In Sept. 2017, Big Ed’s on University St. abruptly closed its doors. The University of Utah staple’s loss disappointed U college students and faculty alike after its 50-year run. The sign on the door facing President’s Circle read “Sorry Restaurant Closed,” hardly an explanation for the loss of a campus classic. Just before the start of the past fall semester, however, Publik Coffee opened its doors in the newly renovated space, aptly named Publik Ed’s.
“This city, our city, is on the rise, and we’re fanning the flame.” Publik’s website features this motto— which is no surprise. Publik Coffee Roasters is easily one of the biggest names in Salt Lake City’s growing coffee culture. With their identity of community and camaraderie, they now feature four permanent locations open to hosting events of all kinds, providing a cozy meeting place and developing their unique menu items and classic coffee.
However, this newest addition to the family, the campus’s beloved hole-in-the-wall, stands separate from other Publik locations. It isn’t even on their website, so new and stand-alone that it is hard to see how Publik Ed’s is a bridge to this gap between the old dingy dive and the hipster coffee/toast culture.
Interestingly, Publik Coffee Roasters wasn’t looking for a new location when Big Ed’s fell through. They had previously found some success in a City Creek pop-up, but hadn’t been actively looking to expand any further. So it was a surprise when the owners of the old property sought out Publik and reached out to owner Missy Gries. The Publik company had previously told the Daily Utah Chronicle that they viewed this proposal as an exciting branding opportunity.
Picking up the pieces of Big Ed’s (quite literally, with the old “Big Ed’s” sign hanging on the walls) and revamping it was no easy task. Acquiring the correct licenses and meeting the correct compliances for the “Beer Hole,” not to mention remodeling the space to get the shoddy building up to code and health department requirements, took Publik Coffee Roasters longer than anticipated, pushing their opening further back through summer 2018 before finally opening in time for fall semester.
Publik Ed’s is a culinary anomaly, a combination of beer and breakfast, a beast unto itself outside of the other three Publik locations. The shops downtown and in the Avenues have similar menu items, listing first their various drinks, followed by classic toasts and topped off with the Publik mouse-made granola. The third Publik Kitchen takes a step away from the norm, boasting an additional variety of signature toasts and the option to build-your-own. The vibes align with Publik’s coffee brand: community centric, incredibly modern and the perfect hangout in a growing hipster mecca.
However, Publik Ed’s charm comes from the importance of blending traditions. Big Ed’s was known for their “gawd-awful” breakfast, a legendary hangover cure featuring two eggs, tater tots, chili, cheese and pickled onions. It now proudly sits at the top of the University St. menu, completely separate from the gourmet toasts of their older establishments. While Big Ed’s espresso euphemisms haven’t been revived, the menu ensures that you could still pull any of Ed’s old stunts.
Still, Publik Ed’s is a coffee-based shop many students and faculty turn to for a morning pick-me-up. The shop’s various lattes and coffee-based drinks are as popular and accessible as the campus Starbucks in the eyes of some students. As a complete newbie to the scene, U students Trey Pullen and Alexis Lilley filled me in on the new favorites. “Their white mocha is fantastic. Pair it with the great atmosphere of the place and those to-die-for waffles— I love it,” Pullen remarks. “I actually love the vanilla chai. Their tea is actually so good. Oh, and those tots are the bomb,” says Lilley.
It is a recurring sentiment that Publik Ed’s is known for more than just their coffee, and the Publik Ed’s Instagram account boasts another new favorite drink — the London Fog Milkshake, a tea drink made with Howdy’s local Sweet Cream Ice Cream and Publik’s own famous syrup, featured with my own personal favorite, their waffles.
Publik Ed’s is becoming a bigger deal on our campus because of how different it is from anything else around. Its menu is so funky and diverse, the shop’s interior is cool and vibrant, and it is a space so different from Big Ed’s yet still manages to call on the nostalgia.
As if these signs weren’t clear enough. Daily, new signs posted just outside their door make Publik Ed’s incredibly inviting. With new winter drink specials such as the Solstice Jubilee, Liquid Luck, Sweet Melissa and a Winterberry Spice Tea posted right by the UTA bus stop and the crosswalk to President’s Circle, it’s clear that more and more students are there every day.