The Roaring ′20s decorations were bought. The band was booked and a wine three years in the making — to celebrate both Log Haven’s 25th anniversary and the property’s 100th birthday — was bottled and ready to be poured.
The timing couldn’t have been worse: Four days before the celebration, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all Salt Lake County restaurants.
But today, that Log Haven Argentum red wine — Latin for the restaurant’s silver anniversary — is flowing, and guests have returned to the fine dining restaurant in the wooded property 4 miles up Mill Creek Canyon in the Wasatch National Forest. They’re wearing masks and filling the patio and dining rooms at about half capacity, to comply with social distancing precautions.
While Log Haven’s anniversaries couldn’t be celebrated as envisioned, the restaurant deserves a toast. In today’s economy, it’s a struggle just to stay open. Nationally, restaurant sales were down more than $116 billion between March and June, according to the National Restaurant Association, and Yelp reports that almost 16,000 restaurants have closed permanently.
It’s even more rare for a restaurant to thrive for more than two decades with the same managers who were there nearly from the beginning, like at Log Haven.
In honor of the property’s 100th anniversary, we asked the four owners their recipe for success. Here is what they shared:
Love is baked into the restaurant. After all, Log Haven was built by a steel baron in 1920 as an anniversary gift for his wife. Logs were shipped from Oregon and hauled up the canyon on horse-drawn wagons. Much later, it was turned into a restaurant, which Margo Provost bought in 1994 when the property was slated to be torn down. “It started with romance,” Provost said.
She added her own touches to make the property even more of a romantic destination: Sparkling garlands and wood-burning fireplaces light and warm the log-paneled dining rooms. An amphitheater, framed by giant pine trees, was added for weddings. Diners can sit on a patio at the base of a waterfall. A sleigh made of logs stands near the entrance, and needlepoint images of the creek and toasty fires hang on the walls.
It adds up to a space that national publications hail on lists for “most romantic restaurants” and “best wedding venues.”
Faith Scheffler, sales and event manager and co-owner, has worked at Log Haven for 23 years, long enough to have watched couples get married and return years later for their children’s weddings. With up to 150 events a year (before COVID-19), she’s hosted more than 3,000 unions.
The details have changed this year: Log Haven offers an option of micro weddings of 15 or fewer guests. And couples have typically cut their guest lists for larger weddings in half; Log Haven spreads groups of more than 80 people over multiple spaces, using a new audio/visual system. But one thing is constant: “I still cry at the weddings, I do,” she said.
Food and drink
Salt Lake County wasn’t known for its food scene when David Jones moved from California to work as the chef at Log Haven. Chain restaurants and large portions were the goal in the mid-1990s. “The shelves were pretty stark back then,” he recalls.
He remembers having to change his menu several times to adjust to Utah’s palate. Once he made the mistake of removing prime rib for a cut of pork that sat under spun sugar and was called “pork under glass.”
Today, the rustic Rocky Mountain cuisine is sought after, whether for weddings, anniversary dinners or special occasions. Used to living in the country’s lettuce bowl in Monterey Bay and having his pick of fresh produce, Jones connected Utah food distributors with his regional sources. His fans credit him for helping cultivate the farm-to-table ethos that foodies have come to expect from Utah’s dining scene.
Jones created a garden at Log Haven, which provides fresh tomatoes, corn, lemon cucumbers and cantaloupes to today’s dinner guests. Before COVID-19, his team would harvest Millcreek Canyon’s native elderberries, chokecherries and service berries and preserve them for fall and winter dishes. He seeks wild mushrooms from an Idaho source (the current menu includes wood ear mushrooms with the sake-marinated halibut) and game from a local vendor (grilled bison steak is also on the menu).
The dinner menu is matched by a wine and speciality drinks list of about 180 items. General manager and co-owner Ian Campbell selects the drinks, drawing on crowd pleasers that go well with the food, along with new favorites, whether it’s wine from the Finger Lakes region or the Spanish island of Mallorca.
He’s also in charge of the wait staff, whom he hires for their passion for food and drink and their warmth with customers. The goal is for guests to “have the best time and enjoy themselves,” he said.
He disagrees that dining out will disappear in the wake of the pandemic. “People will always want to sit down at a table and be served fine food and wine in a beautiful atmosphere. It’s a mini vacation.”
Provost had never owned a restaurant before she bought Log Haven. But as a self-described high-powered executive in a multibillion-dollar health care corporation, restaurants are where she sought refuge from her soulless job, she said. Solace is what she wanted to create with Log Haven.
First, she had to repair a neglected and condemned space. When she bought the property, kitchen equipment was in the pond. Piles of rotting garbage were strewn about. Asbestos and a diesel tank had to be removed.
And her restoration work continues. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Forest Service recently thanked her for allowing them to remove nonnative fish from her pond and helping restore Bonneville cutthroat trout to the creek.
For restaurant guests, relaxation starts with the 10-minute drive up the canyon into the forest. Provost said a groom investigating wedding sites recently asked to stand and feel the energy of the space before choosing.
The property’s power is in its natural setting. But Provost said there’s more to it. “You do feel a bit healed and rejuvenated,” she said of being at Log Haven. “Over the years, the people who celebrate here, [their] energy of connection and honoring of one another, that energy I believe sinks into this land.”
“I know it sounds touchy-feely,” she said. “That’s who we are.”
Provost invited the chef, general manager and event manager to be co-owners, and all of them credit their collaboration and respect for one another for the restaurant’s longevity. They say they are pieces to a puzzle and complement each other.
“We’re creating and evolving,” said Campbell. “That’s gratifying.”
“There is just a unity between all of us,” added Scheffler. Provost, she said, has kept the restaurant on a solid financial footing through past downturns. “She’s kept us all safe and, there’s no other way to say it, loved, year after year. That’s why we’re all here.”