Breakfast at the Blue Plate Diner

Americana, Food, Hometown Heroes, Odd Jobs, People, Traditions
on March 3, 2011
High Cotton Food Styling & Photography

John Bouzek heaps plates with omelets and eggs Benedict at the Blue Plate Diner in Salt Lake City, a 1940s-style eatery that is as inviting as its buttermilk biscuits.

“We’ve pieced it together over the years on a shoestring,” says Bouzek, 44, about the busy diner, which he opened in 2000 with his wife, Tamrika Khvtisiashvili, 34. “It’s a culmination of road tripping, visiting mom-and-pop restaurants and a recollection of all that.”

The couple’s love for travel and adventure brought them together in Salt Lake City—Bouzek, a snowboarder from Chicago, and Khvtisiashvili, a high-school foreign exchange student from Tibilsi, Georgia—and fittingly led to the inspiration for the Blue Plate Diner.

On a road trip, they happened to stop in Salina, Utah (pop. 2,393), and peek into the window of a boarded-up drugstore.

“There was a green and yellow counter, and you could see through the dust that it was in pretty good shape,” Khvtisiashvili recalls. “We just fell in love with it.”

They bought the 1942 Formica soda fountain with its 18 matching stools and made it the centerpiece of the Blue Plate Diner. The couple salvaged more 1940s soda fountain fixtures and booths from the former Olympic Club in Salt Lake City, and tables and chairs from the defunct Cowboy Café in Fillmore, Utah (pop. 2,253). Through the years, patrons have added to the homey mishmash with vintage Schwinn bicycles, Beatles concert tickets, a velvet Elvis picture and automobile license plates from every state.

The diner’s menu is vast and varied, from banana splits to vegetarian black bean burritos, but the standout fare is the all-day breakfast. For eight years, local residents have named the Blue Plate Diner the city’s “best breakfast” spot.

“Super popular are our five different eggs Benedict,” says Bouzek, who goes through 5,000 eggs each week. Nearly a dozen varieties of omelets are offered.

Diners brag about the tasty food and the friendly staff, many of whom have worked at the eatery since opening day.

“You feel good coming in here,” says Gordon Berggren, 85, who has made the diner his second home for nine years. “Everybody talks to each other. It’s an ‘everyone is welcome’ type of place.”

After Berggren ordered two eggs, two bacon strips and two pancakes on every visit for months, Khvtisiashvili named the meal “Gordon’s Special” on the menu. A World War I photo of Berggren’s father is displayed on the back bar.

Regular patrons become as dear as family, so the diner seemed the ideal place to Kathy Johnson, 52, and Bob Greely, 50, for their surprise wedding last October. They invited their friends to the Blue Plate on the pretext of seeking help with their wedding plans, but in reality they held a surprise wedding ceremony.

The bride and groom, themselves, were surprised when the staff produced a wedding cake and an accordion player and handed out noisemakers to everyone in the diner.

Another “regular,” J. P. Lucas, walks to the diner three or four times a week for his favorite corned beef hash and corncakes. He calls the diner a “gem.”

“It’s one of the few places where you have grandparents eating beside the most cutting-edge tattooed bikers,” says Lucas, 43. “The diner transcends all barriers.”