Publik Coffee takes over landmark Big Ed’s near Utah campus, promising affordable breakfasts, burgers and beer

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Publik Coffee Roasters at 975 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. The refurbished building used to be a print shop. Beans from around the world are shipped in and roasted in a high-tech computerized roaster. It's a two-story building and one can look down on the main floor from the upper seating area that has Wi-Fi and meeting rooms. The menu is all toast using Utah-made bread with different toppings: from butter and jam to avocado.

Hipster coffee will get a shot of history next month when Salt Lake City’s Publik Coffee Roasters opens its fourth store, this one near the University of Utah.

The new shop will replace Big Ed’s, 210 S. University St., across from Presidents Circle. The hole-in-the-wall breakfast, beer and burger joint mysteriously closed in September after nearly 50 years in business.

Publik Coffee owner Missy Greis has named the new venture Publik Ed’s — a nod to its proximity to the U. and its predecessor.

“We realize we are walking into a landmark,” she said. “Hence the name. It works for many reasons.”

Initially, Greis wanted to keep the “divey and dark” feeling of Big Ed’s interior, but the building’s age and condition required a major remodel, which is now underway, to meet fire, safety and Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Big Ed's, 210 University St., Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.

The project has had its ups and downs. The stuccoed wall, featuring an outdoor mural of the nearby mountains and a burger, had to be replaced, she said. During the removal, a set of previously boarded-up windows were uncovered, a welcome discovery that will add light to the tiny 850-square-foot space.

Publik Ed’s also has been approved for a patio, which wasn’t there before and will create additional seating, Greis said.

The menu is still being finalized. “But we will definitely have burgers and beer. And we will definitely have breakfast and coffee,” said Greis, who received a beer-only liquor license in May from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“We want to serve the neighborhood the way [Big Ed’s] did,” she said, “and serve the students the way [it] did.”

Publik also plans to do “food we can stand behind.” That means while prices will be kept affordable, the days of $4 hamburgers or bowls of ramen are gone.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Vanilla Latte at the Publik Kitchen, a breakfast/lunch spot in SLC's 9th and 9th neighborhood. Friday, May 27, 2016.

Publik Coffee Roasters launched in 2014 in Salt Lake City in a large two-story building with an industrial design at 975 S. West Temple. Two other stores were added in 2016: Publik Avenues in a small building at 502 3rd Ave. and Publik Kitchen in a Victorian-style house at 931 E. 900 South.

Greis had not planned to add a fourth store until Joren Peterson, the building’s owner, approached her last fall.

“We are big fans of Publik Coffee,” Peterson said. “My wife and daughter probably go to Publik Kitchen at least twice a week.”

Big Ed’s abrupt closure still baffles Peterson.

Neither owner Linda Lin nor her son Stephen, who managed the restaurant, has called to explain why a “Sorry Restaurant Closed” sign suddenly appeared on the front door.

“I haven’t heard or spoken to them since,” Peterson said Wednesday.

When loyal U. students heard about the restaurant’s demise, a storefront shrine quickly formed, with sympathy cards, flowers and candles.

On social media, commenters lamented the loss, reminiscing about having their first legal beer there, watching U. football games or curing their weekend hangover with the Gawd Awful breakfast — made with hash browns, eggs, chili and cheese.

Even the U. acknowledged Big Ed’s importance, tweeting, “Sad day for campus community. RIP Big Ed’s. What you lacked in culinary skills you made up for in character.”

Peterson also is sad to see the “iconic business disappear.”

But Publik will be a good addition to the neighborhood, he said. “It will bring a new vibrancy to that space that will be a benefit to the community.”