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(Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune) CO2 Cafe opened in a newly renovated building on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 8, 2012. Mike Wirthlin, who owns the cafe with his wife Niki Nichols, is a former analyst for the CIA who came to Salt Lake City to open a gathering place for the community.
CO2 Cafe brings new twists to old Salt Lake building
Food » SLC native leaves CIA behind for return to hometown.
First Published Sep 10 2012 07:37 am • Last Updated Sep 10 2012 06:14 pm

A former CIA analyst and his wife have returned to his Utah roots to open a restaurant in a renovated building downtown that was one of the first in Salt Lake City to feature indoor plumbing.

CO2 Cafe, offering contemporary American cuisine at 323 S. Main Street, is in a building that "had been abandoned for five years, so it was just a shell," said co-owner Mike Wirthlin, 33, who grew up in the Avenues neighborhood. "Remodeling took eight months to complete and cost $250,000."

At a glance

CO2 Cafe

Cuisine » Contemporary American

Where » 323 S. Main St., Salt Lake City

Hours » 11: 30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 p.m. to midnight. Thursday through Saturday

CO2 part of Downtown Dine O’ Round

More than 40 restaurants will be participating in the annual event, which runs Friday through Sept. 30 and is designed to expose diners to the distinctive flavors of Salt Lake City at different price ranges. A three-item dinner goes for $15 or $30, while a two-item lunch goes for $5 or $10. For details go to www.dininginutah.com/salt-lake-city-dine-o-round.htm

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Wirthlin and wife Niki Nichols had been living and working in Washington D.C., where she was a graphics designer.

"I wanted a new career path," said Wirthlin. "I had seen the difference restaurants and hangouts can make in people’s lives, so I wanted to start something in my own hometown."

During renovations, the couple discovered antique bottles and crates, as well as chicken coops in the basement. The structure, with portions constructed in the 1890s, has been transformed from a dilapidated roost for pigeons to a building featuring 16-foot ceilings, large skylights, covered outdoor seating and front and back facades that open to the street.

The eatery offers Utah classic foods with original twists such as frybread tacos. Other menu items include caught-in-the-wild coho salmon baked in a flaky phyllo crust, seafood tacos with jicama slaw, a filet mignon sandwich served on house-baked rolls, and Pat LaFrieda ground beef on a cremini mushroom burger.

The cafe, named after the carbonating bubbles of carbon dioxide (and not the greenhouse gas), also serves house-made beverages mixed at an old-fashioned soda fountain.

CO2 Cafe is open 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 p.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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