07 April 2020

The Grabeteria: Salt Lake's Standing Room Only Cafe

Interior of Grabeteria from Deseret News Feb 10 1945

The Grabeteria was a unique downtown eatery located at 60 S. Main Street (now demolished and replaced with the City Creek complex). It opened in 1913 by a man named Art Davis when competition from a national chain grocery store put his small fruit and grocery store out of business.

The Grabeteria didn’t have any chairs or tables, it was a stand-up restaurant where people stood shoulder to shoulder. Current newspaper and magazine articles were pasted on the walls which often stimulated respectful discussions among the patrons.

Customers were responsible for grabbing and assembling their own food – sandwiches, salads, or a bowl of chili. The restaurant operated on the honor system. Customers paid on their way out and paid what they felt the meal was worth. A tray with coins was set at the door so people could make their own change. If the management suspected a customer did not pay, then a large gong (and later a cowbell) was sounded to embarrass the patron.

The Grabeteria catered to all types of people: LDS church apostles, professional men, and day-laborers. Women were not allowed, at least in the first few decades. Some patrons commented that the Grabeteria diminished once women were allowed in and the stag atmosphere was tempered. There were still pin-up girl posters glued to walls through the 1950s so some of that stag ambiance remained despite the female presence.

Art Davis sold the restaurant in Dec 1944 and it changed hands a few times after that. The Grabeteria closed for good in 1977.

 Exterior of Grabeteria in 1925 from University of Utah
Special Collections via Salt Lake Tribune July 7 2015

Exterior of Grabeteria (lower left corner) in 1949 from UDSH.

Grabeteria advertisement for special retro menu.
From Deseret News Mar 29 1954

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