Waiting tables at The Coffee Shop was a trial-by-fire for Jeanne Anderson. When she joined the team nearly 33 years ago, the beloved Salt Lake City landmark looked a little different. Each morning, regulars would crowd the counters, sometimes choosing to stand when tables weren’t immediately available. Instead of just one, two counters welcomed diners–one was referred to as “the top,” the other “the back”–and each was looked after by a longstanding staff member. Across from the bustling counter service, Jeanne remembers the long row of two-seater booths that the staff referred to as “the racetrack.” As she recalls, “If you got assigned to the racetrack you knew you’d be running up and down, up and down all morning.”
Jeanne came to The Coffee Shop in 1991 on a recommendation from a friend who’d said that Little America seemed like “a nice place to work.” At the time, she was a single mother, working at her aunt’s popular Italian restaurant in South Salt Lake. But when her aunt sold the business, she needed to find a reliable place to provide for her family. She still remembers her first day on the job–how nervous she was, and how her car wouldn’t start in the morning. She remembers the chaos of the early morning crowd, and the way the smoke from the “smoking” section would travel and mingle with the supposedly “non-smoking” section of the dining room. Back then, the regulars came Monday through Friday, Jeanne says, “like they worked there.”
A Pillar in the Community
The Coffee Shop was established as an iconic Salt Lake City restaurant well before Jeanne joined the team but, in her tenure, she’s witnessed the phenomenon firsthand. Frequented by local politicians, traveling professional athletes, and an array of celebrities coming into town for ski vacations and film festival appearances. Of the many famous faces passing through the door, Jeanne specifically remembers meeting Old Hollywood actresses, and recalls a particularly memorable encounter with one rockstar, which she admits made her so nervous she accidentally gave him directions to the women’s restroom.
Still a pillar in the downtown dining scene, over the years, The Coffee Shop has changed much as Salt Lake City itself has changed. As waves of new transplants move-in to enjoy the beauty and vibrancy of life in Utah, they may not automatically know of the steadfast legacy of The Coffee Shop. But locals, like Jeanne (as she herself has lived in the Valley all her life), still know that Baked Halibut night is Friday night, and know why the Turkey Dinner plate will not be taken off the menu. These dishes, and this place, is a part of the fabric of Salt Lake. It’s why coming here, no matter the length of your stay, feels like coming home.
As Time Goes By
The Coffee Shop was taken down to the studs in an expansive renovation in 2011. Many of the key features that Jeanne recalls from her first days were replaced with a more modern take on the classic diner. But while the building has changed, what’s really inside has mostly stayed the same. The recipes are tried-and-true and made-from-scratch daily. And the staff is unbelievably well-tenured, several having stayed at The Coffee Shop for multiple decades. In the time she’s been here, Jeanne has not only raised her kids, but she also has watched the children of her regulars grow up and become regulars themselves.
When she first started, she really didn’t think she would stay long. But it seems time moves quickly when you’re on “the racetrack.” She loves her customers and her co-workers, which has made the time fly by. Plus, Jeanne says, “it’s nice to come to a pretty place [like Little America] everyday.”
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