It’s no secret that growth is happening in Utah County, with businesses popping up left and right and new housing constantly under construction as the population continues to boom.

While the surge is impacting cities across the Utah Valley, there’s nowhere it’s felt quite as acutely as in the areas west of Utah Lake.

According to Saratoga Springs mayor Jim Miller in a column submitted to the Daily Herald, “In Saratoga Springs alone, the population doubled over the last eight years. Even prior to that, from 2000-10, the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development identified Saratoga Springs with the fastest growth rate in the state at 1,672%. This growth obviously has not slowed down, with current population projections expected to jump another 33% in the next five years and 66% in the next 10 years!”

Miller went on to explain that the west side city is one of the top three in the state when it comes to growth, based only on the sheer volume of building permits issued in the area annually.

It’s safe to say, with that in mind, that it’s more than just people that the rocketing changes are bringing to the area, with parks, restaurants and activity centers moving in just as fast to meet a growing demand.

Meeting a need

Once such venue that’s quickly making its own unique mark on Saratoga Springs is FatCats. Hyped as “all out fun,” and with additional Utah locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden, the venue started in 1999 in the most humble of locations: on the back of a napkin.

Friends Dave Rutter, a restaurant owner, and Sean Collins, a sales executive for bowling equipment, wanted to create a space where families could go for great food and awesome entertainment. It was just two years later, in 2001, that the first FatCats opened in Salt Lake City, followed by the Provo location in 2002 and Ogden in 2007.

The brand began expanding with a movie theater in Rexburg, Idaho, in 2010 and again in 2015 with indoor mini golf and a gigantic arcade in Gilbert, Arizona.

All of that growth has led to the ultimate FatCats experience, which launched in June in Saratoga Springs, featuring a 7-acre, 61,000-square-foot facility that boasts eight luxury movie theaters with all reclining seats, 20 lanes of bowling, a full-service grill, virtual reality experiences and miniature golf.

“While a movie theater and bowling alley might seem like basic amenities to some, our residents could not be more thrilled to welcome FatCats to our community,” Miller said in his column.

Scoping out the territory

Knowing such an all-encompassing entertainment facility existed, it didn’t take long before I set out to visit it with my little family in tow. The size alone made it hard to miss, nestled along Pioneer Crossing, and with plenty of parking, it wasn’t long before we were taking in the high ceilings, virtual reality cubicles to the left and enticing lights of the arcade off to the right.

I was surprised at just how busy the venue was so soon after opening, and our entire family spent a few minutes engrossed in watching the VR simulators in action before making our way ahead to the counter to snag tickets for an early afternoon movie.

After spending a hot day in the sun, a reprieve in a dark, air-conditioned theater while munching some excellent food seemed like the perfect decision, amplified only by the fact we were heading there on a Tuesday when all tickets are only $5 for ages 3 and up, and free for 2 and under.

Though the size of FatCats felt a little overwhelming at first, especially with the sweeping lanes for bowling along the back right and the deep hall of theaters to the back left, it wasn’t hard to get acclimated, especially when we could purchase our show tickets at the same time as our food.

FatCats menu

One of the most convenient things about planning to eat at FatCats was the fact we could look up the menu beforehand and get an idea of what we wanted. The venue boasts your typical concessions food with drinks, popcorn, candy and nachos, but veers from there with a pretty impressive grill spread, including pretzel bites, fries, wings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, pork sliders, salads, burgers, pizza, chicken tenders and even Rockwell ice cream.

Rather than just sitting at a table and waiting for your food to be served, though, at FatCats, you can venture on to bowling or even to your movie while the food is being prepared, and just wait for it to be brought to you. It certainly brings new meaning to dinner and a movie!

The theaters

After ordering a good sampling of foods from across the menu, we took our tickets and headed toward the theaters, pausing a minute to take some fun pictures with the cardboard film cutouts and also to scope out the Glow-in-the-Dark Golf course located right behind the food counters in the center back of the venue. It was hard not to be impressed by just how much there is to do at FatCats, especially as we passed a conference room before moving into the darkened theater to catch the previews to our film.

I’d initially felt some worry that having our food brought to us would be an irritant to our fellow theater-goers, but it didn’t take long to realize that the theaters were built to accommodate even for that. Each row of loungers were well elevated above the previous row, so we could easily walk in without being overly disruptive to those around us. The space also made it a little easier to keep our kids in check, and by picking an afternoon movie time, there were plenty of open seats, which also helped alleviate the stress of taking young children to the movies.

Film and food

This was our first time eating something other than popcorn and nachos during a movie, and when the food finally came, it was a pretty exciting experience.

Toward the start of the movie, the food, which was tied to our seat numbers, was delivered to the convenient movable tables attached to our loungers. It smelled amazing, and came so quickly it didn’t even really distract from the show, which is always a win.

The hardest part, especially for a short person like me, was getting into a position where I could actually eat since obviously, loungers are meant for lounging and it’s much easier to eat upright. I ended up having to scootch to the very front edge of my seat, but the food totally made it worth it.

We started out with an order of pretzel bites and cheese, which our son promptly spilled all over his lap — so far not so good for eating during the movie as we had to rush to get napkins and get it cleaned up in the dark, dark theater. Gratefully, though, that was our only mishap, and there was still plenty of cheese left to accentuate the tasty yet slightly tough pretzel bites.

Unless you really, really love French fries, we’d advise against ordering one of the specialty fries, topped with bacon and cheese. Nearly everything else we ordered also came with fries and we weren’t able to sub them in, so we had PLENTY of fries to go around. They were crisp on the outside and deliciously soft on the inside which is a perfect combo, but the cheese was a little sparse, and I almost appreciated eating them plain even more.

We had zero regrets on our large order of boneless wings, and everyone enjoyed the crisp yet tender combination that was quickly devoured. They were astonishingly good!

We also were surprised at just how much we liked the fried zucchini. FatCats also offers fried mac-n-cheese and fried pickles, so we figured it was worth the novelty to give one a try. The juxtaposition of zucchini with a crisp fried crust was strange, but strangely good, especially with ranch, and it was actually one of the first things to go, followed closely by the cheeseburger, which came in a box with fries and a few condiment packets so you can customize it yourself.

Though I was expecting the food to be a little overly pricey, especially given the convenience of getting a movie, it was actually a pretty good value, and I look forward to heading back another $5 Tuesday to try a few of the things we weren’t able to snag the first time, including the pizza, which looked particularly good.

Rolling out

We had enough food that it actually lasted us throughout most of the film and also helped to keep the little ones particularly engaged. After waiting for the lights to come up so we could make sure to get all our garbage, we headed to the exits, delighted to find that there were lighted trash cans embedded into the theater space. Random, but actually really cool! A quick trip to the bathroom and we soon found ourselves with even more to appreciate in the form of complimentary diapers, wipes and personal hygiene items which seriously is a lifeline for frazzled parents and others who find themselves in a pinch.

The arcade

Though we would have loved to spend some time adventuring on the indoor glow golf course or aiming for a strike at the many bowling alleys, we instead decided to wrap up our visit with a few dollars at the arcade. Even though we weren’t there on the deal day (Wednesdays are half-price), I was surprised at just how much we were able to do for the $10 we spent.

The kids loved the candy claw machine, which guarantees a win, and eagerly stuffed their pockets with treats before we headed on to race cars and motorcycles, throw rings, and trying our hand at the giant keyboard and tossing balls at some pretty scary looking clowns.

Our credits had been loaded onto a card, so once we’d wrapped up, it didn’t take long for us to head to the prize room and stare in wonder at the walls of choices.

From neon lights to balls, unicorn horns and toy kids to candies and even a Nintendo Switch, the prize lineup for all ticket amounts was epic, and it was so much fun to browse and buy. I’ve never seen a prize room quite like that before, and it was something both the kids and the grown-ups enjoyed about as much as playing all the unique games.

Some observations

Walking away from an afternoon of films, food and fun, it’s easy to see how FatCats is well on its way to becoming a community asset. Not only is it conveniently located, but there’s literally something for everyone thanks to the wide variety of activities the venue offers. And though it’s something great to check out anytime, the fact that it offers deals on each of the attractions gives a solid reason to head back.

As the west side continues to grow, so does the need for dining and entertainment, and FatCats is providing a unique answer for west-side residents across the board.