5 Black-Owned Restaurants to Support in Utah
Local favorites such as 11Hauz, Joe’s Cafe and Sauce Boss deliver multicultural flavors while also community gathering spots.
As Utah attracts new residents from around the world, a story that began with Native American tribes and eventually Pioneer settlers has evolved into a beautiful, multicultural web. Specifically, a new generation of Black chefs have established restaurants with inspirations ranging from Caribbean to Southern cuisines. And their menus offer Utah diners the chance to share their cultural joy.
Over the last year, many Black-owned restaurants have received an outpouring of support in response to social justice awareness. Part of that support includes knowing and understanding the stories of the owners and how their cultural history inspires the food they serve — the stories that make them a part of Utah’s story.
Utah’s Black chefs are cooking from their own culinary inspirations, similar to the work of national chefs such as Michael W. Twitty, author of "The Cooking Gene," and Toni Tipton-Marton, author of "Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking."
After passing all the fast food and burger chains along 123rd South in Draper, you’ll find Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen, which serves food that tastes like it was made at home. Chef Julius Thompson serves Southern classics such as fried chicken, catfish, shrimp and grits, mashed potatoes, crispy fries and thick slices of cornbread. As you place your order, you can hear the sizzling of fried chicken and Chef Julius’ warm laugh as he talks with his staff. Start your meal with an order of the bacon cheese fries and let that be the gateway to a delectable meal cooked with heart — and the story of a chef who found happiness in the kitchen.
Julius Thompson moved to Utah with his family when he was 14, following his grandmother who came in search of a quieter life after raising 10 children in the Chicago projects. He had survived a difficult childhood living in crack houses, homeless shelters and foster homes, while watching his family struggle with drug use. Because of this background, when he finished high school and went on to college, he aspired to be a pharmacist. He wanted to help people while earning a comfortable salary. However, after a couple of years of working as a pharmacy technician, he realized that he wanted to pursue his true passion, cooking, and live a more fulfilling life.
Julius enrolled in culinary school and immediately took to his new craft. He felt the same joy that he felt in his family’s kitchen as a child, watching and observing. With new skills learned from top professionals and the love and support of his family, Julius graduated at the head of his class with a 4.0 grade point average.
He went on to manage a kitchen at the Salt Lake City International Airport (Read: "Finding Local Flavors at the New Salt Lake City International Airport") and then started a food truck in July 2016. As an established business, Sauce Boss is a soul food favorite along the Wasatch Front. Often customers come in and chat with Chef Julius and ask to hear his story. They ask him why he serves Southern cuisine if he is from Chicago.
“I tell them that Southern food is a version of slave food,” he says. “The cuisine we eat today was once thrown-out scraps from the big house plantations given to slaves. Black people were able to take food that wasn’t appreciated and meant to be thrown out, and turn it into something beautiful that tastes good and can be shared with others.”
His grandmother’s family moved from the South to Chicago and carried with them the traditions of their slave ancestors. In 2020, Julius published his autobiography, “Pearls: The Chronological Interview of One of America's Forgotten Children,” which he sells at the restaurant. As Chef Julius shares his love for Southern food in Utah, his story becomes part of Utah’s story.
"The cuisine we eat today was once thrown-out scraps from the big house plantations given to slaves. Black people were able to take food that wasn’t appreciated and meant to be thrown out, and turn it into something beautiful that tastes good and can be shared with others."
– Chef Julius Thompson, Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen
Park City offers a wide range of cuisine options, but 11Hauz is the only Jamaican restaurant in the state. Sheron Grant grew up in Jamaica watching her grandmother, Florence, cook after coming home from work where she cooked for other families. When Sheron came to Utah to work as a nanny, she noticed that most food options in the state were limited to sandwiches, burgers and fries or Mexican and Italian food. She began selling Jamaican food at the Park Silly Market with her family in 2013. Their food was so popular at the market that they decided to expand into a store in 2018.
Aside from Sheron and her family sharing the food that represents their culture, one added benefit to opening the store is that the location has become a community-gathering place. Now that there are more Black-owned restaurants in the state, diverse communities are able to enjoy eating more culturally authentic food (Read: "A Table for All: Feeding Utah's Culture"). Nyesha, Sheron’s daughter, explained that the family sourced the food on the menu from Jamaica, including oxtail, Jamaican cheddar and a variety of juices. “The ingredients are difficult to find in Utah, so we ship it in from Jamaica to California to Utah to make sure that we are serving the best that Jamaican food has to offer.”
To start your meal, some favorites are the beef patty, jerk wings and the mac and cheese made with Jamaican cheddar. The jerk chicken or the oxtail are staples for an entree, all of which would not be complete without a glass of sorrel, a hibiscus juice made in house. All juices, sauces and slaws are freshly made and complement each meal.
With a vibrant atmosphere and friendly staff, it is easy to feel welcome and partake of a slice of island culture.
"Now that there are more Black-owned restaurants in the state, diverse communities are able to enjoy eating more culturally authentic food."
Located along busy State Street in Orem is Joe’s Cafe, offering the town’s best breakfast and lunch. Whether hurrying in for a seat after smelling the biscuits and omelets from outside or eagerly waiting in your car along the curb for pick-up orders, Joe Hicks and his family make this cafe the spot to be when you’re craving good old comfort food in the morning. Joe and his wife, Ana, started Joe’s Cafe in 2009 with their two young daughters alongside them. You feel like family when you are greeted by Ana, and later by Joe, who comes around to each table to see how diners are enjoying their food.
Starting your breakfast with either Joe’s or Ana’s omelet is a great way to activate your taste buds. “Joe makes his omelet extra special if he likes you!” Ana says. Every customer feels special as they can see the smiles radiating through the staff’s eyes even behind masks. If you’ve got room, make sure to order the biscuits and gravy with a large order of sweet grits on the side. If you’re craving lunch, the customer favorite is the grilled pastrami sandwich. Rich, flavorful onions complement the sandwich with a side of potato salad to sneak in between each bite.
Joe grew up in Texas and spent most of his career opening up Denny’s and IHOPs around the country. After suffering some losses from the economic downturn in 2008, Joe decided it was time to open up his own cafe the following year in 2009, and he has been thriving ever since. The Hicks family have created a restaurant that has become a Saturday morning staple in Orem. If there’s a wait, they’ll make sure to text you when a seat is available. There isn’t enough room in your stomach to try everything on the menu, but that’s all the more reason to come back. The food will keep you stuffed and satisfied, but Joe and Ana will send you off feeling like you’re one of their own.
Taste of Louisiana
Ordering take-out from Taste of Louisiana is an opportunity to take a deep dive into a melting pot of southern favorites. This food truck, operated by Jerrell and Helena Carter, Louisiana natives and retired military veterans, is regularly parked on Hill Air Force Base. The truck provides Davis County and other diners a wide variety of options to try. You can follow them on Facebook for updates on where their food truck will be located or place an order from their established home base and pick up your food at the south gate at Hill Air Force Base.
After being greeted by Helena or Jerrell, their jovial voices over the phone immediately make you feel like you’ve been embraced by life-long friends who packed you a lovely meal to take home. When asked what items on the menu are the best items, Helena will inform you: “Baby, all of our menu items are the best ones! You won’t be disappointed with whatever you pick.” It’s an accurate statement. One bite of the shrimp basket with a side of red beans and rice will have you craving more, so you might consider ordering a second meal such as the po-boy sandwich and some red velvet cake to ensure you have gotten the full experience.
As the Carters have made Utah their home, they wanted to give a piece of their home to Utah. And that they have. Whether you’re visiting Utah for the first time or live down the street, you will take part of the Carters and their delicious food back with you to your home.
"When asked what items on the menu are the best items, Helena will inform you: 'Baby, all of our menu items are the best ones! You won’t be disappointed with whatever you pick.' It’s an accurate statement."
Miss Essie’s BBQ
If you’re looking to enjoy delicious BBQ, Miss Essie’s BBQ provides family-sized portions available for curbside pickup in Murray. If you want to add the flavor of Miss Essie’s BBQ to your own home cooking, four flavors of BBQ sauces are available at Harmon’s, Smith’s and Whole Foods stores. Miss Essie’s BBQ is run by Marcus Jones, who strives to provide a memorable experience for diners.
Marcus Jones grew up in Arizona and moved to Utah on a University of Utah football scholarship. In 2002, he started working for Skybox Sports Grille that was located at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake. He pitched to the head chef that they should serve BBQ on the menu and that he would like to showcase his family recipes, highlighting the traditions passed down from his grandmother, Miss Essie, who was raised on a farm in Arkansas.
Marcus preserves his family’s love of fresh produce, flavorful BBQ and the desire to share it with others. What sets his dishes apart are the recipes he created with his father, which are consistent, full-bodied and full-flavored.
Trays of garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and bacon and classic macaroni with a southern twist are the perfect side to meats such as smoked ribs, pulled pork and BBQ chicken. But the real magic happens in a 16-ounce bottle.
With four different flavors, Miss Essie’s BBQ sauces are designed to stand on their own. The Original BBQ sauce is mild in body with a hickory smoke flavor — great for dipping or basting. The Honey BBQ sauce is sweet with a blend of spices you can taste and a nice, smoked flavor. The Apple Cider Vinegar BBQ sauce might work to convert someone who isn’t normally a fan of vinegar-based BBQ sauces — it’s nice and thick, loaded with spices and a punch of vinegar. Lastly, the Honey Mustard BBQ sauce pairs well with sausages, hot dogs, pulled pork and chicken but isn’t overwhelmingly mustard-y.