Regulars and Shorts

Chef Profile: Squatters Pub Brewery

By Jane Laird

Brewing a more sustainable future.

It turns out that it is not possible to profile the iconic, beloved, 22-year-old Squatters Pub Brewery in 800 words. What slice of experience can capture its generous community- and employee-oriented culture, its commitment to using local ingredients and progressive suppliers for its eclectic and evolving menu, the comprehensive range of earth-friendly, people-friendly business practices and—of course—the really, really good beer?

One idea could be sitting in the warm, comfortable bar—full from a Locals Only pizza with house-made sauce and Chasing Tail Ale-flavored dough, Beehive Cheese mozzarella, Mountain View mushrooms and Creminelli Calabree salami—looking over the smooth, buzzy head of your Hell’s Keep Belgian Gold Ale at the array of other contented diners, students, families, tourists and skiers just off the mountain. Leftovers naturally go home in recyclable and compostable materials.

Or could it be a busy Utes pre-game nosh-stop? There’s a Niman Ranch burger alongside an organic-greens salad with house-made dressing in front of you, the servers are all wearing red Downtown Rising tee shirts under the “We Brew for U” sign and the chefs high-five each other in the see-through kitchen. 

How about attending one of the multitudes of community and charitable functions held at Squatters, enjoying the welcoming feel of warm lighting, wood floors, exposed ceilings and colorful banners for numerous award-winning beers, and having bartender Kristen exclaim—while pouring from a legion of draft choices such as Organic Amber Ale, Provo Girl Pilsner and American Wheat Hefeweizen—that she loved working there and I could quote her on that.

One good place to start might be at the beginning. On September 5, 1989, aware of the expanding demand for microbrews in other parts of the country, passionate home brewers Peter Cole and Jeff Polychronis entered terra incognita, in the then-underdeveloped west side of downtown Salt Lake, and inaugurated the flagship Squatters Pub Brewery at 147 West Broadway (3rd South) in the circa-1909 Garden Hotel building. Befitting Utah history, homesteaders and squatters before them, they pushed geographic boundaries in deciding to establish Salt Lake City’s first microbrewery and pub operation on this frontier fringe. 

“When we opened Squatters, we were committed to providing customers with the best possible quality handcrafted beers, great food and nurturing environment,” recounts Peter Cole. The partners were environmentally sensitive from the beginning. “When we opened 22 years ago, we used a lot of recycled materials in our building. We have expanded that commitment enormously with our belief in the triple bottom line of ‘people, planet and profit.’ That commitment to our community has grown through the years.”

These early instincts continue to provide the ley lines for its current proactive, community- and planet-conscious business practices, pushing another frontier: setting a corporate example of being successful not only at making a profit, but also being a responsible and responsive member of the community. Squatters is an active co-partner with Local First, Salt Lake City Green, Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky, Wasatch Community Gardens and more. James Soares, director of Environmental and Social Responsibility, has been with Squatters for 10 years. He explains, “I make a business plan that embodies what Peter and Jeff have always been doing. Squatters’ management believes that finding the balance between success and responsibility equate to a great product.”

Soares works closely with operating partner Joe Lambert and executive chef Vicente Cardenas and makes sure that each business decision is weighted to address the total impact it makes on not only the company, but on the employees, customers and community. He is often in the field forming long-term partnerships with producers and suppliers from Utah and its bioregion. “We visit all of our purveyors. Products from smaller, local producers may cost more, but often through cooperation and establishing relationships, we find a sweet spot that helps both.”

“This isn’t the simplest way to do it,” laughs Cole. He uses the examples of switching to organic greens and compostable take-out containers nine years ago; “Sometimes you have to spend more; it’s not all about costs.” He adds that having a horizontal management system, with employee teams where all 250 individuals are encouraged to have a voice, has induced more innovation and creativity plus a healthy work environment, and Squatters has high retention rates to show for it. 

Executive chef Cardenas exemplifies this. He started on Squatters’ kitchen line 21 years ago and is now in charge of the menu and the daily specials for all three pubs. Once Soares locates locally produced ingredients that meet the triple bottom line requirements and that taste good—such as Daily’s Bacon, Rocky Mountain Eggs, Lehman’s Jam and many others—he and Cardenas work closely to incorporate new creative food possibilities. This is a difficult task considering the consistency required to produce large volumes across three pub locations, soon to be four.

Early in 2012, Cardenas will be instrumental in opening Vino Volo Ale House at the airport, a joint venture of Squatters and Vino Volo (a California-based chain of wine bars). It will provide a large selection of wines, ales, lagers and cocktails, along with a broad menu of small plates and traditional hearty pub fare. 

Just as Salt Lake used to be the Crossroads of the West, Squatters now sits squarely in the middle of the evolving downtown district; its location and its philosophy now shared with many more businesses. Moored by its community-oriented roots, it still scouts out the foremost boundaries of what a successful business can be and for it, that’s being a great pub, a great brewery, a great employer and a great neighbor. 

About Squatters Brew Pub and Salt Lake Brewing Company

Squatters Pubs has three locations, open 7 days a week, with table service and take-out from brunch/breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night seasonal menus. See for the hours of each. The airport site was newly renovated and opened in November. Also, an enlarged downtown space upstairs means shorter waits and more room for events and private parties. 

Choose your brews

Although Squatters offers a full bar and wine list at its restaurants, it’s the award- and medal-winning handcrafted beer, now available in 13 states, that is the specialty. Its Fifth Element recently won a Gold Medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, the largest commercial beer festival in the world. If you cannot decide, the six draft beer sampler is only $4.99 at the downtown location. Squatters also sells growlers and six packs.

Squatters Pub & Brewery

147 West Broadway

Salt Lake City, Utah 84101


Squatters Roadhouse Grill

1900 Park Avenue

Park City, Utah 84060


Squatters Airport Pub

Terminal 2 Concourse C

Salt Lake International Airport

(801) 575-2002

This article was originally published on November 30, 2011.