Thanksgiving helps Salt Lake City restaurant serve community, bring in business during pandemic

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Joey Ferran and Bret Guild prepare Thanksgiving meals at Cucina in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

A few weeks ago, Joey Ferran, the chef at Cucina, floated the idea of offering takeout meals for Thanksgiving — something the Salt Lake City deli and wine bar had never offered before.

“We had an enormous response,” Ferran said.

In the last three days, Ferran prepared more than 200 orders of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce for customers to pick up Thursday from the deli in The Avenues. Cucina received so much interest that the restaurant had to turn people away, he said.

Some of the college students who work at Cucina couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving, and with many other Utahns expected to gather in smaller groups and visit with family over Zoom this year, the staff figured, “If they need a Thanksgiving meal, probably a lot of people do, too,” said Erika England, the restaurant’s general manager.

Customers wore masks as they collected their carryout bags Thursday afternoon. Hannah Spinner, of Salt Lake City, said she planned to eat her traditional Thanksgiving meal from Cucina with a couple of friends, sitting around a fire pit outside.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hannah Spinner leaves Cucina with her Thanksgiving meal on Thursday Nov. 26, 2020.

Jamie Zukosky, of Boulder, Colo., stopped in the restaurant for a bite to eat with his wife and four children after a hike. They were visiting Zukosky’s son, who lives in Utah, and planned to eat their holiday meal that evening at Sundance Mountain Resort.

It’s been a rough year for restaurants like Cucina, England said, with social distancing guidelines limiting group sizes and people staying home during the coronavirus pandemic. To adapt, Cucina started offering four-course carryout date-night dinners, which have been popular, and the restaurant switches to fine dining every evening, England said.

Ferran said he was “excited” to provide holiday meals for the community and to bring in some business. England said they planned to have a small celebration with the staff once the carryout meals were picked up.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Erika England bags Thanksgiving meals at Cucina in Salt Lake City on Thursday Nov. 26, 2020.

Local health officials encouraged people to only gather with people they live with this year, rather than hosting large get-togethers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also urged people not to travel for Thanksgiving as part of efforts to curb rising COVID-19 cases across the country. The number of Utahns flying out of Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday was expected to be about half — 13,000 — compared to the 26,000 flying the same time last year, according to airport officials.

The Utah Department of Health did not release updated COVID-19 numbers Thursday, giving public health workers a break on the holiday. On Wednesday, the state set new single-day records with 26 deaths from COVID-19 and 570 people hospitalized with the virus. There were also 1,781 new cases, the lowest that statistic has been since Nov. 3.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall posted videos on Twitter asking community members and leaders how they were safely celebrating this year.

Quin Snyder, coach of the Utah Jazz, said he was going to involve his kids in the cooking, with some help from one of the basketball team’s chefs.

“I think my wife, Amy, is going to be excited about the stuffing this year because I’m not going to be making it. Ben’s going to help us out and drop it off,” Snyder said.

Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah’s state epidemiologist, said her children wanted salmon for the main course, so they ordered their meal from a local restaurant. They might also watch a holiday movie, such as “Home Alone” or “National Lampoon,” and spend the day outside.

“I’ve got a couple of little kids that are learning to ski, so we’re going to find a small mountain hill for them to go down and do some sledding and use the time, just the four us,” she said.

The Rev. France Davis said he was planning to stay home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, saying hello to his relatives through FaceTime. Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson said he was going with his children, wife and dog to their cabin in the mountains to eat and snowshoe. And Rep. Brian King said he was going to video chat with his four daughters, since they couldn’t be together in person this year.

Ty Burrell, the star of the TV series “Modern Family” and a transplanted Utahn, said he planned to make a big meal with his family (his wife, Holly, is a pastry chef), and leave food at their parents’ doorsteps, talking with them from a distance.

Knowing COVID-19 vaccines are coming, “we’re feeling a lot more encouraged to double down on safety with a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Burrell said.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Thanksgiving meals wait for pick up at Cucina in Salt Lake City on Thursday Nov. 26, 2020.