The Hub’s new owners aim to preserve Heber Valley history in their renovations
The cafe is far older than most of its customers
It would be challenging to throw a rock at a crowd in Wasatch County and not hit someone with some kind of tradition, story or meaningful experience centered around The Hub.
Nestled where Heber City’s Main Street meets U.S. Routes 189 and 40 as well as 1200 S, the eatery has been around longer than anyone save locals who have lived to see their 90th year.
Current co-owners Devin Johnson and Mohamed Mohamed looked back to the restaurant’s early stages after it opened in 1933.
“This is probably definitely one of the oldest restaurants in town,” Johnson said. “Maybe even one of the oldest businesses in town, I would think.”
The location’s stalwartness, he said, is not due to a lack of hardships. In 1964, the building became a bonfire during the county fair.
“The old cowboys — after the rodeo — they came out here and watched it burn down,” Mohamed said.
The next year, it was rebuilt, and in the late ’70s, an owner remodeled the business. From then until last year, it largely remained the same.
Through its almost-100-year-old life, the building has passed through a succession of owners Johnson and Mohamed couldn’t quite pin down, and last year they bought it.
They had owned the service station that shares the restaurant’s lot for seven years, and they decided it was time to update the cafe and return the two businesses to the same ownership, something that was true in the beginning but had changed over the years.
Neither partner is from Heber City originally. Johnson is from Salt Lake City and Mohamed is from the Middle East, moving here from California.
That didn’t stop them from recognizing the community value of the restaurant. They knew it was precious, they knew its legacy mattered to a great deal of people, and they knew that if it were to last, it needed a serious update.
“A remodel’s probably not even the right description. It was the kind of thing that would have been cheaper to tear it down and start from scratch,” Johnson said. “We had to break out the concrete in back just to replace all the sewer lines underground.”
The electrical work was replaced. Most of the building was reframed. The kitchen was stocked with over a million dollars of new stoves, fryers, dishware and cooking implements. The water damage and decay of the antique structure were addressed.
“Everything got reframed except right behind the fireplace in the big room and half the wall in the men’s bathroom,” Mohamed said. “Everything else got replaced.”
Other than a water heater and some basic structural components, everything is new, and the efforts didn’t end with the building’s skeleton.
The booths’ once wooden benches, which Mohamed said left butts numb after 10 minutes of sitting, are now leather cushions with hide so authentic that some of the cushions still don the brand of the cow they’re made from. The narrow dining room feels expanded after wooden covers that jutted from the walls over the booths were removed. The walls are covered with photos of cattle and enough windows to light up the room in contrast to the previously relatively dark interior.
The menu will offer the same food Heber City residents have loved for a decade but with fresher, higher quality ingredients and a few new additions. House-made pasta will be served next to hamburgers, sea bass and salmon, next to steaks and crepes, next to pancakes and waffles.
“If your favorite thing was a pancake, a sausage link and a piece of bacon, you’re going to get that,” Mohamed said. “You’ll still be able to order that.”
Gone, however, will be liquid eggs, frozen patties and already prepared food.
“It’s going to be the best ingredients,” he said. “Freshest on the market.”
Johnson and Mohamed said they both recognize the importance of keeping The Hub a place people can afford to visit without having to sell a kidney or child.
Before even being asked what the changes will do to prices, they acknowledged they will be higher but said they want to keep them low enough that The Hub remains accessible to the community that’s made it what it is.
“The radio yesterday was talking about how — I can’t remember what state it was in — but a Big Mac and fries and drink was now $18,” Johnson recalled. “I could not believe it. … You can’t bring your kids in and order four $20 cheeseburger meals. There’s a challenge that we’re going to have to overcome in that we’re going to have to be conservative in our pricing but still buy really high-quality ingredients.”
The partners have also gone to great lengths to ensure that while the building itself is new, the feel of the old restaurant remains, a task for which they know the community will hold them accountable.
“We have this balancing act to do,” Johnson said. “We’ll have people pull in the parking lot say, ‘Well you’re not changing anything, are you?'” Johnson said. “It can’t stay the same that it was or else it won’t be open for very long. So yes, we’ve had to change a lot. You want to change it, bring it current, improve it, without losing that special touch.”
Some of that touch can be found on the wall visitors face as soon as they walk into the restaurant. The white wooden surface has been burned with the history of Heber City after Mohamed and Johnson invited families to burn their marks on the wall, claiming The Hub as theirs the same way they’ve claimed cows or horses for generations.
The practice started in The Hub as a tribute for Larry Knight, whose brand sits over the doorway to the kitchen. Mohamed described Knight as a staple of Heber Valley, a cowboy who left a mark on everyone before passing away in November 2021.
“Larry was a big part of this community. I mean, everybody knew Larry Knight, and I wanted that to be somewhere,” he said. “I wanted to preserve that.”
Johnson agreed with the idea, and the two welcomed not only a brand from Knight but opened the opportunity to other community members as well.
“It was really fun when we were putting those up because — especially with some of the old-timers and the older generations — you could tell they got these brands out of barns that probably hadn’t seen daylight in decades,” Johnson said. “The whole family would show up and see Grandpa put his brand up again.”
To see families leave their seared fingerprints on a building that’s served the community for a decade was an experience Johnson described as spiritual.
He and Mohamed had their own brands made to take part in what they expect will become a longstanding tradition singed into the walls of their restaurant.
Johnson’s is a Highlander cow with two horns pointed toward heaven to represent him and his wife and five strands of hair falling in its face to symbolize his children.
Mohamed’s is a camel that spells out Mo in its humps.
“He’s going to be the only guy in the world with that brand, you know,” Johnson said.
But why are they so passionate about The Hub, why do they care enough to stick with authentic leather, why does it matter for the community to be a part of their business and why have they insisted on expensive paths rather than opting for shortcuts?
“There’s a lot better ways to make money,” Johnson said. Then he laughed and added, “There’s a lot better ways to lose money, probably.”
But when the service station was for sale, the owner chose to sell it to them, and they accepted his decision with a sense of responsibility.
“It was probably easier for him to pick somebody else,” Mohamed said. “He told me the reason he picked me for it — because he knew I was going to have the same vision as him of preserving what it is and not just selling out.”
It’s easy to sign papers and collect a fat check with everyone’s favorite red-and-black gas station chain comes to town, he said. It’s more important to be part of a community.
Johnson and Mohamed know their service station customers could get a better deal somewhere not locally owned, and they’re sure the community knows it, too. Yet the convenience store doesn’t get a lot of dull moments, and long lines form for the pumps. To him, that means something.
Mohamed and Johnson have yet to set an opening date for The Hub, but people can expect to chow down on a burger or bass or house-made pasta toward the end of this month or the beginning of the next.
It would be a challenge to throw a rock at a crowd of people in Wasatch County and not hit someone with some kind of tradition, story or meaningful experience centered around The Hub.
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