for many Moabites who faithfully flocked to eklecticafe on Sunday mornings for a fresh breakfast, chai latte, and sitting in the garden, which was comparable in size to the restaurant itself, the visit was a refreshing if sometimes stuffy experience .
The narrowness was one of the unique characteristics of the cafe. It wasn’t just the patrons who might have mistaken the building for a hole in the wall; the line cooks preparing dishes for whatever rush the kitchen was currently serving were crammed into an unenviable space of their own at the rear of the restaurant.
“I like a little bit of people,” said Julie Fox, owner of eklecticafe. “I am from a large family. I am the eldest of six children and we always crowded together, so I am comfortable with overcrowding.”
however, tight spaces can sometimes be too much, fox said. “not everyone could take it.”
In the midst of a months-long pandemic that Fox expected to drag on longer than most people expected, she and her staff decided they couldn’t take it any longer, either. eklectica is now permanently closed, and fox has put the property up for sale.
As she was discussing the closure, sitting in front of the business she has owned and operated for approximately 24 years, speaking to an interviewer the same age as the restaurant, a couple walked up waiting to get in to order a meal.
“We’re closed, sorry,” he told prospective customers. As they started to walk away, she lamented: “It’s very sad to say that, although it’s a relief for me, but the covid thing… I just couldn’t reopen sustainably, and I just wasn’t willing to personally bankrupt myself. . that was the question.”
European tourism in particular has evaporated, said an industry fox who was key to keeping his business afloat. the restaurant is featured in a few moab tourism books, but that publicity has done almost nothing for it in recent months.
amid travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines, an airborne coronavirus has crippled local economies, wiped out small businesses and claimed the lives of more than 500 to date 000 people all over the world. many more have survived the disease only to see loved ones die, suffer or isolate themselves.
Moab has been an exception, but only in terms of death toll. no residents of the big county have died from covid-19, and only 14 residents to date have tested positive for the virus. As a state, Utah has lost 164 people to the disease, including seven from San Juan County. the Navajo Nation, where many locals have family, has lost 362 of its residents to the coronavirus.
economically, moab is barely recognizable from what it has been in years past. Many local businesses, including Fox’s, have closed permanently due to the recession, and it hasn’t just been the restaurants; The local art store Imagination Station was one of the first to retire in the area when the owner began printing graphic t-shirts.
Not wanting to fall victim to the health impacts of the coronavirus, and his employees voting together that they couldn’t tolerate the risk it posed either, Fox joined a procession of local businesses closing this month.
the shutdown has left her missing regulars whom she said she hopes to reconnect with away from the service desk, cut off from former employees who endured the crucible of food service at a red-hot tourist destination and jittery about the return she will end up participating in the sale of the property.
but the timing of the pandemic-forced closure was, in a way, just right. Fox has grown tired in recent years of what she called “too much volume” of tourism in Moab. While she said she didn’t want to “bite the hand” that feeds her, she also said that the boom the area has experienced in recent years “erodes the quality of life for locals,” something that affects the people she had employed, and to herself.
“Too much property has gone to second-home owners and there aren’t enough opportunities for kids,” Fox said. “that bothers me.”
Fox also said he had considered closing the restaurant only the previous year, though he had been saying so “for the last five years.” Her infatuation and her energy to run the business had been drained, she said. for context, fox is 69.
Still, Fox continues to exude an enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit and explained some business concepts he had been juggling in his head. “I have ideas,” Fox said, laughing. “I’m not sure I want them to come true.”
It remains to be decided if and where he will undertake anything else. For now, she’s enjoying what she can of not running a business, and is reflecting on the experience as she writes a book based on her restaurant life: A Cookbook.
“I’m sending recipes to my nieces and they’re testing because there are a lot of things in large quantities, and you have to be careful when you break them down,” said fox.
writing a book, which will include some of the most popular recipes eklectica made over the years, along with narrative elements that reflect that two-decade history, is in line with some of the extracurricular activities the cafe supported .
Fox created Moab’s annual Art Walk, working with a handful of local businesses that, like his, had art to display and sell that locals wanted to see and buy. the restaurant also supported free breakfast giveaways with donated items, poetry readings, and even a writers’ conference in the early 2000s.
Fox said she hopes the cookbook will be “a real thing” by this time next year. For now, she enjoys free time and uses it to reflect.
“I’ve seen the children of the river grow up and bring their children to visit,” Fox said. “I feel like I was open to a generational cycle. Some of my employees were teenagers when I started, so I’ve known them most of their lives. that kind of continuity in a community is really cool.”