongly encouraged. For more information, to purchase a book or to reserve a table, visit http://www.hellsbackbonegrill.com.
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