HILDALE The polygamists of old stare out from the photographs on the walls of this modest restaurant, watching over the customers lunching here at the "Merry Wives Cafe."
It's the only sit-down restaurant in this polygamous border town. It's also one of the newest signs of economic development in this enclave of the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
"We really opened basically to serve the need," said Tyler Steed. "We needed something like this in this area."
Since the cafe opened Jan. 23, business has steadily grown.
"Good. Really good," cafe manager Charise Dutson said of business. "A lot of curious people."
The cafe is set up in the same building as the Border Store, a gas station and convenience store on U.S. 89, which runs through Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. It is run by residents of neighboring Centennial Park, Ariz., a separate fundamentalist community.
The cafe's name is a playful, tongue-in-cheek reference to the area's ties to polygamy. It was chosen after members of the Centennial Park community held a contest for restaurant names. The suggestions varied.
"Big Love," Dutson said, chuckling at the reference to the popular HBO show about polygamy. "The Three Little Plyg Cafe."
They decided on the "Merry Wives" after the Shakespearean play, "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The winner got 10 free meals.
"We always try to keep a good sense of humor," said Steed, who helps manage the adjoining Border Store.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the cafe is slammed with people from all over the area ordering lunch. It's easier than a drive to Hurricane, about 22 miles away.
"It's wonderful," said Madalyn Brown, who was waiting for her order of onion rings. "I come here almost every day. It's the only place to go."
The communities of Hildale and Colorado City have been under siege since FLDS leader Warren Jeffs became a wanted fugitive and was subsequently arrested. FLDS faithful have erected fences and walls to keep the outside world at bay. The courts have taken control of the UEP Trust, which controls most of the land here.
Polygamy may draw the curious, but the food is getting rave reviews. Tourists and locals alike are coming and eating at the cafe.
"It's good to have a home-cooked meal, because everything is so fresh," said Alicia Valladolid, who drives from Hurricane to work at a medical clinic in the border towns.
The menu is simple. There's burgers and fries, sandwiches, salads and soups.
"We try to keep a good variety. Around here you can get really bored with hardly any restaurants," Dutson said.
The Merry Wives Cafe isn't afraid to experiment with food to keep its customers happy. One night, the cafe decided to bring sushi to Hildale. Dutson ordered some crab and asked a man from Hurricane to come out and teach them how to make sushi.
"We had a little assembly line in the back, rolling them all," she said. "We did a couple of specialty rolls. That was a nightmare."
The results of their culinary experiments have been successful so far.
"We have some very picky eaters out here," Dutson said. "We're talking good home-style cooking their whole lives. They're picky. They let us know."Comment on this story
The cafe orders some of its ingredients from Hildale and Colorado City businesses. It makes a lot of the dishes from scratch.
If business picks up even more, Dutson said they hope to expand the restaurant by putting a patio outside where people can dine.
The FLDS-controlled Hildale Town Council recently approved a beer and wine license for the new restaurant.
While waiting for an order, a customer stares at the family photographs on the wall."We are very proud of our heritage," Steed said. "We don't have anything to hide. I'm proud of my ancestors just as you are of yours."