Classically trained chef opens diner in Uintah County's oilfield

Published: Friday, May 24 2013 5:11 p.m. MDT

Alton "Big Al" Hatch seasons an order of fries for a Pipeline Catering customer Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Hatch's brother, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Davon Julius, opened the diner three months ago in the oil and natural gas fields south of Vernal to try to improve the quality of food available to energy industry workers.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

GLEN BENCH ROAD, Uintah County — From a distance, the rectangular structure appears to shimmer in the bright midday sun.

Its brightly painted skin sets it apart from the earth tones of the sagebrush and the pump jacks and the storage tanks filled with black wax crude oil that populate northeastern Utah's oilfields.

This is no mirage, though.

It's the realization of a dream for Davon Julius, who had to give up his passion for cooking because of a back injury.

"I broke my back and was told I couldn't work in a kitchen anymore," said Julius, who was selling insurance in a Salt Lake City office until his sister convinced him to don his chef's whites once more.

"My sister was working out here in the field for the past five or six years," he said, "and she found that she'd be working a lot of hours, more hours than expected, and would come out here with a lunch and be here for 18, 19, 20 hours with nowhere to eat."

So three months ago, Julius and his brother, Alton "Big Al" Hatch, opened Pipeline Catering to remedy that problem.

They built their kitchen and small dining room inside a refrigerated truck trailer, had a mural painted on the outside by California surfboard artist Drew Brophy, and opened their doors 30 miles south of Vernal just off state Route 45 on the Glen Bench Road.

"I just couldn't stand to be in an office all day, staring at a computer anymore," Julius said.

But the brothers aren't serving up average diner fare, because Julius isn't your average short order cook.

"I went to a Le Cordon Bleu School, so they followed the Le Cordon Bleu program out of France," said Julius, who is a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore.

That doesn't mean he won't grill up the quintessential American hamburger — burgers are always on the menu — he just wants to push the culinary boundaries a bit for those who work in the middle of nowhere.

"I want to do some fun stuff," he said, mentioning the possibility of adding crème brûlée and other dishes to the diner's offerings.

"I tell people we serve diner food, but many of them tell me it's nothing like anything they've eaten in a diner before," Julius said.

Pipeline Catering's menu changes daily, with all the dishes prepared mostly from scratch. Only the salad dressing and condiments are prepackaged.

That's something Kendal Cook and Steve Batty appreciate.

"You can only take so many microwavable meals or sandwiches," said Cook, who works for an oil company.

He called the food at Pipeline Catering "pretty good," and Batty agreed.

"It's excellent, homestyle cooking, if you want it," said Batty, who works at the nearby Bonanza Power Plant.

"I got chicken and dumplings," he said. "This is good, guys! Homemade noodles and everything. Jeez Louise, like grandma makes."

Julius and Hatch enjoy the compliments and the success their business has seen so far in such an out-of-the-way place.

Still, they know the energy industry, with its boom and bust cycles, can be hard on small businesses.

"That's why we did it in a semitrailer," Julius said. "If the business just goes completely south, and there's nobody out here, we can always move on."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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