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Rio Grande Depot still closed from earthquake, forces longtime café to move

Posted at 10:09 PM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 00:09:28-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime Salt Lake City café that's been in business in the historic Rio Grande Depot for decades, announced it will be moving out of the building after calling it home for nearly 40 years.

The Rio Grande Café closed at the beginning of the pandemic, and the March 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook things up even further.
Nine months later, the depot building and café are still closed.

"It's sad. I mean we love this building," said Josh Loftin, communications director for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts.
Heritage and Arts shares the building with the restaurant. When the earthquake hit, Loftin described how they thought repairs wouldn't take too much time.

"Initially I think when it first happened, they thought we could be back by midsummer-- assuming the pandemic would allow us. And then it became fall," Loftin explained.

Now, he said it could be spring or later.

Loftin pointed out cracks that still litter the walls above the upper lobby mezzanine. Plaster is missing from large areas where the wall meets the ceiling.

"Initially it looked mostly superficial," Loftin said, pointing at a corner where damage was still apparent. "But when they got up into the top part, they saw it had actually shifted."

He said crews have stabilized the building and some of the roof areas. Still, it's not safe for the public to go inside. Loftin indicated there's still the danger of falling plaster and debris.

Plus the building needs seismic upgrades, he said.

In the last few days, Loftin explained that he found out, "the café is going away."

The owners of the Rio Grande Café said the restaurant has been operating in that space since 1981, but with the earthquake damage still not fixed, they've indicated they need to relocate.

According to the owner and a message on the restaurant's phone, the Rio Grande Café will reopen in a historic firehouse that used to house the Porcupine Pub and Grille on 1300 East near the University of Utah.

"We'll miss them in this neighborhood," Loftin said. "They were an iconic part of this area."

He described how some employees and researchers have been able to return to work in certain areas of the Heritage and Arts office in the Rio Grande Depot.

It remains closed to the public and the winter farmer's market will not take place there this year, he said.

They don't know when the building will be ready to reopen.

Until then, the Rio Grande Depot will sit dark and shuttered. No visitors, no winter farmer's market, and no iconic, beloved café.

"Really hoping it's fixed up, and it's used, and it help this neighborhood come back," Loftin said. "That includes also the café space."