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Little America's Coffee Shop is reborn

Published November 29, 2013 9:34 pm

Iconic eatery • Remodeled restaurant is light, bright, still serves the favorites.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Everything old is new again at the Little America Coffee Shop. After a seven-month renovation, the iconic Salt Lake City eatery has reopened with a new look that harks back to the past.

"We tried to make all this feel old-school," said Ed Box, the hotel's general manager for the past 26 years who has worked there since 1967. "People feel so connected to this place — like it's theirs. So we really worried about this, but everybody has raved about it."

There are echoes of the old Coffee Shop in the booths, the tables, the view of Main Street. But they're only echoes — the place was gutted down to the concrete and entirely rebuilt from the outside walls in.

The result is light, bright and warm. It's filled with historic photos and murals of Salt Lake City and Little America, including a massive photo of a crowd at the counter of the original Little America in Wyoming — a crowd that includes the company's founder, S.M. Covey, and Carol Holding, the widow of Earl Holding, who bought Little America in the 1950s.

The centerpiece of the new Coffee Shop is the lunch counter, complete with Bun-O-Matic bun warmers and Jetspray drink dispensers.

"This is what we used to have in the old days," said Box. "There aren't very many great American coffee shops anymore. That's what we want this to be."

The new Coffee Shop got the stamp of approval from none other than the grandson of Little America's founder.

"I think the remodel is brilliant because it's so light," said John M.R. Covey, 78. "They've made it more accommodating for the customers. It's welcoming. I love the colors."

Covey and 126 members of his family gathered at Little America for their annual Thanksgiving reunion, and Carol Holding dropped by to welcome them. "It's a legacy that we are trying to share with our kids so that they know where they came from," Covey said.

And they dropped by the Coffee Shop, where an aerial shot of the motel brought back memories for Covey. He recalled painting the parking-space lines by hand when he was a boy and pointed to a spot on the roof where he would climb up and take a nap, unbeknown to his father, who managed Little America at the time.

"We've been in the motel business all our lives," he said. "And to me, this is just the finest motel you're going to find."

Longtime patrons of the Coffee Shop won't be disappointed by the menu, which has changed very little. A few items have been added, but the old favorites are all there. Including the No. 1 item — the hot turkey sandwich, which is served between 8,000 and 10,000 times a month, Box said.

The Coffee Shop reopened on Wednesday, and business was booming for the Thanksgiving holiday. Little America served more than 7,000 people Thanksgiving dinner in its ballroom, dining room and coffee shop.

Still under construction is a new outdoor dining area, which will seat 60 amid stonework, a fountain, trees and arbors. They're putting the final touches on a remodel of the hotel lobby as well.

And in January, the dining room will close so it, too, can be gutted and rebuilt.

"This is a very special place to us and to a lot of other people," Covey said.

spierce@sltrib.com