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For Sale: A Real-Life Fantasy Restaurant

For Sale: A Real-Life Fantasy Restaurant

Got deep pockets? Or just like to daydream? A Salt Lake City-area restaurant that offers an unmatched location, stunning grounds and a collection of buildings that evoke 18th century France has hit the market—for $20 million. But forget La Caille’s 315 seats and money-machine wedding business. The underlying real estate alone could make this place worth the price.

We know what you’re thinking: somebody bought an expensive piece of property during the real estate boom and went overboard building a fancy restaurant on it, only to run out of money when the recession kicked in. But the story of La Caille at Quail Run is the opposite.

The place has been in the same family since the 1960s, with second-generation operator David Johnson taking over in the mid-1970s with a couple of partners. This crew has painstakingly worked ever since to, step by step, create a piece of the French countryside in the foothills of Utah’s Wasatch mountains. It shows what can be done when someone who runs a profitable restaurant plows those profits back into the business for 35 years.

Here’s how the listing site describes the results of their effort:

“French for ‘The Quail’, La Caille is Utah’s premier destination luxury restaurant. Nestled streamside in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, La Caille sits on some of Salt Lake’s most coveted property with breathtaking canyon views, just 10 minutes from Snowbird and Alta ski resorts and twenty minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.”

This description fails to mention that La Caille is the only commercial property for miles in any direction. An aspiring restaurateur could never, never get a parcel of land zoned for a restaurant anywhere near its current location.

The description continues:

“One of Utah’s most exclusive and prestigious French restaurants, La Caille utilizes four elegant dining rooms, five open air patios, and an extraordinary ‘Grand Salon’ in its repertoire of interesting and private spaces to dine and entertain.

“It encompasses 20 glorious, pastoral acres filled with strutting peacocks, elegant swans and feisty turkeys who entertain the guests before, during, and after dinner. La Caille is also world renowned for hosting beautiful weddings and private dinners, family occasions, business conferences, seminars, exclusive luncheons, and dinners for any elegant, special occasion imaginable.”

Many reviewers describe the place as “Disneyesque.” But it’s all done to a level of quality that’s well beyond that. In fact, Disney “imagineers” would do well to visit La Caille to learn how to replicate historic foreign environments in a U.S. setting more accurately than they already do.

As for specifics, a buyer will get the 13,850 sq. ft. restaurant, the 5,880 sq. ft. grand salon, a 5,440 sq. ft. office and maintenance building that housed the original Quail Run restaurant, and four residences totaling 14,400 sq. ft. A quick scan of the highly upscale neighborhood would make even the real estate novice think that the land and buildings alone would support the asking price.

But you’d be buying the restaurant business. Admirable as its real estate and physical plant might be, restaurant operators would be most likely to lust over La Caille’s staggering pricing structure. Appetizers fall in the $15-$19 range, main courses go for $50-$65, shareable desserts are $16. Most reviews and online posts are aghast at the food prices, especially since La Caille’s food, while first-rate, isn’t very adventurous.

These lofty prices hearken back to the day when super-strict Utah liquor rules ensured that restaurant operators couldn’t profit from alcoholic beverage sales, so the food alone had to support the overhead. Now that La Caille has both a full bar set up and an extensive wine offering, the place must really haul it in.

But that revenue stream may pale before that of La Caille’s wedding business. The setting fits the dreams of many, many brides, and when planning a cost-is-no-object wedding in Utah, this is where people want to go.

Readers may be wondering why, if this place is so great, La Caille is up for sale? To quote the Salt Lake Tribune, “in March 2010, former La Caille partner Mark Haug was awarded $4.7 million after a jury found that La Caille partners David Johnson and Steven Runolfson breached a 1993 partnership agreement.”

Obviously, this is not an opportunity for everyone. But if you can handle the $20 million price tag, it’s worth a trip to take a look. A second option might be to buy the place, then hire Johnson and Runolfson to run it for you. We don’t know if they’d want to, but if you want to see a place where the operators have put their heart, soul and money into a restaurant with admirable effect, go check out La Caille.