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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) There are not many Salt Lake City business owners with enough confidence to pack up a nationally recognized restaurant at the height of its popularity and shelve it for an unknown length of time. Unless you’re Ryan Lowder. The Salt Lake City chef plans to close Plum Alley on Feb. 1 so he can transform the space into a wine bar he had originally envisioned two years ago when he signed the lease.
Salt Lake chef to close popular Plum Alley to make way for bar

Dining » Salt Lake chef to close popular Plum Alley to make way for a bar.

By Kathy Stephenson

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 28 2014 08:15 am • Last Updated Jan 28 2014 08:24 pm

There aren’t many Salt Lake City business owners with enough confidence to pack up a nationally recognized restaurant at the height of its popularity and shelve it for an unknown length of time.

Except Ryan Lowder.

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The chef plans to close Plum Alley so he can transform the space at 111 E. 300 South into a bar and restaurant. The last day of business at the Asian-inspired restaurant will be Saturday, Feb. 1.

After that, construction on the new Copper Common will begin.

Lowder had hoped to move Plum Alley to another space, but hasn’t found a downtown location that matches the concept. So he’ll wait for the perfect spot.

"I want to keep Plum Alley alive," he said during a recent interview with The Tribune. "But we’ve created this identity and we can’t just put in any box."

Change of plans » It’s not what Lowder planned in 2011 when approached about taking over the space on the corner of 300 South and Edison Street (145 East). He immediately envisioned a bar that would complement — as well as handle overflow from — The Copper Onion, his first restaurant, to the west.

Several months into construction, Lowder learned that getting a club license from the Utah Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) would take more than a year.

"When I realized I couldn’t have a bar, I shifted gears and did Plum Alley," he said. He researched the area and its history, ultimately settling on the historical name Plum Alley — the street where Salt Lake City’s Chinatown once stood. Decorated with communal tables, retro posters and colorful paper lanterns, the restaurant serves a menu of house-made ramen, steamed pork buns and other Southeast Asian fare.

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It has received positive reviews locally and nationally, including being named one of the top 50 new restaurants of 2012 by Bon Appétit magazine.

"We had to throw it together so quickly," he said. "But it turned out to be a good concept that’s done well."

As if packing up one restaurant and creating a new one weren’t enough, Lowder has also been working on two other projects.

He recently leased space in a new Holladay development on 2300 E. Murray Holladay Road, where he plans to open a restaurant that serves hand-made pizza and pasta.

Lowder also has set up a restaurant production kitchen near 900 South and 700 West, large enough to make ice cream, bread, pasta and some cured meats and cheeses for all of his restaurants. It has a walk-in cooler for butchering whole animals and space outside for a garden and greenhouse.

He said while his rapid expansion might seem like a gamble to outsiders, he believes as a business owner he owes it to his staff — which now numbers about 80 — to expand when it makes sense.

"I have good people who work here," he said. "I want to provide more opportunities for them."

Local boy makes good » Lowder’s success is a classic "local boy made good" story. He grew up in Sandy, attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked at various restaurants in New York City and Barcelona, including Jean-Georges, Mercat, Gusto and Born Cooking. Then he decided to return to the West.

"I had always intended to go to Portland," he said. But while visiting family in Utah, he discovered Salt Lake City’s burgeoning food scene, from the downtown farmers market to restaurants such as Pago, Bambara and Takashi.

Along with wife Colleen, Lowder returned to Salt Lake City in 2010 to open The Copper Onion next to Broadway Centre Cinemas.

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