Stay Gold, Salt Lake Roasting Company, Stay Gold - I Forgot My Mantra
Salt Lake Roasting Company is a mecca for coffee drinkers. It will soon be torn down and moved a few blocks east on 400 South in Salt Lake City, Utah. SLRC serves as a milestone for me because it's where I had my first cup of coffee. It was and continues to be a shop that welcomes all kinds - a true community vibe, unpretentious and original. John Bolton serves coffee without compromise from 26 origins.
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salt lake roasting company

Stay Gold, Salt Lake Roasting Company, Stay Gold

 

The first time I had a cup of coffee I was 21 years old and it was at Salt Lake Roasting Company.

What I remember is the cafe felt like a humming library; utilitarian in presence – welcoming to skiers, students, business men and opera goers alike. It was and still has a comfortable, yet exotic environment. Salt Lake Roasting Company is progressive in its conscientious choice of beans, like shade-grown, sustainably harvested and single-origin varieties, yet old-fashioned in its presentation of coffee and colorful handmade pastries and cakes, exhibited behind beautiful glass displays like prizes at a carnival. This moment was a benchmark for me because I was jumping off into the whitewater of adulthood. Drinking coffee with my soon to be live-in boyfriend in a weird city where I knew not a soul felt risqué. The ultimate rush is that I was practically sinning in Utah. After all, imbibing coffee in the early 90’s was (and still is) frowned upon in Mormon country.

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slrc-desserts-2 The delectable pastries at Salt Lake Roasting Company

 

I moved in with my boyfriend in ’94 to our lower Avenues apartment, which was close enough to catch the aroma of roasted beans blowing from SLRC. Like a siren calling my name with a scent instead of a sound, I responded with daily visits. I never deviated my order – a cup of house and a bran muffin. In the 90’s, Salt Lake Roasting Company was open until 1 am on weekends, and it became my haven in a city that felt culturally “blah.” It was THE community meeting place for coffee lovers, unpretentious and without compromise. I know they existed, but don’t even remember any other coffee shop, except diners like the former Bill and Nada’s and Denny’s.

When I was working for the Salt Lake City Weekly, I met SLRC owner John Bolton on a sales call for an ad in the annual Best of Utah, for which Salt Lake Roasting Company won “Best Coffee” year after year. In 1995, I started stalking him to acknowledge his fans by way of advertising. I waited for what seemed to be forever, for this mysterious owner had a reputation of unavailabilty. John came out of hiding from the upstairs attached apartment where he lived, looking like a cross between a river rafting guide and a 70’s rock god in cut off ripped jean shorts, a tee shirt and Birks. Very basic, a little hippie. John bought an ad in the City Weekly and I proudly became the first sales rep to sell him one. I’m honored to still consider him a friend.

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So, let’s talk about the coffee.

Bolton began roasting beans in 1981 while he was working as a chef for Snowbird. In 1993 he opened his first retail location on 249 East 400 South, shoring up the good vibes Stoneground owner Bob McCarthy now enjoys.  Sadly, he watched it burn down a few years later. In 1990 Bolton leased an old real estate title building, where Salt Lake’s coffee mecca has been located ever since. He remodeled it himself by raising the dropped ceilings, opening up the second floor and installing a beautiful staircase, a Salt Lake Roasting Company architectural hallmark. The counter area looks like an apothecary for coffee beans with each variety, 45 in all from 26 origins, housed in a wooden bank of drawers. It’s a cabinet of coffee curiosities.

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The gothot. The roaster at Salt Lake Roasting Company.

Let’s talk about the roaster. It’s black and bad ass–a 1955 cast iron Gothot from Germany, one of only 4 left in North America. Gothot looks like an old-fashioned steam engine locomotive, very beasty . Every day Bolton fires up his drum roaster and roasts just the right amount of beans which he deems necessary to satisfy local and global customers.

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The number of coffee roasters has exploded in SLC to well over 10 micro roasters. The growth has a lot to do with the growing population of SLC (obv). But, I think there is something to be recognized in that Utah liberals need to express pent-up rebellion by drinking coffee in a tightly wound social environment that is so profoundly found in the state. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about or you don’t know that drinking coffee is a sign of religion in Utah, Google it!)

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After the explosion of Starbucks, coffee flavorings, pumpkin spice lattes and all of that other bullshit, I ignored my beloved SLRC. I got caught up in pour overs, steam punks and avocado toast. But, I have returned to where it all began for me. I’m back at the classic Roasting Co. with a HUGE caffeine buzz and I’m taking it all in before they move to their new location. For over 5 years, the city has been acting as a real estate developer and has slowly bought up all the viable businesses and land surrounding and across the street from SLRC, like Barnes Bank, Scientology, and Sizzler.  John held the city off for as long as he could, but eventually the city prevailed (when do they not) and his building will be torn down. In its place? The city recently announced a controversial plan to build an affordable “low income” housing project. If that plan falls through I’m sure there will be a plan for some horrific looking apartment complex constructed with dated brick and fake stone facade with a Starbucks on the corner.

The new SLRC will be revived very soon, 5 blocks east at 820 East 400 South. John is building a new, smaller shop, which will incorporate some elements of the original location, including the most important thing: coffee without compromise. And I will continue to get high on the best coffee I have ever tasted. SLRC will always be a reminder of my roots and my personal growth.

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10 Comments
  • Allie Couch
    Posted at 22:28h, 01 February Reply

    Love this! Beautifully written, Christa.

    • Christa Zaro
      Posted at 18:57h, 03 February Reply

      Thank you Allie! and CosmoMuse makes the best fashion accessory too!

  • Rebecca
    Posted at 03:54h, 03 February Reply

    Oh boy, I lovedc reading this on several fronts, and can certainly appreciate the original coffee haven in SLC. I had many great cups there, so it brings some nice memories back. Thank you.
    Now…. For many outsiders, the
    SLCCC( SLCCOFFEECULTURE) is hard to grasp because most of the outside world is only familiar with the areas quirky liquor laws. Most people have no idea about the notion that coffee is a big ole sin! The real world & science knows that coffee is GOOD for us in moderation, that the health benefits outweigh the sinfulness of “hot beverage”, or cold .
    But, Just yesterday ( and it happens often) I commented to a group of Garden State coffee clutchers, that after 6 years back here in NYC area, I finally don’t feel like I’m being a deviant when I have my coffee in the office. Of course, when I express this people think I’m nuts so it opens up a conversation about Mormons.
    I was not and never have been LDS. BUT, after living around enough people who felt guilty about drinking coffee and Mormon boyfriend for 8 years, apparently, experienced a type of brainwashing. I remember once down on Wall Street about 2 months upon my return east, I was looking around sheepishly for my new boss to put a judgement upon me and my Starbucks cup!

    So thanks for the memories and writing about an iconic landmark in SLC! And No more guilt!

  • Christa Zaro
    Posted at 19:03h, 03 February Reply

    Thanks you Rebecca- this place really pulls on heartstrings for so many. It was the only place back then to commiserate with our fellow “sinners.” It’s an interesting conversion to have with those that live outside of Utah. and Utah is that place that holding a coffee cup defines morals and religion — ahh, only in Utah.

  • Virginia Gowski
    Posted at 01:51h, 05 February Reply

    Great piece-and it’s hilarious that one of your tags is “boyfriend”. 😉

  • Jennifer Seagrave
    Posted at 16:55h, 09 February Reply

    SLRC seems to hold a chronicle of my time here in SLC. I love it. Thanks for shining a light on John and the jazzy person you are. So great!

  • Sarah
    Posted at 15:03h, 10 February Reply

    Thank you Christa! Wow, this was also one of the first places I fell in love with coffee while in college with my first boyfriend + your words took me right back to my first cup. Thank you for reminding me of such a special place + why I need to go back before they move! Love, love your blog! xo

    • Christa Zaro
      Posted at 19:25h, 10 February Reply

      It holds a special heart space to so many. Thanks for reading

  • Mary Dean
    Posted at 17:26h, 07 September Reply

    I’m so glad you wrote about this unique place, it really took me back as I reflected upon my memories of it. I started going to SL Roasting when it was in the original location at Stoneground, and I’ve never stopped going. Hands down, the best coffee I’ve had anywhere, and the atmosphere is like no other. My daughters grew up going to SLRC along with me, and they loved the pastries and hot chocolate. They’re all grown up now and they love their coffee like me, and I’m sure as they have kids the ritual will repeat. The Mormons may have their traditions in Utah, but we “Others” have ours and SLRC is our tradition. Long live SLRC!
    BTW…the new location is looking good, just tried it out last week!

    • admin
      Posted at 03:15h, 10 September Reply

      Mary, Thank you so much for reading my story and I’m so happy it resonated with you. It’s a very special place, as you know. Wow, you have been going since the beginning. Best cup in town! Support Local!

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