Celebrating their five-year anniversary at the foot of Heber Avenue, the co-owning trio of HANDLE—Chef Briar Handly, Partner and Creative Director Melissa Gray, and Operations Manager Meagan Nash—have longtime roots in the restaurant biz.
The best of friends since they met in the late ’90s, Georgia-transplant Gray and Utah-native Nash worked in several restaurants along the Wasatch Front. Around the same time, Handly moved from Vermont—drawn by Wasatch powder and the opportunity to develop his culinary chops in some of Utah’s best kitchens.
Nash became friends with Handly and introduced him to Gray, and Handly and Gray married a few years later. “We’re all still best friends,” says Gray of the abiding relationships. Agrees Nash, “Even when we’re not in the restaurant we still hang out together.”
“We always wanted to run our own show,” says Gray of opening HANDLE in August 2014 (and later HSL in downtown Salt Lake). Agrees Nash, “We’d get together and talk about what our ideal restaurant would be like. How we’d do things differently.”
Their vision was based on their collective experience working everywhere from ski resort bars to fine dining restaurants, to catering and event organizing during Sundance with Gray’s company Bash Event Solutions. Nash continues, “Everywhere the three of us worked, we wanted to learn everything that we could about how to run a business. It’s brought us here to today.”
And for the HANDLE team, “today” means multiple state and Park City best of awards and recognition in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes Travel Guide, Architectural Digest (for Gray’s deft design concept), Vogue, Bon Appétit, and more. In addition, Handly has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation and was one of a distinguished handful of Park City chefs invited to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in New York last winter. It was an experience he describes with his characteristic wry understatement as being, “pretty rad.”
“We envisioned HANDLE by asking ourselves, ‘What does Park City need?’” says Gray of developing the concept and menu. “We saw an opportunity for a casual, unexpected, fun space,” without the bounds of a conventional fine dining concept. By building a restaurant brand without outside investors or controlling interests, the three co-owners have been able to exclusively refine their vision. And they relied on talented friends and their own sweat equity during the initial renovation. “There was a lot of trial and error,” says Nash of the early months. “But everyone helped pull it together.”
When it comes to starting new ventures, “Meagan says ‘yes,’ and Melissa says ‘no,’” says Handly. “What usually happens is something in between,” he says with a grin. “I just want to make great food, and keep our customers happy. The search for perfection is a constant: I want to put out a better dish today than I did yesterday.”
And with the already high standards of HANDLE, that’s saying something.