Specializing in “healthy and wholesome” cuisine, the chain aims for a seasonal menu in a relaxed setting.
Years ago, while working in Park City, ship’s galley co-founder Nick Gradinger fell into a sense of despair over lunch.
Gradinger realized he had two options — a parking lot full of fast-food drive-thru or a fancy table with cloth napkins and high-priced, hand-prepared dishes — and not much between the of them.
“And it’s in an upscale community,” said Gradinger.
To fill that gap, Gradinger, co-founder Brian Reeder and executive chef Roe’e Levy opened the first Vessel Kitchen in Park City in 2016.
The dining room is casual. The ingredients are seasonal, and as local as possible. And the prices are reasonable.
“We felt like we could run gourmet food in a faster service environment and then combine that with a more formal, beautiful aesthetic,” Gradinger said. “And then we wanted to support the local as much as we could and leverage the best ingredients we could. But also, we have a term that we use internally: ‘agnostic cuisine.’
That meant an ever-changing menu that’s American with a global twist, with salad or build-your-own bowl options, so people could indulge in something rich and cheesy, go gluten-free or vegan. , or stick to a round of Whole 30 (Vessel’s way of explaining it on his website is “healthy and wholesome.”)
The idea took off and Vessel Kitchen grew. In addition to the Park City restaurant at 1784 Uinta Way, Vessel now operates four other locations: Midvale (1146 E. Fort Union Blvd.), two in Sandy (2067 E. 9400 South and 11052 S. State St.) and Salt Lake City (905 E. 900 South), which opened in May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This fall, Vessel Kitchen will open a sixth location to celebrate its sixth anniversary, at 330 N. Central Ave., Farmington.
Gradinger said the decor at the new location would tip the hat to Park City’s first restaurant, which used earth tones, woodsy patterns and lots of plants.
“We’re going to do a few different things on the design front,” Gradinger said, in a “sort of homage to our past. We’ll have an open kitchen format…and we’ll try to bring different elements from our five existing restaurants. It was fun to take a look at everything we’ve done over the past six years and put it all together.
Gradinger said the Farmington restaurant will also benefit from the new central kitchen at its 9400 South location, which is set up to help the chain try new seasonal menu items, and offers take-out and delivery.
“We’re kind of like mad scientists all year round,” he said. “We basically said we’re going to spend the whole year throwing crazy ideas that don’t fit a single kitchen or setting, and see what ingredients we can get our hands on and make it delicious.”
The goal, he added, was to return to three to four menu changes per year across all locations, based on customer feedback.
“If we’ve done 300 dishes in the last six years, which ones should be cut and what would you like to see again? And then we’ll go into the lab and test it,” he said. “So September 16 is the planned launch date for our new menu, and then we’ll make another big change in January, and then we’ll continue through spring, summer, and next fall.”
Gradinger said the new central kitchen and take-out location at 9400 South is a way to figure out how to “make good food more accessible, faster, throughout the community.”
At the same time, he said, they never want to become fast food. Vessel Kitchen, he said, is always rooted in local produce and a spirit of experimentation.
“We just connected with our local farmers in Sandy, New Roots and [one of them] dropped off a bunch of Yukon eggplant and potatoes and a handful of other items,” Grardinger said. “Chef Roe’e is going to cook an eggplant dish today, and we’re going to showcase it in our central kitchen and use it as a mechanism to test dishes for our September menu change. We are therefore going to appear and present an ingredient that we are testing.
Gradinger said he’s most proud of Vessel Kitchen’s ability to move on the fly, “that we can just get our hands on good ingredients and work out how we want to process it, and then present it and see how the people react.”