Couple keeps it fresh, new with Food for Thought | The Salt Lake Tribune

sou_foodthought_080912~1Draper • This southern Salt Lake Valley city has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a small farming community. Today, the city’s main corridor, 12300 South, is lined with chain stores and restaurants.

But only one block further south remains a vestige of the past. The area around Pioneer Road and Fort Street (12400 South and 900 East) is known as Old Town Draper. Tucked away in this section of southern Salt Lake Valley is Food for Thought, an alternative to the fast food joints that flood the main road.

“I think for the most part, people are tired of eating the same sort of chain food,” Erin Sugiyama said. “They’re looking for a different experience.”

Sugiyama, along with her husband, Steve Sugiyama, own and operate Food for Thought out of a quaint 20s-era house, which was converted for restaurant duty. The property is situated next to Draper Historical Park, a feature that adds to the charm of the leisurely breakfast and lunch spot.

While the restaurant has been at its current location since 1998, Erin Sugiyama actually started Food for Thought as a solo venture inside the Draper Historic Theatre in 1996. It was during this time she met her future husband.

Steve Sugiyama’s family has a long history of providing food to Draper, dating back to the mid-20th century.

“My father was originally from San Francisco, but during the war — during the relocation — he was moved here and he farmed in Draper back in the 40s,” said Steve Sugiyama, a third generation Japanese-American.

In the 90s, it was the Sugiyama family that introduced the Edo Japan franchise to food courts in shopping malls across Salt Lake. But after marrying Erin, Steve Sugiyama backed away from the Edo chain and the couple decided to invest their future in Food for Thought — a future Erin Sugiyama never foresaw growing up.

“I thought I’d be in international business jet-setting around the world,” Erin Sugiyama said.

Before moving to Utah, Erin Sugiyama worked for a financial institution in downtown Los Angeles. Neither she nor her husband have any formal culinary training, she said. Yet they have managed to stay in business for more than 16 years.

The Sugiyamas chalk up their success to luck and loyal customers. But they also admit to putting in a lot of hard work and constantly gauging what the public wants.

“We’re always reading magazines and books and seeing what the trends are out there,” Erin Sugiyama said.

“The thing about food is, it’s like any kind of fashion,” Steve Sugiyama said. “Things come and go. People like trends.”

The couple isn’t just concerned about catering to fickle foodies. They want to make sure their core consumer is content, and they’re willing to adapt to the tastes of their faithful patrons.

“No matter how good you think your food is, you have to be willing to change,” Steve Sugiyama said. “Our vote with a menu item isn’t valid unless we can validate it with the customer.”

Their approach appears to be working.

“This is my favorite place to eat,” said Kay Duvall, a Sandy resident who recently ate lunch at the restaurant. “They have a variety of soups and salads, and their breakfasts are really different. It’s not your regular eggs and pancakes. It’s wonderful, though.”

Her friends, Margaret Hansen of Cottonwood Heights and Grete Jensen of Sandy, said they enjoy the quiet atmosphere.

“It’s a nice place for women to come have lunch,” Hansen said. “It’s not too loud, so you can talk and actually hear each other.”

Friends gather to eat in the restaurant with its open, sunlit spaces, but so do those out for a business lunch. A group of colleagues dropped by recently for sandwiches, and ended up carting dozens of sweets — from cookies to brownies to fruit tarts — for an afternoon business meeting.

The bakeshop supplements the restaurant, and the owners are morphing it into an eatery that has a bit more of a coffee shop feel, Steve Sugiyama said.

The sweets are one of the draws for Draper resident Cindy Akagi, who comes to celebrate friends’ birthdays or grab a pastry after a hard day.

“The atmosphere is darling, and the food is always fresh and delicious,” she said. “And we love to support local.”

*Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.