Restaurateur remembered for his commitment to business and community

Posted at 11:19 PM, May 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 01:19:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A day after John Williams’ death, a man credited with re-shaping Salt Lake City’s restaurant scene, Scott Beck shared memories of his former boss.

“John wanted to be the best and John wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome,” said Beck, now CEO and President of Visit Salt Lake.

Beck went through management training with Gastronomy Inc., the company Williams founded.

Beck recalled Williams walking through a restaurant before it opened. He said it was typical of Williams to try and see things through his customer’s eyes.

Market Street Grill, The Oyster Bar and The New Yorker were Williams' restaurants many would recognize.  But few may have known how deeply the community commitment was felt in each.

“John really had a sense of community and what it was about. So the art in the restaurants being local artists and the champion of the art and culture community,” Beck said.

An early champion of the LGBT community, Williams influence went well beyond the food his restaurants served.

Salt Lake city Mayor Jackie Biskupski wrote:

“There are patrons of the arts, sciences and education, but John Williams was a patron of our city and helped it become the wonderful place it is today.”

Williams showed that spirit during Salt Lake’s bid for the Olympics. He played a role in landing the games by hosting delegations at his restaurants.

“That was the vision that John had. We have the ability to host the world and we can do it,” Beck said.

Williams’ company Gastronomy released this statement about his wide ranging influence on the community:

John Williams, President, Gastronomy, Inc.

Under the guidance of company founder John Williams, Gastronomy, Inc. helped change the face of Salt Lake City. Over nearly four decades, the vision of John Williams transformed local dining habits and the appearance of the downtown area.

Mr. Williams's approach to business was the fusion of renovated historic properties with the concept of contemporary dining. His first venture in 1978, the New Yorker, gave new life to the condemned 1906 New York Hotel. He correctly perceived that Salt Lake City was ready for a fine dining concept featuring fresh seafood beautifully prepared and served in stunning surroundings. To achieve this vision, Gastronomy arranged for Delta Air Lines to fly fresh seafood to Salt Lake City on a daily basis.

Boosted by the immediate success of the New Yorker, John and his business partners, Tom Sieg and Tom Guinney, next opened the Market Street Grill and Market Street Oyster Bar on the main floor of the same New York Hotel building. And a similar imaginative transformation turned the historical 1930’s Firehouse No. 8 into the Market Street Grill/University. Each of these restaurants was unique, providing the public with exciting dining options and also revitalizing the areas in which they are located. In each instance, new businesses and energy resulted in the neighborhoods where Gastronomy has opened its restaurants.

Throughout his career, whether behind the scenes or leading the charge in public, John and his business partners made long-standing contributions to enhance Utah tourism and economic development, not only by renovation of historic downtown buildings into bustling centers of entertainment, but also by his active role in community and arts-related causes.

Since 1978, John Williams spearheaded the renovation and re-use of five historic Salt Lake City buildings and earned attention and praise from many quarters. His dedication to this end has not gone unnoticed. The National Trust for Historic Preservation honored him and his business partners with its highest award, the National Trust Honor Award in 1998, “for the renovation and adaptive use of historic structures as restaurants, bringing new life and energy to downtown Salt Lake City.”

Two historic commercial structures on Salt Lake City’s west side also benefited from Mr. Williams's touch. His vision of renovation and re-use transformed the Salt Lake Hardware Building and the Ford Motor Company Building into busy offices where employees and patrons enjoy important architectural features and modern space created within an historic frame. Both projects won praise, including a 2001 award from AIA Utah for the Ford Motor Company, for “transforming Albert Kahn’s 1920 automobile showroom/parts distribution center and service center into distinctive office and retail space, maximizing the industrial context of the building and creating an environment of comfort and efficiency.”

Mr. Williams was an active participant in social issues and a champion of concerns important to the community. When the Salt Lake City and County Building was rededicated, Gastronomy orchestrated the gala celebration for the Mayor and City Council. The company was called upon by the Olympic Bid Committee to provide cuisine at home, in Europe, and in Japan. Nearly every arts, cultural, and charitable organization in Salt Lake County lists Gastronomy as one of its most important and reliable benefactors.

John Williams made significant contributions to the vitality and growth of the economy of Utah. He has also provided outstanding leadership in the business community and re-imagined and inspired the state's hospitality industry.