Three Women Making an Impression on Downtown Salt Lake

March 21, 2023 Written by Melissa Fields

Amelia Earhart once said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.” In celebration of Women’s History Month, here is the first feature of three truly tenacious Salt Lake City women, each of whom are contributing more than their fair share to downtown’s rich vibrancy.

Sara Lund grew up in Salt Lake City but had called Manhattan home for 15 years when she hatched the idea for opening Bodega and The Rest (331 Main St) in her hometown. In 2011, she purchased an apartment in downtown Salt Lake and spent six months traveling back and forth between New York and Utah to oversee its remodel. “I discovered that, at the time, there was nowhere in Salt Lake to go for a well-made cocktail in a setting where I wouldn’t feel awkward sitting alone at the bar,” Lund says. Her career, up to that point, had been in retail business operations consulting for brands like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, retailers defined by their eclectic, artistic and individualistic ambiance. “I blame the people who worked at those companies for seeding this curiosity within me to design and develop a space to look and feel the way I wanted it to,” Lund says. And so, in 2012, Lund gave in to what she jokingly calls a “moment of insanity” and signed a lease for a space on Salt Lake City’s Main Street to open Bodega and The Rest.

            For the uninitiated, Lund’s now-beloved bar and restaurant presents as two different businesses. The street-facing Bodega is a mostly standing-room-only, neighborhood-hole-in-the wall kind of bar with a short and campy menu of beer, $3 tequila shots, tacos and complementary cheese balls. At the rear of Bodega, beneath a neon sign reading, The Restroom, is a door that opens to a stairwell leading to The Rest. This dimly lit, subterranean speakeasy-style bar and restaurant is furnished with darkly stained wood, tufted leather furniture and, most strikingly, a fabulously curated collection of items ranging from taxidermy and candelabras to books and old paintings. “I don’t like to have stuff just to have stuff,” Lund says. “I like to have things around me that tell a story.”

            Lund mined three storage units filled with items she’d collected over the years to design The Rest’s interiors, creating a décor style—along with its innovative cocktail program and well-executed small plates and dinner menu—that garnered nationwide attention from media outlets including the New York Times, Boston Globe, ABC News and Bon Appetit. In 2016, Lund launched Honest John Bitters to highlight recipes she developed in collaboration with chefs and mixologists from Bodega and The Rest. “The Rest was the perfect vessel to launch Honest John,” she says. Timing of the spin-off turned out to be fortuitous. The pandemic-fueled spike in at-home cocktail making grew Honest John much more quickly than Lund expected which, in turn, helped her weather the huge decline in business the worldwide restaurant industry suffered in 2020 and 2021.

           Though Lund recalls a certain amount of eye rolling and subtle inquiries as to who else needed to be in on decision making when her concept and build out of Bodega and The Rest was in the development stage, many of the same people who were dismissive of her idea early on are now her biggest supporters. “I’m really proud of the fact that Bodega, The Rest and Honest John are still owned by just me, particularly after the last three years,” she says.

In fact, the challenges presented by the pandemic have made her more resilient to the inevitable and ongoing challenges of running a restaurant. Skyrocketing labor and food costs, coupled with a fire in the building housing Bodega and The Rest are among the recent bumps in the road she’s dealt with, all while coming up with ideas for making her businesses better. “I’m considering bringing a live music component into The Rest and resuming in-person cocktail making classes at Honest John’s location in Sugar House,” she says. “I may be a little tired, but I’m definitely not done yet.”