Breathing new life into this salty city

Faustina300 S. 454

Matt GardnerDaily Utah Chronicle

If you ask Joel LaSalle what’s wrong with this city, he’ll tell you that we are quickly losing the war to globalization.”Ten years ago, the ratio of independent restaurants to chain restaurants was 30 percent chains and 70 percent independent. Now, it is just the opposite,” said the owner of Faustina restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City.Where has the character of Salt Lake City gone? LaSalle said he feels the city is gradually becoming “a big advertisement?and losing (its) originality.” Independent eateries face a tough market here; “nearly 50 percent of independent restaurants fail in the first 36 months,” he said.Restaurants, just like any establishment, must have their hooks to attract customers, LaSalle said. “Any business must have a niche. McDonald’s has advertisement. (Faustina) provides great food, but (the) restaurant is more than just a restaurant; it’s an experience,” he said.LaSalle goes to great lengths to make Faustina a cut above the rest. “We have made trips out to San Francisco and New York; we have carried ideas from the best restaurants out there and placed them in our business. There are no pre-packaged mashed potatoes. No boxed-up ice cream. We make everything fresh. We breathe originality,” he said. But this type of dedication is hard to maintain for individually owned restaurants like LaSalle’s. “For small, independent companies like (Faustina), we survive on word of mouth?so, it can only be about quality, not quantity,” he said. To make the kind of quality LaSalle wanted a reality, he hired the sous-chef from the renowned Aqua restaurant in San Francisco. “We have created a restaurant that is classy enough for a night on the town. But we are also casual enough for a quick bite to eat,” he said. Starting a restaurant requires a lot of creativity, LaSalle explained. Before he dove into the restaurant business, he said, he worked for Disney. “I have always been a creative person, and my team and I wanted to breed a chic authentic restaurant and we have done that. I love the creation of these places. The personalities. Everything you go through to open a place like this-the heartache you go through to figure things out-it’s like boot camp, but yet it’s so rewarding when it does so well. When it comes alive.”