Features and Occasionals

Local Food: Fortune Flavors the Bold

By Adele Flail

Each month, CATALYST brings our readers tales of fascinating local endeavors—entrepreneurs launching new restaurants or retail businesses, gardeners digging, composting and planting their way to greener communities, or locals organizing to improve the vitality of the city we share—but this month, we’re going to take you on a tour of a local business bringing all of these ideas together in the vision of one mover and shaker who understands that, if you want the fruit, sometimes you just have to climb out on a limb. For Kathie Chadbourne, proprietor of the Avenues Bistro on 3rd, out on a limb is par for the course.

“I’m not afraid to take risks,” says Chadbourne, looking around the patio garden of her newest venture. “I probably take too many risks, but I seem to move in the right direction.” Chadbourne is a free spirit whose travels have taken her all over the US and through many occupations and settings: school in Baton Rouge, a degree in nursing and classes in open-heart surgery assisting, studies in dental hygiene and elementary education, raising funds for private schools as a development director, taking part in the LDS relief society, and living on a Navajo reservation.

But since first relocating to Salt Lake 13 years ago for her then-husband’s job, in between her tumbleweed travels, she’s found herself returning to the Avenues—and the connections she’s made here—again and again. “I think the bistro’s story begins this way: I’m not from Utah, but I’ve chosen to call Utah my home.”

Chadbourne, who co-owned and ran the Avenues Bakery, moved to Ashland, Oregon where she ran a restaurant called Harper’s for a few years. Upon her return to Salt Lake about four years ago, she participated in several other food-related endeavors.

Committed to starting a neighbor­hood bistro that would showcase the best of the neighborhood and the local community, Chadbourne’s project found a home in the building at 564 East and 3rd Ave, and a kindred spirit in now-landlord Jude Rubadue, a chef and staunch supporter of the local Slow Food movement. There seemed to be many obstacles in the bistro’s path: “When I walked through the door and shook her hand, I knew I didn’t have any money, but she didn’t know I didn’t have any money,” Chadbourne notes wryly. But long-standing connections in the community, and the hard work put in on other projects, turned up a crew eager to help move those obstacles out of the way. A friend asked if a loan of $5,000 would help—the amount exactly what she needed to get the lease signed and the ball officially rolling. The next day, phone calls to 20 former patrons of the lost-and-lamented Avenues Bakery netted 20 loans of $500 each. Chad­bourne herself sacrificed for her vision by selling off her possessions, including a treasured collection of Navajo rugs.

Within four months of signing the lease, and with additional collaboration from Rubadue, the building renovations were completed, and the Bistro opened to the public.

Today, the Avenues Bistro on 3rd is doing well: Half of the money collected through Chadbourne’s homemade “micro-loan” system has been paid back, and response from diners has been enthusiastic. But the growth happening at the bistro isn’t all of the metaphorical, financial variety, and while Chadbourne has demonstrated both vision and grit to make the eatery a reality, most of the grit she displays these days is the kind that shows up under your fingernails from digging in the garden.

Visitors to the bistro patio will find raised beds filled with lettuce, potted grape vines twining up the wall, and strawberries plumping up under the dappled pine-shade on the patio (but don’t expect these last items on the menu any time soon—Chadbourne admits that she and her staff are too fond of the fresh-grown treats), and yet this only hints at the intense construction and production going on around back.

Chadbourne herself rents a home three doors down from her establishment, and has collaborated with her neighbors in between to tuck a bountiful urban farm into their shared backyard space. Behind the eponymous salon Balbina’s Hair Cottage, Chadbourne has filled the yard with young fruit trees, many raised beds, and a greens garden that stretches along the east wall of the Bistro. A short path through another neighbor’s backyard leads to Chadbourne’s own yard, where she composts food scraps from the bistro, has recently installed a fledgling hive of bees, and constructed a magnificent chicken coop. Foun­da­tions are also being laid for two greenhouses to start seedlings and extend the growing season, one of which will hold an aquaponics system.

As to her goals for the garden, Chadbourne explains that she’s been planning to use as much of the property as she can to grow the maximum amount possible in this neighborhood Eden, but there will still be practical limitations. “How much lettuce can you really grow inhouse when you have 6,000 guests that come through in a month?” Chadbourne asks. But she notes that Salt Lake is lucky to have so much available already: To the delight of last summer’s customers (and neighbors who flocked to the grown-up version of the ice cream truck), sellers from the Downtown Farmer’s Market stopped by on the way out of town to sell local produce to the bistro, and Chadbourne expects to reach out to the nearly 90 or so local providers she used last year.

In fact, she’s planning an experiment with her menu over the summer that will take her desire to source her products locally up to 11: “I’m committed to trying a 100% local menu—I’m shooting for August 1. Of course I’m not quite sure if we’re going to have olive oil, but we’ll see if we can figure something out,” she says. And while she doesn’t know how long the menu will remain feasible, or what other issues she’ll run into, she anticipates that it will be an adventure in learning to prepare simple, local foods.

As for other experiments, Chadbourne is always looking for ways to be a good neighbor, and a good member of the community. To address some of the early concerns held by the Bistro’s neighbors, especially those with young children, she’s posted “Bistro Etiquette” urging patrons to avoid swearing, and to use their church voices when leaving the establishment after 10 p.m. “For me, I don’t really like rules, but I feel that people need to know what my intentions are for the neighborhood.” Chadbourne also looks for ways to deepen her em­ployees’ connections in the community. “My ultimate goal is to be an employee-owned restaurant and give the people who work hard and are really into this the opportunity to feel some real ownership,” she says.

For now, getting the various garden projects wrapped up is one of her main goals. Luckily, Chadbourne has help, with volunteers from the neighborhood pitching in. “Every day I wake up and think, this is so beautiful, this is such an opportunity, it’s a privilege to be in Salt Lake serving food to my neighbors and my friends.”

This article was originally published on June 28, 2013.