A lot of time and effort goes into preparation for general conference, both from the standpoint of church leaders and that of Temple Square Hospitality, which manages the ins and outs of visitor experience on Temple Square, most notably in the operation of three restaurants and a cafe.
Those dining venues, including the Nauvoo Cafe, the Lion House Pantry Restaurant, the Garden Restaurant and the Roof Restaurant, are busy with their own special set of preparations for the influx of visitors guaranteed with general conference.
While visitors take part in the happy, efficient atmosphere of the dining experience, what they may not see is the behind-the-scenes efforts of the restaurants, where potatoes are peeled, thousands of rolls baked, and hours and days of effort and manpower make a smooth operation possible, particularly at conference time.
But what exactly goes into Temple Square Hospitality’s preparation for general conference? According to Spence Herzog, vice president of operations for Temple Square Hospitality, quite a lot.
“We have specialty orders, we make 500 box lunches, we set up point-of-sale locations and we bring in some stanchions,” Herzog said.
Temple Square Hospitality also increases its restaurant inventories, extends its dining hours, has elevator repair folks on standby and brings in extra staff to assist visitors in a shorter period of time.
“For conference, we want to look good,” Herzog said. “The world looks at us. We have people from everywhere that come to us.”
The Nauvoo Cafe
The Nauvoo Cafe serves everything from pot pies to club sandwiches and French toast and offers a view of Main Street Plaza and Temple Square.
On an average day, the cafe serves upward of 500 people, but on general conference Saturday the number of customers can top 1,300. “The most I’ve ever done is 1,425 guests, and we’re always trying to break that record,” said Katelyn Fullmer, front end manager of the Nauvoo Cafe.
With extended hours, the cafe serves a hot breakfast on conference Saturday from 7-10:45 a.m. It also sets up extra rooms full of tables, orders larger food and beverage inventories, and brings in extra staff. On an average day, the staff consists of approximately 12 employees, whereas on conference Saturday that number nearly triples to 30.
Its normal hours are 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday but are extended to 7 a.m.-10 p.m. on conference Saturday, making it a 15-hour day for customers and a 19-hour day for employees, who arrive as early as 5 a.m.
Preparation starts two weeks in advance when the café coordinates with two different bakeries within the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for orders of desserts, rolls and other commodities, Fullmer said.
“The amount of desserts we make is probably three times more than normal,” Fullmer said.
The staff also coordinates less obvious aspects, such as obtaining additional garbage cans and trash bags and making upward of 300 pot pies the day before. But these are only a few of the items on Fullmer’s checklist.
One major addition to the cafe’s operations is the setup of a separate room for purchasing box lunches. They are prepared especially for conference Saturday and offer visitors a quicker dining option.
“It’s an exciting time and definitely takes a lot of preparation,” Fullmer said.
The Lion House Pantry Restaurant
Tucked into one side of Brigham Young’s historic residence, the Pantry offers home-style fare, including the popular Lion House rolls.
According to David Bench, chef and manager of the Lion House Pantry, the restaurant serves 300-400 guests on a typical day. On conference Saturday, the number rises to around 1,300.
“Conference is big because it’s special for people who come down, so you have to make sure you’re available and quick,” he said. “You become part of their plans.” In preparation for this influx, the Pantry schedules extra staff, makes larger orders and cooks a lot more food.
“Getting staff on hand is the biggest deal. We go from the slowest time of the year in January and February to conference. We have to gear up and start training,” said Bench, who added that on an average night they can run the kitchen with himself, a chef and a cook, but on conference Saturday they enlarge the number to seven for the kitchen alone.
“You have to change your whole thought process,” Bench said. “Whereas before you were cooking the minimum, you’re then cooking 1,000 meals in a day.” On an average day, the Pantry makes seven to eight pans of rolls at 40 rolls apiece, totaling 280-300 rolls. On conference Saturday, the staff bakes 30 pans to begin the day, totaling 1,200 rolls. The bakery also makes additional rolls for purchase by the dozen at the Pantry and at Deseret Book stores.
“During conference, people clean out all the rolls and take them home all across the country,” Bench said.
The Pantry peels approximately 50 pounds of potatoes on an average day, but increases the number to 150-200 pounds for conference. The event requires additional amounts of food.
“We order a lot heavier. For example, if we do roast beef on conference Saturday, we’ll go from 30 pounds in a day to almost 80 and 90 pounds, and 60 pounds of salmon,” Bench said. “As for desserts and rolls, they produce enough desserts for 1,000 guests, including cookies, pies and cakes, and whole pies for people to take home for Sunday dinner.”
Bench said the Pantry can accommodate around 200 people an hour, and it also offers the same box lunches as the Nauvoo Cafe for conferencegoers. The Lion House Pantry is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on conference Saturday.
The Garden Restaurant
Located on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Garden Restaurant offers a prime view of Temple Square and downtown Salt Lake City. It is most famous for its fried dill pickles but also offers pastas, salads, sandwiches, soups and other entrees for lunch and dinner.
For general conference, the restaurant is open later, cooking until 10:35 p.m. when it would normally close at 10 p.m. This year, it is offering a bounce-back coupon for a free appetizer of its fried dill pickles when customers return to dine during the month of April.
According to Scott Ackley, chef and manager of the Garden Restaurant and the Nauvoo Cafe, the main change for conference Saturday is that they do three times the amount of work. They make three times the amount of food, have three times the number of staff on duty and serve three times the number of guests.
According to Ackley, on an average day, the restaurant serves 125 people for lunch and 125 people for dinner, whereas on conference Saturday, it serves as many as 365 people for lunch and 425 for dinner.
“Overall it’s just a lot of prep and having the staff here early and a sense of urgency and extra quantities,” Ackley said. “It’s pretty much, get ready and roll with the punches.”
The Garden Restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to closing time on conference Saturday.
The Roof Restaurant
Located directly across from the Garden Restaurant, the Roof Restaurant is home to the most direct view of the temple and downtown Salt Lake City. Dining is buffet style and is usually only available for dinner. For conference Saturday, however, the restaurant is open for a lunch buffet from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. for half the price of dinner.
On conference Saturday, the restaurant reaches capacity, serving 300 people for lunch and 500 for dinner, but dinner on conference Saturday is not much different for the restaurant than dinner on a regular weekend. For both, it fills to capacity and runs with a full staff.
According to Barbara Roberts, manager of the Roof Restaurant, “It’s really a science at this point because we only have so many seats.”
The whole mood of the restaurant changes after the priesthood session of general conference. The pianist plays more jazzy tunes and church songs than on a regular day, and the restaurant is full of men in white shirts and ties.
The Roof Restaurant is open from 4:30 p.m. to closing time for dinner on conference Saturday.
For more information about the restaurants on Temple Square, call 801-539-3100 or visit www.templesquarehospitality.com.