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Spanish Fork bar adds gourmet restaurant, sees six figure success in first two months

By Carley Porter daily Herald - | Aug 22, 2019
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Majority owners Jason and Liz Lawson pose for a portrait Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. The Lawson family owns half of the newly-renovated bar and gril, while Mandy and Trace Myers share a quarter and Phil Henderson also owns a quarter. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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The outdoor patio and garden are pictured Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Hunter Leavitt, a manager, pours a mixed drink Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A jukebox stands in the sports bar area Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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The sports bar area and karaoke stage are pictured Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Some of the beers on tap are pictured in the main bar and dining area Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Head chef Thomas Tramel prepares food in the kitchen Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Bottles of liquor stand on a shelf in the main bar and dining area Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Cigarettes and treats occupy a vending machine in the pool hall and dance floor area Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Pool tables stand in the dance floor area where an in-house DJ performs some nights Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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The VIP gazebo is pictured Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Maple Mountain Bar and Grill in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A Pontiac Grand Prix limo is displayed outside Maple Mountain Bar and Grill on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Spanish Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

A bar near the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport probably isn’t the place most people would think to go for fine dining or any kind of “nightlife” — but the new majority owners of Maple Mountain Bar and Gourmet Grill are looking to change that.

It started a little over three months ago, when the owner of what used to be just the Maple Mountain Bar, Phil Henderson, reached out to Jason Lawson. Lawson retired just a couple of years ago after spending his career in sales and marketing.

“They kind of had a little bit of the ‘watering hole/dive bar’ thing going on, which works in a lot of major cities, but it was a little bit of a difficult model here in more rural areas,” Lawson said of the bar. “(Phil) contacted me looking for some new business partners, looking to evolve from … a watering hole to more of a restaurant bar and grill style place.”

Already bored of retirement, Lawson said he was looking for something to occupy his time, and becoming a 50/50 partner with Henderson and owning half of the bar sounded like the right thing to do. Recently, Lawson and his wife Liz become majority owners, after a third couple bought 25% of the business.

“I’ve taken two years off traveling with family and just kind of enjoying life … so we were ready to get back to work,” Lawson said.

The first major overhaul was turning the bar into a bar and “gourmet grill.” Although Lawson graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in hospitality and hotel restaurant management, he had no real restaurant experience. However, he and his wife have traveled together all over the country and the world.

“We kind of consider ourselves connoisseurs of good food and good drinks and good atmospheres, and always wanted to kind of create that for ourselves and for our family and friends in the community,” Lawson said. “We just took all the different things that we liked from all the different restaurants and bars, and we just kind of created our own menu based on that.”

In addition to more traditional bar fare, such as chicken wings and nachos, the “gourmet grill” also offers dishes like fillet mignon and salmon. The second big change was updating the drinks menu, expanding beyond simple drinks to include a wide array of mixed cocktails, martinis and drinks.

“None of the franchise places like Texas Roadhouse or Outback have a big selection of fancy cocktails, and obviously, none of the little smaller local bars have that type of selection,” Lawson said.

As a local business, Maple Mountain Bar and Gourmet Grill is also trying to support other local businesses. The steak is all sourced locally from local butchers and ranchers, Lawson said, and all produce that’s in season is currently coming from local farms as well. It drives up the cost a bit, but Lawson said people are starting to care more about where their food comes from and so far the price hasn’t been a problem.

“(People) are willing to pay a little bit extra and know that they’re getting better food and it’s … local,” he said. “We are true believers in supporting our local community and buying as much as we can local here.”

The menu changes are part of trying to attract new clientele. Some other major changes made to attract a variety of customers include what Lawson calls “themed rooms,” of which there are four — a room with pool tables, another room dedicated to karaoke, and another room with a dance floor and an in-house DJ system, and a large back patio with a large gazebo.

“We’re kind of a one-stop shop; we kind of have everything in one location where not only can one person come and walk around and enjoy the different vibes and the different themes … everybody can have a good time,” Lawson said. “It’s really unique … I’ve traveled the world, and going to a lot of bars and restaurants and clubs, and I’ve never seen anything that has all these different themes in one location.”

Yet another fun, unique and safe feature the bar offers is an in-house limousine service for customers to use in order to return safely to their homes. Lawson said a lot of customers get rides home free, or at a discounted rate.

“We are big believers in getting all of our customers home safe,” he said. “We never ever want anybody to walk out our doors that’s been drinking too much and driving home.”

The biggest challenge that came with revamping the space with an expanded kitchen and rebranding, and then hiring and training new employees, was it left very little in the budget to advertise the new restaurant after it reopened on June 12. While there are a couple of billboards, and Lawson said there’s a couple of radio ads and a little bit of social media, mostly they’ve depended on word of mouth. But of course, depending on word of mouth, it can be hard to target specific demographics — especially when the demographic is anybody and everybody 21 and older.

“This place is trying to … mix and match and market to everybody,” Lawson said. “My biggest struggle I want people to know is that we aren’t just a restaurant, and we aren’t just a nightclub, we are really both.”

Lawson seems to enjoy the marketing challenge of appealing to an older crowd more interested in gourmet food, and a younger crowd more interested in the nightlife.

“That’s probably one of the most fun and interesting and challenging things I’ve had to work with up to this point,” he said.

As for the location, which is easy to miss — Lawson said it has its pros and cons. With dancing, pool tournaments and karaoke going every night until 2 a.m., it’s actually great to be in a place where there are no neighbors to complain about the noise, he said.

“We kind of like being over here, off the beaten path.”

Despite some challenges which have the potential to drive business down, Lawson reported business has actually been booming in such a way that the woman keeping the books for the restaurant became the third part owners with her husband. Lawson explained the bookkeeper, Mandy Myers, owns several businesses with her husband, Trace. Lawson said the restaurant produced six figures in revenues in June and July, typically considered the slowest months in the bar and restaurant community.

“The fact that we were a brand new place with very limited marketing … (the Myerses) knew the potential of what we’re going to do going into the busy season as we get more and more of a reputation out there,” he said.

Now, just a little over two months into the expansion, Lawson said he and his wife are focusing on consistency.

“Continuing to spread the word of good food, good drinks and good vibes.”

Learn more about the Maple Mountain Bar and Gourmet Grill and check out the menu by visiting its website.

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