Three Women Making an Impression on Downtown Salt Lake: Erica O’Brien, Owner of The Rose Establishment

March 23, 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.

That famously ambiguous line from William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is what inspired Erica O’Brien to name her downtown café The Rose Establishment (235 S. 400 West). “Naming the business felt futile at the time,” explains O’Brien, who hails originally from Price, Utah. “I opened The Rose to bring people together in an inspiring space with good food and drink they could share together, not to sell them on a brand.” But, despite her best efforts, creating a distinctive, unique experience--i.e., a brand—is exactly what O’Brien has done.

Arriving at The Rose feels a little like stumbling onto one of those hidden-gem kind of places that give a neighborhood or city its personality. The café’s slightly edgy, slightly vintagey vibe is set by an old timey neon sign visitors pass beneath as they enter through the front door. Inside, house-made pastries, coffee, weekend brunch cocktails and creative food made from ingredients sourced locally whenever possible are served against a lived-in backdrop of creaky wood floors, crisp white subway tiles and pleasantly mismatched bistro chairs. As such, The Rose has enjoyed faithful following almost since the day it opened, many patrons of whom came rushing back each time the ebbs and flows of the pandemic forced O’Brien to close and re-open her café in 2020 and 2021.

But COVID has not been the only mountain O’Brien has climbed since opening The Rose in 2010. When asked what she considers the biggest challenge of owning a restaurant, her reply was an emphatic, “Literally everything!” But the joys of running The Rose have been many, too, including the time spent working side-by-side with father to open the cafe, and the “special, and often magical, individuals” she has worked and connected with along the way, particularly other women. “I feel if more restaurant kitchens had women leading them, we all would be happier and the industry would make a positive shift,” she says.

Later this year, O’Brien plans to double down on her venture with the opening of Night Rose, a wine, cocktail and small plates bar to be located on the south side of the building The Rose Establishment’s brunch business occupies on the weekends. The café’s current coffee, bakery and brunch experience will remain intact, but will be referred to as Day Rose. Specific timing of The Rose’s evolution to a.m. and p.m. iterations has yet to be determined, but will happen, O’Brien says, “hopefully sometime this summer or fall.” Whenever it happens, we fully expect The Rose’s two new halves will be just as sweet as the original.