Restaurateurs Joel LaSalle (left) and Mikel Trapp (right) have cooked up the perfect recipe at Main Course Management, Salt Lake City’s most successful restaurant group. These two industry veterans combined their talents to create a menu of eight independent concept restaurants that operate under diﬀerent names and oﬀer unique products, but beneﬁt from strong business tactics and a joint operating system.
LaSalle and Trapp forged a friendship over the years by helping each other out with business and management issues and attending industry trips arranged by suppliers. “Mikel has strong skills where I’m weaker,” says LaSalle, “and we have similar goals and work ethics.” Their first joint venture was Current Fish & Oyster. Trapp was repeatedly approached by the city to renovate a historic building and former antique market on 300 South to save it from disrepair and certain demolition. Calling on his friend LaSalle, the two decided to join forces and revive that important area of downtown. They took pains to design a simple and understated space that was purposefully engineered to let the building’s architecture, its history and the dynamic seafood take center stage.
Both LaSalle and Trapp agree that the strength of any organization is its people. “Our general strategy is unique — we really value and cater to the best talent, culinary staff and managers we can find.” That strategy is paying off. The average tenure for restaurant employees is about two and a half years. At Main Course Management establishments, employees are given a chance to gain equity in some way and some have remained a part of the family for 10-20 years.
“One thing about the restaurant industry,” says LaSalle, “a lot of times people will encourage good chefs to open their own restaurants, but being a good chef is not enough. Some don’t have any idea about the business end of operating a business. For a restaurant to succeed, you need both ‘front of the house’ and ‘back of the house’ skills.”
With eight restaurants so far — including Oasis Café, Café Trio Cottonwood, Kyoto and the newest gem in the crown, Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar — it seems like the business model is sizzling hot. Forming Main Course Management Group allows them to maximize negotiating power for food products, real estate, operations and cost control, while creating award-winning spaces that generate buzz and excitement. Each restaurant has its own style, from Kyoto’s traditional Japanese décor and cuisine, to Oasis Café’s peaceful patio and adjoining Golden Braid Bookstore, to Café Trio’s lively Italian menu and vibe.
LaSalle and Trapp always have new irons in the fire. The recent total reconstruction of the former Faustina space and its transformation into the newly opened Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar is evidence of the team’s great attention to detail and design. Future plans for the re-tooling of recently acquired Café Niche include a possible expansion and a facelift to bring it in line with Main Course Management’s ever- expanding family and to make the most of an already charming café.
What’s cooking for the future? These two powerhouses have set their sights on working with the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency and the Utah Historical engineers to restore the grand old Utah Theater located at 150 South Main. A classic Vaudevillian relic with ornate ceilings and a long, illustrious history, the theater poses many challenges but promises a lot of potential. “Our goal is to create a gathering place, an entertainment and food venue in the heart of the burgeoning theater district near the
Capitol Theater, the Rose Wagner Theater and the new Eccles Theater, where people can dine before or after shows, host private events or meet for cocktails.” Plans include
a possible collaboration with the Utah Film Series and other arts organizations, and the establishment of an educational component for youth theater, cinema and music.