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Raising the Quality of Utah’s Eating

Salt Lake City is well on its way to being the next Food City USA. The number of local food artisans is skyrocketing and it is a great time to be on the food scene in Utah.

For some, the green Jello pin from the 2002 Winter Olympics was a kitschy nod to Utah’s quirky culture. To others, like Mary Crafts, founder of Culinary Crafts, the pin was an embarrassing reminder of how dire the food selection in the Beehive State once was. “I began catering when fine food and quality ingredients were almost non-existent in Utah,” Crafts said. “It was an uphill battle for many years to elevate food awareness, overcome conservative attitudes toward entertaining, and raise the quality of what we eat in Utah.”

An uphill battle it may have been, but it’s a battle that was won, due in large part to Crafts’ efforts. Crafts helped change the way Utahns think about food catering. Crafts had a hand in bringing Utah of what she describes as “the dark ages of wedding nut cups and stale eclairs.” Known as a the catering trend setter and a leader of the pack in food innovation, Crafts brought chocolate fountains to the U.S. for the first time, was the first to embrace the cupcake phenomenon, and the first to add French macaroons to a catering menu. Others have followed her lead and transformed Utah’s culinary options from sad and outdated, to new, exciting, and above all, delicious. “Salt Lake City is well on its way to being the next Food City USA. The number of local food artisans is skyrocketing and it is a great time to be on the food scene in Utah,” Crafts said.

We have Crafts to thank for the many amazing food options now available to Utahns, and she deserves our gratitude because the road to success was not always easy for Culinary Crafts. When crafts started the company in 1984, she had no money, no credit, and no experience in the food industry. She started with $150 in her pocket and never took on debt. To grow her business, she got creative with her marketing efforts. “I needed a marketing plan that did not cost money,” Crafts said. “I had the idea to do these ‘catering parties’ that were kind of like a Tupperware party. I would ask friends to host a group of their friends where I would bring the food and have the opportunity to talk about how I could make their lives easier by providing the birthday party for their children, or the dinner rolls for Sunday dinner, or the food for their next family reunion. It was slow growth at first but I vowed to never borrow more money than I could afford to lose… which was no money!”

To stay relevant and ahead of the competition, Crafts continually researched the recipes and cooking methods to bring the best food to her customers. “With every new challenge I would say, “Get to the library…it’s time to learn how to poach a whole salmon,” she said. She continues her research to this day by subscribing to eleven food magazines, trying every new restaurant, and traveling the world to sample the foods it has to offer.

Crafts also looked for every opportunity to promote her company by serving the community. One of those opportunities led her to hosting her own show, making her Utah’s Martha Stewart. “One day, I was bringing dinner to volunteers at KBYU where they were doing live fundraising for their PBS station,” Crafts explains. “The talent didn’t show up that night to be on camera and they asked me to step in.” At the end of what turned out to be an incredible successful night of fundraising, a producer invited Crafts to do a television series. Crafts hosted the show for 13 years while running her successful catering business.

Crafts will be sharing her recipe (GET IT?!) for success when she speaks at StartFEST this September. When asked what she hopes to share with StartFEST attendees, she said, “The greatest power that you have to launch into whatever venture you choose is the power of your integrity.” If you’re there, remember to thank her for her work in ridding the Utah food scene of it’s greenJelloness.

Published 8/28/2015